Group gives Columbia-area children chance to dance

Missouri Contemporary Ballet dancers volunteer to give the children lessons.
Missouri Contemporary Ballet dancers hold rehearsal for "Alice In Wonderland" with children in the show. Four of the children in the production are involved with the student organization Dance Outside The Box.

After a year of dance studios and small performances, four Columbia children shared Jesse Auditorium with the Missouri Contemporary Ballet on Saturday and Sunday.

The four dancers are members of Dance Outside the Box, a student organization that gives kids the chance to learn from MCB professionals for free. The tiny dancers have been attending Thursday classes for the better part of the academic school year to prepare for last weekend’s shows in Jesse Auditorium.

Kortney Davis, co-director of Dance Outside the Box and a recent MU graduate, said the group has never performed on such a grand stage.

“This is very big,” Davis said. “This (is) the biggest performance Dance Outside the Box has had so far.”

For two years, Davis said she’s been like a dance mom to the girls in the program. She’s driven many of the kids to their weekly lessons with MCB and coordinated rides for the rest.

Davis got involved with the program because dance studios can become costly for young dancers. When Davis was in sixth grade, her parents had to pull her out of dance lessons; the classes quickly became too expensive. Davis didn’t want to let this happen to Columbia youth.

“Free dance classes in a real studio – that’s the biggest thing (we do),” Davis said.

When then-junior Kam Phillips started the program with other volunteers in 2011, she said they wanted to give youth with fewer resources a realistic option for dance.

“We knew that those children wouldn’t ordinarily be able to walk into the Missouri Contemporary Ballet and learn from those dancers,” Phillips said. “So if we could create an opportunity to broaden their horizons in a new way – that was really the goal.”

Phillips pursued the program two years after she started Dream Outside the Box, an organization that aims to give underprivileged Columbia youth the chance to explore different endeavors like horseback riding and swing dance. Once Dream Outside the Box became well known on campus, she created Dance Outside the Box in partnership with MCB.

A lot of people have helped get the program up and running, Phillips said. They were able to pay for leotards and tights thanks to an mtvU Top of the Class award, and MCB dancers volunteered to teach classes on their own time.

“It’s just kind of this collaborative effort,” Phillips said. “It’s everyone (coming) together because they know the impact that this can have – to have long-term development in something for these girls.”

Two years after she started Dance Outside the Box, Phillips said it’s amazing to see where the program is at today.

“These are professional dancers taking time out of their day to teach our kids at no cost to the child, and that’s truly incredible,” Phillips said. “But then to get to share that stage with these same people and have the kids perform in performances for a real, true audience is beyond our wildest dreams.”

Davis said she hopes the organization can thrive for years to come. She and her co-director Ashley Hayden will have to hand their jobs over to other volunteers, but there are no plans to shut down the program.

Although Davis admits it is sad to think about not driving a car full of girls to dance lessons every Thursday, she said she is glad she was able to see the children on the Jesse Auditorium stage. Performing impacts them in a good way, Davis said.

“I think that (performing) grows on them and they become more positive,” Davis said. “I really enjoy seeing it.”

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