Wed 8/9-Fri 8/11
This summer, nestled in some of Cleveland’s community centers, there is something pretty special happening. Imagine a place where talented inner-city youth learn about the skills and techniques of ballet dancing while sparking the interest of future ballerinas and danseurs. It’s not a new concept but the mission of Cleveland Inner City Ballet (CICB) has been executing in Cleveland communities since 2001. Cleveland Inner City Ballet is a professional dance education and performance organization which provides a supportive and collaborative environment to address the unique needs of those cut off from the arts by socioeconomic, race and class circumstances.
Chandra Ford-White, founder of CICB, is a native of Syracuse, New York. Ford-White holds a B.A in sociology from Cleveland State University and has 34 years of dance experience. Her professional experiences range from studying at the Alvin Ailey Summer Intensive, the School of Cleveland Ballet, the University of Akron, The Ohio State University and Cleveland School of the Arts.
In addition to teaching ballet, tap, jazz and creative movement, Ford-White has an extensive background in dance history, choreography, dance notation, nonprofit and arts administration, and dance education.
Ford-White’s community involvement, combined with her extensive and focused background in the art of dance, caught the attention of former Cleveland Councilwoman Fannie Lewis back in 1998 when she learned there was a classically trained dancer living in her ward. The chance meeting turned into teaching dance classes at the Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center, which led to teaching at other community centers, churches and nonprofit organizations around the city.
A few years later, in 2001, CICB was born, coinciding with budget cuts that resulted in the elimination of arts education from local public schools. “I saw a need in our city’s underserved communities and established CICB to fill that void,” says Ford-White.
This summer, ClCB offered free ballet lessons at four Cleveland recreation centers, and as they prepare for their final city-wide performances this week, we took a moment to learn more about this organization.
What does The Cleveland Inner City Ballet offer?
CICB offers professional ballet classes for dancers ages 18 months to 18 years at three levels of instruction. One benefit of our program is that our dance education is modeled after the Ohio Department of Education K-12 Dance Education Standards and taught by a staff that has both a dance education background and performance experience.
What makes the Cleveland Inner City Ballet different than other dance programs currently offered?
What is unique about our program is that, instead of recitals, our students perform in the community to showcase what they have learned while providing exposure to ballet for local audiences. Additionally, throughout the year we provide students with opportunities to see professional dance companies like Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey and attend classes taught by the dancers from the touring companies.
What was your inspiration for the free ballet classes offered this summer at the Cleveland rec centers?
Community centers are where CICB started, and during my time there, I had many opportunities to see firsthand there was not only great interest in ballet in our communities, but also talented individuals that needed to be nurtured. The City of Cleveland Parks & Recreation understands this need and shares our commitment to provide a creative outlet in a safe environment that would be easy for students and their parents to access and so this program was developed.
What was the response to the classes? How has the community supported your program?
This summer CICB offered classes at the Collinwood, Gunning Park, Thurgood Marshall and Michael Zone Recreation Centers and the response has been amazing! We had 160 students sign up for classes and we even had to turn away children because the classes filled up so quickly. Overall, the feedback has been great. Recreation center directors are telling us the children are having a great time learning ballet with CICB this summer. I can also report that a good number of the families we worked this summer in the rec centers will continue studying with CICB.
As you prepare for the final performances this week, what do you expect?
In keeping with our weekly classes, each location will have a final performance to showcase of what the dancers have learned for the community. The CICB instructors and students are very excited about the final performances but for very different reasons: The instructors are excited for the sense of accomplishment it will bring the students and for the students it’s all about the costumes!
After the summer performances, are there any additional performances for your organization?
This year, CICB has a new performing company that is dedicated to exposing new and diverse audiences to the art of live ballet. CICB Performing Company is scheduled to perform in August at the Cleveland Cultural Garden for the One World Festival and again at the Cleveland Museum of Art in October. As we roll out our company CICB will continue to provide education, experiences and exposure to ballet in particular and the arts in general in Greater Cleveland.
Throughout the journey with your organization, what is ONE thing Cleveland Inner City Ballet taught you?
Cleveland Inner City Ballet has taught me if there is something in your community you don’t see or would like to see more of don’t be afraid to create it.
The final performances for Cleveland Inner City Ballet begin Wed 8/9 and go through Fri 8/11 at various City of Cleveland recreational centers. The events are free and open to the public.
Wed 8/9 @ 1-2pm
Michael Zone Recreational Center Park
6301 Lorain Avenue Cleveland, Ohio 44102
Thu 8/10 @ 6-7pm
Gunning Park Recreational Center
16700 Puritas Avenue
Cleveland, Ohio 44135
Fri 8/11 @ 1-2pm
Collinwood Recreation Center
16300 Lakeshore Avenue Cleveland, Ohio 44110
Fri 8/11 @ 6-7pm
Thurgood Marshall Recreation Center
8611 Hough Avenue Cleveland, Ohio 44106
To learn more about these performances and Cleveland Inner City Ballet: visit clevelandinnercityballet.org/ or call 216.903.6604.
Studio: 1427 East 36th Street, Suite 4230A, Cleveland, Oh 44114
About the writer:
Dru Thompson is a fashion designer who owns and operates Dru Christine Fabrics and Design, a design studio and boutique located Cleveland’s flourishing Waterloo Arts District. Through community involvement, Thompson has firmly established herself in the arts and fashion community as a writer, educator and mentor for aspiring entrepreneurs. To learn more about Dru, go to druchristine.com or Facebook: Dru Christine Fabrics and Design, Instagram or Twitter @druchristine.