The art of the dance is alive and well at Carver Heights Elementary School, thanks to the efforts of a high school junior who wanted to share her passion with little girls who might not otherwise have the same opportunity.
Rainee Coakley, a student at Wayne School of Engineering, has taken dance lessons for 12 of her 16 years, from ballet and pointe to hip hop, jazz and contemporary styles.
When it came time to fulfill her school's requirements for community service hours, she knew what her project should be -- passing along some of what she has learned along the way.
Her mother, Rhonda Coakley, is an AIG, or academically and intellectually gifted, specialist at Carver Heights, so that seemed like a good place for the outlet.
To fund the project, Rainee launched a GoFundMe page back in the fall, headed "Introduce Dance to Carver Heights," with a goal of $1,000 to purchase tights, leotards and other amenities like mirrors and privacy curtains for the changing area. So far, she has raised $750.
Sixteen third-graders now meet weekly for the lesson, in a modular classroom behind the school.
Teachers selected the participants for the program, begun last semester. So far, the group has done a holiday performance, and is preparing for a program at an upcoming principals meeting. They have also been invited by Artistic Dance Academy, where Rainee studies, to perform a number in the spring recital on the Paramount Theatre stage.
"I'm so excited that they're going to perform in our recital," said Allison Whitfield, a junior at Wayne Christian School who is helping Rainee with the weekly lessons. "We just love watching them develop. I have seen them since August, they have changed so much into dancers."
"I think they're going to love it," agreed Caroline Foy, a classmate at WSE, who is also supporting Rainee's effort teaching. "I have only been here a couple times, but they seem to enjoy it so much."
Foy said she signed on to support her friend, as well as the fledgling ballerinas.
"I love to dance. I love to help out these kids because dance is such a wonderful activity to do," she said. "Everyone is a natural dancer."
The class has a simple format -- stretching, going to the barre, working on new steps for their routine. And while their reasons for participating may be different, they are united in their enthusiasm and response to the opportunity.
"I wanted to do this because I knew it was a great class and I'd learn a lot and get to be in a great performance and learn how to be a ballerina and learn how to be flexible," said 8-year-old Janiyah McCoy.
Her 9-year-old sister, ZaMyah Hall, is also in the class.
"I dance at home and I have been in a class and we went to a competition and we won," she said. "Dancing is actually what I want to become when I get older.
"I like hip hop and I like to be with my friends. And I like to be peaceful. I like the dancers (teachers) because they're really nice and I like the dances that they teach us."
Honesti Hume, 8, said that dancing has been her favorite thing to do since she was 4 years old.
Their first time performing before an audience was a bit daunting, the students admitted, but also exhilarating.
"All the seats were full and then the stage was pretty big but when I finally got out there, it wasn't scary and it was fun, too," said ZaMyah.
"When I was up there I was so excited but I was nervous, 'Will I mess up or what?'' recalled Janiyah. "But I realized my friends and my sisters were up there, so I thought, 'I got it, I got it.' And my mom and my friends and family were there and I had to show them that I'm a great dancer."
The program is not only a huge hit at the school but is gaining traction from other directions as well.
Rainee was recently notified that she is the recipient of the Susan Keel Lamar Scholarship, which includes a $500 savings bond and certificate for service in the performing arts, from the N.C. Association for Gifted and Talented. And during this past week's class, she got to bring more joy to her students -- in the form of colorful costumes each girl will wear in their upcoming recital. The gift came from Traveling Tutus, based in Florida, which accepts dance costume donations and gives them away to efforts like this one.
"You know how we pay for your costumes and your costumes are the leotards and tights?" Rainee asked her students on Wednesday, standing next to a large cardboard box containing their surprise.
As she explained that the Traveling Tutus organization had sent enough costumes for each of them, then began handing them out, the "ooohs" and "aaahhhhs" began to ripple over the group.
"They (are) pretty!" several exclaimed, clutching the brightly colored costumes.