“She’s not sick, she’s a dancer.”

So, I am going to get anecdotal for a second because this quote has been kind of this guiding light since I heard it a few years ago. From the time I was a little girl, I wanted to dance. I knew from the moment I saw Tchaikovsky’s, The Nutcracker that Ballet was the only career I could ever imagine myself having. The way their tutu’s sparkled in the stage lights, and the beautifully orchestrated score that accompanied the dancer’s every movement played on repeat in my 9147-ballerinas.jpghead, and I would dream of the day I would be on stage. Now, I was a hyper little girl. I was always bored. If I wasn’t putting on some kind of performance to Coheed and Cambria or Avril Lavigne for my family, I was plotting the next great adventure to the woods to find fairies and other woodland creatures. I was precocious and my teachers saw great potential, but my report cards and teacher feedback always said something like “…won’t sit still” “..always talking.” “…won’t nap.” (which I greatly regret now that I am 23 years old).

Anyway, my big break came when I was six years old and I was enrolled in my first ballet class. To my surprise, I hated it. It was so structured and technical, and something I was not used to. However, as time progressed, I looked forward to 5 pm when I would be able to step out of one classroom and leap into a new one; in which I was learning how my body worked while simultaneously learning a second language (french) through the terminology of the art form. Before I knew it, I was 12 years old, dancing en pointe, and practicing or rehearsing for upwards of 40 hours a week. It was a full time job and I was only a child. However, I loved it and never saw it as such because it was my passion. Unfortunately, this all came to a halt when I heard the words, “I am going to die” come out of my mother’s mouth. While I was mastering my passion, my mother was simultaneously fighting a vicious battle with stomach cancer which she ultimately could not defeat. This unraveled a series of events that I have now come to realize have shaped the very person I am today. Six months later, I moved in with my dad. My life did a complete 180. I went from living comfortably in a suburban neighborhood, attending dance class which included all other expenses (pointe shoes, tights, leotards, etc) to an inner city which has been on the top 20 most dangerous cities in the nation list. I could no longer afford dancing.

 

330px-Forward_font_awesome.svg Fast forward two years.

 

I grew to love this new school and the people who I had formed incredibly special relationships with, and this is in part due to the arts programs that I became fully enmeshed in. However, another turn of events took place which is entirely to do with the failures of public education. So, funding for public education is based on property taxes.This is incredibly problematic seeing as

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La Johnson/NPR

though property values are not standardized across neighborhoods and districts. According to an article released by NPR, on average, school funding looks like this: 45 percent local money, 45 percent from the state and 10 percent federal. When schools are grappling with being able to pay their teachers, how do they compensate? The answer is simple. They cut programs and neglect infrastructure. This is exactly what happened at my public high school in York, PA. The arts programs were the first to go.

So the arts programs do more than propagate cultural meaning, they keep kids off the streets. They provide an outlet for youth to turn to as a means of self expression, enjoyment, and structure. I cannot begin to tell you how many times, out of the mouths of lower income community members, I have heard that the arts have saved their lives. If the schools do not offer these programs,

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Patricia Fairclough, a reading coach teacher and the 2010 Teacher of the Year, joins a protest against possible cuts in funding for arts programs in schools on March 2, in Miami, Fla. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

than having access to them becomes much harder seeing as though many of these creative outlets are pretty expensive. Having them publicly funded minimizes individual cost expenditure and evens the playing field in regards to accessibility. In a recent study by the National Endowment for the Arts, it was reported that 74 percent of students in low income communities who have had arts experiences by the 8th grade were more likely to plan to go to college.

My experience is a unique one in which I was able to see the polarities in public education. Going from one of the highest funded school districts to the lowest shed light on how resources shape experience and identity. So my advice is such: as a nation, we rethink public education so that it benefits all of humanity and we subsidize the arts programs whether that be through individual donors or federal funding. Yes, more emphasis needs to be placed on the arts across the academic spectrum, but we also need to think about how all communities benefit from and need various art forms to promote upward mobility. Arts should not just be for those who can afford to dabble outside of the educational cosm, but should be fully ingrained in the process of academic and personal growth.

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