07/30/11 — Ballet dreams

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Ballet dreams

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on July 30, 2011 11:26 PM

News-Argus Video Report

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The girls were so excited about their performance that they wanted to sleep in their tutus.

Tess Allen tried to hold back a smile when Ariana broke the rules.

But when, seconds after she turned off the music that signaled to her students that they could run, jump and twirl however they pleased -- and 11 other ballerinas-in-training froze when the silence fell -- the little girl continued to slide across the dance floor, her 16-year-old instructor couldn't help but laugh.

"You're supposed to freeze," Tess said, chasing the 4-year-old down before grabbing her around the waist and giving her a quick tickle. "You are so silly."

Ariana smiled.

It didn't seem to matter that she and Tess spoke different languages -- that the child and her peers had been communicating with their instructor, for the better part of the week, through a translator.

In that moment, Ariana was simply a little girl relishing the affection radiating from her latest role model -- a Wayne County teenager who gave up one of the last weeks of her summer vacation to make 12 dreams come true.

The idea was simple enough: Tess would offer five days of ballet for a group of children who, otherwise, would never be able to afford it.

And thanks to discounts offered by local businessmen and a commitment, by family friend Saralynn Veid, to act as a translator, a dozen Hispanic girls, if only for a few days, were transformed into ballerinas.

"I'd hear (Saralynn) talk about how (Hispanic children) aren't able to be involved in a lot because their families are more closed and sometimes a lot of them don't speak a lot of English," Tess said. "They just don't always get the opportunity to do something like this. So I thought I'd give it to them."


Watching them run around in their matching pink tights, tutus, T-shirts and shoes took Tess back to the first time she stepped into a studio.

"I was 3, so I was little, but I loved it so much," she said. "And you can tell when they come in that they love it, too. They're always smiling -- excited and ready to go."

And the feeling her gift to them brought with it made the five, three-hour sessions all the more worthwhile.

"The girls are so excited and that really makes me feel good," Tess said. "It's really rewarding when you see them coming in and smiling. I've gotten a lot out of it."

But the teenager is not the only one who has been changed by those 12 little girls.

Saralynn has felt their impact, too.

"It's been great. They love it," she said. "I'm from Texas, and there, they were more used to the big Hispanic population. But it's still a new thing in North Carolina, so the programs still aren't here like they were there. So for these little girls, it's nice for them to have this kind of opportunity."

And it has been good for their parents, too, she added -- gaining the knowledge that people in the community care; watching their daughters throw themselves into ballet.

"I explained to them why Tess was doing this and they were like, 'Wow. It's really neat that someone would do this for us,'" Saralynn said. "And every mom told me, 'We were up at six o'clock. They wanted to sleep in their tutu. They were so excited. They wanted their hair ready. They wanted to be ready for ballet class.'"


At just before noon Friday, the girls' parents were beginning to gather outside the room in which their final performance would unfold.

Saralynn, the fellow Hispanic American who had, after a few days, gained their trust, greeted them in Spanish.

She told them just how excited their respective ballerinas were -- how anxious they were to show off all they had learned in the five days they had spent with Tess.

Tess's mother, Donna, was among those in the crowd.

Before the doors opened, a father turned to her with a smile.

"This is a great opportunity that your daughter gave our kids," he said. "So thank you for that."

Donna smiled.

"Don't thank me," she said. "It's all her."

The man shook his head.

"I'm pretty sure you had something to do with it," he said. "So really, thank you."

Moments later, with their families watching, Esther, Lismary, Juliette, Ariana, Tanya and the other girls chosen to participate in Tess's "Hearts for Dance" program took their positions -- tucking themselves into tight balls, their foreheads resting on the ground.

And when the music started playing, they showed their parents all that can be learned when someone with an open heart gives of herself for a few short days.

Their routine was simple -- nothing too complicated; only a few minutes long.

But for Tess, watching those little girls transform into something more on that dance floor will play out, in her mind, for a lifetime.

"I would love to keep doing this, maybe every summer," the 16-year-old said. "I'll definitely miss them -- a lot."