Take a moment to consider what the barriers are for kids participating in dance; lack of programming in schools, insufficient family funds to afford private lessons and the cost of proper apparel, to name a few. Kathryn Harden, owner of StepsPDX and Founder of Steps for Youth, would add lack of mentorship and a feeling of not belonging in the dance world to a long list of other barriers.
Helmed by Kathryn along with her Director of Education and Community Engagement, Monica Parra, Steps for Youth partners with local schools to provide dance opportunities to kids from all backgrounds with an emphasis on schools that have little funding for art or physical education.
“There is no one size fits all to this program as each of our partners have different needs. For example, at Kairos PDX, a K-5 school, we participate in their Community Action Fridays every week for three hours. We teach three, 45-minute classes based on the styles the students want to learn. In the past two years, we have been teaching the students hip-hop as well as creative movement. The students have power in picking their classes and all grade levels are encouraged to sign-up. The response has been extremely positive, with classes overflowing with kids that are eager to participate.” remarks Kathryn.
However, the road to helping kids unlock their true potential has it’s climbs as Kathryn explains an all-too-often heard scenario here in Portland, “On the other hand at Centennial Park High School, the students are not offered PE and do not have proper space for us to come in. Thanks to some incredibly dedicated teachers who drove kids to Steps PDX, we were able to teach them yoga, meditation as well as contemporary movement in the classroom.”
Classes are only part of the vision mind you. Ideally, there are two tracks, a recreational track and a career track. For the students who discover they have the passion and desire to pursue dance as a career, they would be welcomed into the Steps PDX School with a full scholarship, mentor, transportation, dance attire, and equipment kit to set them up for success. Outside of the classroom Steps PDX directors and artistic staff take students to shows so they can experience professional-level dance firsthand and get a taste of what they are working towards.
For many students in the current partner schools, dance is anywhere from invisible to out-of-reach for them. The vision for the Steps for Youth program goes far beyond helping kids overcome practical barriers to experiencing and even excelling at dance. If offers a safe space to give young creators a sense of belonging coupled with the life experiences needed to help them succeed wherever their path may take them.
Full Circle is an event hosted by Steps PDX created to raise funds specifically for this program with the broader community involved. The event itself consists of a full schedule of classes during the day, followed by an evening of food, drinks, live DJ performance and a silent auction. The event is named Full Circle because Kathryn wants people to understand that their involvement means everything. Donors, sponsors and class participants are all coming together to support dance for youth. “Our first year, we offered the Steps for Youth program to the schools free of charge and subsidized the cost of instructors and administration of the program to show the power dance can have on young lives. We were in our first year as a business, it was not easy, but it is what was right in our hearts. Hopefully, staff and students alike can spread the word and value of the program.” Kathryn says “In an ideal world, dance is not something you have to seek out, but is available to everyone.”
The next Full Circle event will be happening on Oct 20th, 2019! More info at https://www.stepspdx.com/