When dancer Georgia Bernbaum was in fifth grade, she participated in a supply drive for the Coalition for the Homeless of Central Florida, a homeless shelter near her Orlando, FL, home. “I started thinking about what it would be like to stay at the shelter, and all the things I’d miss,” she recalls. Then it dawned on her: “The kids don’t get to take dance lessons like I do.”

Fast-forward two years, and Georgia, now 12, is on her way to changing that. In the fall of 2014, she established the Dance Happy Project, which brings dance training to children at the Coalition’s  Center for Women and Families. Every three months, Georgia—

a modern dance student at the Center for Contemporary Dance in Winter Park, FL—hires instructors to lead a series of classes on site. And with, on average, more than 200 kids staying at the Coalition each night, the Dance Happy Project is making a big impact.

The Initiative

Georgia’s project started on a much smaller scale: fulfilling a community-service requirement for her upcoming bat mitzvah. “My mom suggested I do something with dance, since that’s what I love,” Georgia says. But while her mom thought Georgia might simply try raising money for one of her dance studio’s nonprofit programs, Georgia had another idea. “I told my mom my plan was to bring dance classes to the homeless,” she says.

Georgia’s mom figured they wouldn’t be able to just walk into the Coalition and lead classes—and she was right. Luckily, the center already had an arts education initiative in place, Art by Coalition Children (ABCs), which recruited professional artists to teach community classes in disciplines like photography and sculpture. Dance, however, was missing from the roster. “They had different programs for art and music, but you need cameras for filmmaking and pencils for art,” Georgia says. “All you need to dance is yourself. And you can carry dance with you your whole life.”

(Photo by Lisbet Photography, courtesy Elizabeth Bernbaum)

The Partnership

Georgia knew she couldn’t teach the classes herself. She approached her dance studio’s artistic director, Dario J. Moore, for guidance. “He loved my idea,” Georgia says. (Moore has lots of experience teaching dance in public schools and in underserved areas.) Georgia formed a partnership with the studio, with Moore agreeing to provide instruction for the outreach classes.

October 3, 2014, marked the newly named Dance Happy Project’s first class at the Coalition. Twenty kids—plus Georgia—attended. “Everyone thought I was just another kid taking the class, but Dario introduced me as his boss lady!” Georgia says. “During the class, everyone got to make up their own dance, and I could see the kids having fun.”

The Next Steps

Georgia didn’t want to stop there. ABCs’ program leaders suggested the Dance Happy Project hold a series of four classes (one per week) four times a year. It was to be the center’s first ongoing ABCs program—if Georgia could sustain it. Though she had

received two grants to help pay the dance teachers, she knew she needed to raise more money to keep the project going.

The solution? On February 9, 2015, Georgia hosted a benefit concert featuring a silent auction and performances by nine local dance companies, including members of Orlando Ballet. It took months to prepare. “I wrote to more than 100 artists and asked if they’d be willing to donate a piece of art for the auction,” Georgia says. Thanks to her diligence, items up for auction included signed costume design sketches from Newsies and Wicked on Broadway, Disney’s Frozen on Ice and The Washington Ballet’s ALICE (in wonderland).

The Outlook

Proceeds from February’s fundraising event totaled more than $10,000, enough to continue the Dance Happy Project for at least five more years. Georgia also plans to hold another benefit concert next year. “She got a lot of requests to do it again—and many dancers who didn’t perform this time asked to be on next year’s program,” says Elizabeth Bernbaum, Georgia’s mom. “They all wanted to help.”

Georgia also has dreams of expansion. She hopes to bring the Dance Happy Project to local Boys & Girls Clubs, and to make sure it can continue after she goes to college. Ultimately, she’d like to replicate the program in other underserved communities across the country. “It can be pretty intimidating to ask people to participate and help,” she says. “But I learned not to be shy. You’ll always have more success when you just go straight for something you want.”

(Photo by Brian Jackson/Thinkstock)

HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY TO ME!

Between school, technique classes, rehearsals and homework, you barely have enough time to hang out with friends, let alone a boyfriend. But when February 14 rolls around—with its abundance of candy hearts, flowers and teddy bears—it’s natural to find yourself longing for a valentine. Luckily, there’s a simple solution: Be your own valentine! Dr. Linda Hamilton, a performance psychologist who’s a wellness consultant with New York City Ballet, offers tips on how to transform this over-played holiday into a celebration of you.

Keep things in perspective. First things first: You have to get over the hype. Valentine’s Day is just that: a day. “Remember that having a boyfriend isn’t everything,” says Hamilton. “A lot of your friends may not be emotionally ready for their relationships yet.”

Make it fun. Just because you don’t have a significant other doesn’t mean you have to spend Valentine’s Day alone. Get together with your single friends and throw a dance party or watch a movie. “Avoid gushy romantic movies and opt for a fun, scary one,” Hamilton says.

Treat yourself. Schedule a relaxing manicure, or purchase a teddy bear with a heart on its belly. It may feel strange at first, but Hamilton says, “It’s OK to do that for yourself.”

Remember how fortunate you are. You probably have a lot of love in your life, even if it’s not the kind of love traditionally associated with Valentine’s Day. Take a moment to appreciate your friends and family, and to remember those who are less fortunate.

SUGAR, SPICE AND EVERYTHING NICE

When you’re craving something sweet, artificial sweetener may seem like a great option—all the deliciousness without all the calories. But research suggests artificial sweetener can actually amplify your craving: When your body wants sugar, it wants the real deal. Here are a few ways to satisfy your sweet tooth naturally, without giving yourself a sugar rush.

(L to R: Wavebreakmedia/Thinkstock, Daniel Padavona/Thinkstock, RVLSOFT/Thinkstock)

1. Get fruity. The natural sugars in fruit will give you the sweet taste you crave without the concentrated jolt of sugar that fruit-flavored candy provides.

2. Get grillin’. Grilling is a great way to bring out the natural sweetness in food. You’ll find that even some veggies—like onions and tomatoes—start tasting sweet once they’re caramelized on the grill. Juicy grilled fruit is an especially sweet treat.

3. Get spicy. Think about the spices we associate with dessert: cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg and cloves. While these spices contain no sweetness on their own, they can help bring out the natural sweetness in foods like plain yogurt, sweet potatoes and fruit.

(Photo by Elina Manninen/Thinkstock)

DID YOU KNOW?

Drinking hot cocoa is good for brain health. According to a recent study by neurologists at Harvard Medical School, flavonol-rich cocoa powder may assist in a process called neurovascular coupling—basically, the way blood gets to the areas of the brain we’re using. Efficient blood flow in the brain helps protect our memories. So go ahead and cuddle up by the fire with a mug of hot cocoa!

 

(Photo by Margouillatphotos/Thinkstock)

 

According to the Mental Health Foundation, altruism—helping others—is a great way to boost self-esteem. Consider taking time on Valentine’s Day to volunteer, visit a grandparent or make valentines for your friends.

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