- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 12, 2000

Fabian Barnes says when he picked up the phone last month he was staggered by what he heard: His Dance Institute of Washington had been selected for a $100,000 "Oprah's Angel Network Use Your Life Award."

"It felt like a miracle," says the 40-year-old director.

After that, things moved fast. A crew from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" flew into town and filmed interviews with students and parents and shot footage of rehearsals in the institute's newly renovated studios at the Perry School Community Services Center, 128 M St. NW. A week and a half later Mr. Barnes was flying to Chicago to receive the award on the Oprah show.

The award says, "Dancing changed his life forever."

Mr. Barnes has credited dance with helping him avoid what has happened to many of his peers ending up on drugs, in jail or dead. The award notes that by the time the Seattle native was 18 years old he was the youngest of 10 children in a single-parent household he was dancing with the Dance Theatre of Harlem.

His meeting with Miss Winfreysounds like a brief encounter, but to Mr. Barnes it was a very satisfying one. "She is a warm, dynamic, positive force," he says. "She said her award was for people who have found their purpose for being on this planet.

"I feel lucky to be able to help people through dance, doing what I love," Mr. Barnes says. "I also thanked Arthur Mitchell [artistic director of Dance Theatre of Harlem] for his inspiration. He always told us to go out into the community and give back."

The Dance Institute of Washington, which was founded by Mr. Barnes in 1987 and became a full-time operation by 1996, teaches more than 300 young people who come for classes every month. The institute reaches an additional 200 in other ways. Two outreach programs that have been going on for four years are at the Children's National Medical Center in Northwest and at East of the River Cultural Arts Program in Southeast.

Mr. Barnes also offers his at-risk students monthly workshops on subjects such as teen-age pregnancy prevention, career choices and health and nutrition.

Miss Winfrey told Mr. Barnes she would like the award earmarked for scholarship assistance, a focus with which he agrees. He is holding dance assemblies in nine inner-city schools in the District, looking for talented youngsters he can bring into his school.

In addition, Mr. Barnes' institute has been named this year as the community-based organization to represent the Dance Theatre of Harlem in its project with the Kennedy Center. He is in charge of the recruitment efforts for their residency program aimed at inner-city children. Now in its eighth year, the Kennedy Center-Dance Theatre of Harlem program includes youngsters from the District, Alexandria and Prince George's County.

Mr. Barnes also will make sure that the new students he recruits for his institute as a result of the Oprah award have proper dance attire. A few of his advanced students also will be supplied with pointe shoes.

"That's an expensive item," Mr. Barnes says. "Pointe shoes run $60 to $75 and wear out in about a month. During performance weeks they might only last a week."

Such a week is coming up soon because his institute is about to present its most ambitious yearly project, "Spirit of Kwanzaa Celebration," at the Kennedy Center Concert Hall on Dec. 28 and 29. The Kwanzaa celebration, which Mr. Barnes initiated, is in its fourth year at the center.

A big, warm pageant filled with words and music as well as dance, the Kwanzaa celebration attracts an enthusiastic audience, with children dressed in their holiday best.

About 40 students in the Dance Institute's program in its Junior and Senior Youth Repertory companies and apprentices will perform. Other groups appearing include the KanKouran West African Dancers and Drummers and the Washington Performing Arts Society's Children of the Gospel Choir.

Making guest appearances will be dancers from Dance Theatre of Harlem, Urban Bush Women and the Bebe Miller Company. Choreographers represented in the program include Dwight Rhoden and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar.

The program's grand finale is being choreographed by Derrick Spear, a former student of the Dance Institute of Washington now in his second year at Towson University in Maryland. Mr. Spear is also a student teacher in Mr. Barnes' organization and likely will join Dance Theatre of Harlem next year.

Mr. Barnes is proud of the mark his former students are making in the dance world. One is in the second Alvin Ailey company. Another is an apprentice at Dance Theatre of Harlem, and a third is a member of that group's corps.

As his institute grows, Mr. Barnes is reaching out for more performing opportunities for his students. His group has plans to perform in Western Maryland, Philadelphia, Atlanta and New Jersey this coming year.

The Oprah award will enable him to do more for talented and needy students, and the $100,000 represents a sizable infusion of money to an institution with a yearly budget of about $440,000. But Mr. Barnes, in his new building, still has rent to pay and also salaries. Hence, his never-ending quest for new money.

Still, the fallout from "The Oprah Winfrey Show" has been heartening for him. The phone at his institute rang constantly in the days after the show. Local parents called to try to enroll their children, someone else offered to do a fund-raising benefit, and others volunteered to help with the design of his brochure and give royalties from an inspirational book. A flutter of donations ranging from $50 to $100 have come in from all over the country. So the beat goes on for the Dance Institute of Washington.

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