Just some of the many dance shoes Elyssa Banker has collected for charity. (courtesy Elyssa Banker)

Shoe-perstar: 12-Year-Old Elyssa Banker Is on a Mission For Dancers In Need

Elyssa Banker has been dancing at Central Park Dance in Scarsdale, NY, since she was two. At age 12, she needed a bat mitzvah project, and realized that kids less fortunate than her didn't always have access to the supplies they needed. So, she started collecting gently used shoes at her dance studio and her initiative "Dance for a Cause, Not for Applause" was born. A year and a half later, she's collected over 1,000 pairs of ballet, tap, jazz, and pointe shoes for the organization Footloose. Here, she talks about her mission. —Courtney Bowers

Ever since I started dancing, I've loved it. I love expressing my emotions and I feel alive when I dance. It helps me relax, breathe, and just let go of all the drama happening in my life. It's a place where I can be myself.

Elyssa Banker (courtesy Banker)

When I needed to come up with a bat mitzvah project, I started to think about causes I could help. I realized that I dance better when I have the right clothes and shoes to help me, and thought not all kids who want to dance can afford the right attire. Everyone deserves a chance to shine.

I happened to find all these old dance shoes I still had from when I was younger. That's how I came up with the idea to start donating shoes. I called my program "Dance for a Cause, Not for Applause," and asked my studio if I could put a box in the dressing room, where other students could also donate gently worn shoes that no longer fit. Each Sunday, I would bring the donations home and count them. The project started getting really big—bigger than I ever thought it would be. The other dancers at the studio loved it, too.

After some research, I decided to donate all of our collected shoes to the organization Footloose. It's a non-profit founded by former dancer Becca Duberman. She donates dance shoes to aspiring dancers in need all over the country, and understands how important properly fitted footwear is to a dancer's training. Since 2010 the organization has donated over 6,000 pairs of shoes.

Elyssa with some of her collected shoes (courtesy Banker)

I would love for my project to keep expanding. I'm so passionate about making kids happy. Dancing makes me feel strong and confident, and I want that feeling for others. I want other young dancers to know that you can do a lot of good through dance and you can do it now. Don't give up just because you're young.

Help Elyssa out!

To donate your old, gently used dance shoes to Elyssa's initiative, send them to Central Park Dance (450 Central Park Ave. Scarsdale, NY 10583) marked with her name.

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