- The Washington Times - Monday, October 8, 2001

Fabian Barnes believes in keeping his word, especially when it comes to helping youths stay on their toes.

The former principal dancer for the Dance Theatre of Harlem promised his mentor, Arthur Mitchell, the founder and artistic director of the dance company, that he would offer opportunities to children and teen-agers who wanted to learn classical ballet but would not ordinarily be able to afford formal ballet lessons.
He's doing just that at the Dance Institute of Washington (DIW), where a flurry of children ages 3 and older learn ballet, plus lots of invaluable life lessons, inside two spacious mirrored ballet studios on the third floor of the Perry School Community Services Center on M Street NW. A promise is a promise, Mr. Barnes says.
"I would really be remiss not to say I was actually the recipient of someone who was very generous in terms of his giving back, and that was Arthur Mitchell," says Mr. Barnes, 41, who is not related to the reporter of this story.
"Had it not been for Arthur Mitchell and the Dance Theatre of Harlem, the dreams I had as a child of being a ballet performer and performing on the great stages of the world would never have happened," he says.
Trayone King, a seventh-grader at Terrell Junior High School in Northwest, is one of the 17 youngsters who take ballet and hip-hop twice a week at DIW. Trayone says Monday and Wednesday afternoons have become the bright spots in his week.
"I'm learning how to balance myself, and I'm learning correct posture. Ballet isn't easy because you've got to learn how to stretch your body, and that's what Mr. Barnes is teaching us how to stretch and get into our ballet positions," Trayone says.
Mr. Barnes, a native of Seattle, is making sure children from all economic backgrounds can learn ballet through a number of outreach programs he has in place in the metropolitan area.
"We're very fortunate to have been selected as one of 20 arts organizations by the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development [for] a three-year grant called Creative Communities, Mr. Barnes says.
The Creative Communities dance program, Mr. Barnes says, focuses on young people who live in public housing complexes in the metropolitan area. Right now, DIW is working with children from Langston Terrace in Northeast and Sibley Plaza in Northwest, he says. During the free eight-week program, which has three sessions per year, students ages 8 to 12 participate in life-skills workshops, keep journals and get exposure to various forms of dance such as ballet, modern and hip-hop. DIW provides dance attire for the students, Mr. Barnes says.
Trayone, 12, auditioned and was accepted into the Creative Communities dance program at DIW. The preteen soccer player not only looks forward to ballet classes, but says he's really excited about performing at the Kennedy Center in December.
His mom, Marie, couldn't be happier that her son has taken an interest in the arts and Mr. Barnes has taken an interest in the children.
"I think the program is great because most of our children don't get a chance to take ballet," Ms. King says. "I wanted Trayone in a program like this, but I couldn't afford it. He's a special little fellow who wants to excel in every way he can," she says.
Last year, Mr. Barnes and DIW were selected for a Daily Points of Light Award by the Points of Light Foundation, established by former President George Bush in 1990 to promote volunteerism. Mr. Barnes was recognized as a stalwart for children and dance. That piqued the interest of talk-show host Oprah Winfrey, who awarded Mr. Barnes $100,000 as part of her Angel Network in November. In turn, the teacher established a scholarship endowment for his students.
The Dance Institute of Washington stretches across the Potomac into Virginia and Maryland as well. Another of Mr. Barnes' ballet programs, called First Position, works with students who attend Mount Vernon Elementary School in Alexandria, thanks in part to a grant from the Alexandria Commission for the Arts. The program started Thursday. DIW will partner with Alexandria's Campagna Center and a cadre of about 30 children who dream of being prima ballerinas and principal dancers.
"This is the first year we're doing First Position in Virginia. Students in east Alexandria, many of whom are black or Hispanic, don't have as many positive outlets as they should. And I had worked with students from that community as part of the work I do with the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the John F. Kennedy Center dating back to 1993," Mr. Barnes says.
"It seemed to be a logical next move for me to actually have a program that worked directly with the students during the week," he says.
First-, second- and third-graders at Charles H. Houston Elementary School in Northeast get their chance at the ballet barre this fall with First Position, too.
Each ballet program is unique, Mr. Barnes says. The students at Charles Houston will learn story ballet to reinforce literary skills a focus of the D.C. public schools to increase the reading skills of young people, he says.
"Through story ballet, we will not only work with the children on the basics of ballet, the positions, the terminology, the execution of basic ballet movements, but we will also be working with them on learning what a traditional ballet story is and they will participate in the story," he says.
Students will become the characters in such classics as "The Nutcracker." Then they'll be wisked away to the Land of Sweets, where the Sugar Plum Fairy resides, during a performance of the American Ballet Theatre at the Kennedy Center, Mr. Barnes says.
"By engaging them this way, we can work with the students on their socialization skills taking turns and positive reinforcement all the things that create excitement about learning for children," Mr. Barnes says.
Mr. Barnes says he sees the changes in the attitudes and outlooks of children who participate in the ballet programs. The youngsters even present their report cards to him for his approval.
"I've seen students' physical carriage and posture change. I've seen students who were introverted become outgoing. I've seen young people who didn't seem to have anything to look forward to become excited. I've seen young people's health improve," he says with a smile.
Mr. Barnes and his staff stay on their toes, too. He jokes that he can't miss a step with the number of youths he and his team teach. DIW works with approximately 425 students during the course of the school year and summer vacations. Sadly, he says, he had to turn away some because of space limitations.
"But, we ask them to come back, and in the meantime, we will refer them to another program. I see the need to be able to accommodate more students. We're trying to acquire a property, possibly a warehouse, or a building so we can do more," Mr. Barnes says.
He wants to give a minimum of 1,000 students the opportunity to study dance.
"We try to bring the children from the outreach programs into the studio so there is continuity it's not just a one-shot deal. If they are interested and they want to be here we want them here," Mr. Barnes says.
For information about the various ballet programs available at DIW, call 202/371-9656 or check the Web site at www.danceinstitute.org.

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