Dancing to the tune of disaster relief
"We don't just build dancers ... we build people," reads the line above the long mirror along the front wall of First Position Dance Arts studio in Ardmore, Pa. The 35 women reflected in that mirror at a rousing Mardi Gras Zumba Party one recent summer evening agreed.
These fitness aficionados came to build more than muscle as they followed teachers Lauren Quattrone's and Stephanie King's lead. They—baby boomers and members of Generations X, Y and Z—danced and donated dollars to support the efforts of the Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective on behalf of boys and girls in New Orleans.
Dancer Lisa Welsh, who co-owns First Position with her husband Stephen Welsh, founded Indigenous Pitch. This nonprofit organization was originally formed as a collaboration of local dance companies that highlighted Philly dance styles and choreographers. The group presented an original dance composition, called "Indigenous Pitch," at the 2006 Philadelphia Fringe Festival.
By the next year, Indigenous Pitch had evolved from a single dance work into a long-distance vehicle for good works.
Answering a call for help
The group's philanthropy began after Lisa attended an artfully delivered presentation by Pastor Mike Hogg at Narberth Presbyterian Church in 2007. Pastor Hogg, who then led the Canal Street Presbyterian Church in New Orleans, was asking for help with lingering post-Hurricane Katrina problems. He was especially concerned about the well-being of The Big Easy's young people because Katrina wiped out all of the local recreation centers.
Few people would associate dance with hurricane relief. IPDC's founder did.
Lisa answered Pastor Hogg's plea for assistance by taking a troupe of dancers to New Orleans that summer for two weeks to run dance camps for 60 children, ages 6 through 18, at the then-Canal Street Presbyterian Church. The youngsters learned hip-hop, ballet, tap, breakin', Afro-modern, jazz funk, yoga improvisation and choreography. They also worked on art projects and played games. Camps ended with student performances and cook-outs.
One mother said that when her son returned from IPDC's dance camp, "he was bubbling with everything we taught him," Lisa noted. "That's because the kids are learning skills beyond dance. We're teaching them how to make something from nothing."
That something endures, according to feedback from camps. "The effect lasts throughout the year, not just when we're there," Stephen added.
Indigenous Pitch also provided curative dance camps for young victims of considerable misfortune elsewhere. IPDC conducted camps twice in Haiti after the earthquake of 2010. Plus, the group led four spring break camps in North Philadelphia from 2008 through 2011.
Big Easy tradition
This year marked IPDC's seventh summer in New Orleans.
Indigenous Pitchers from the Philadelphia region, New Jersey, Delaware and California conducted camps there from July 22 through Aug. 2. Twenty-seven dance teachers hosted six camps at three locations: New Orleans' Canal Street Church, the Second Zion Baptist Church in Marrero, La., and the First Baptist Church in Chalmette, La. At least 400 children attended.
"We genuinely appreciate them coming and helping us. It's been a really good thing," said Canal Street Church's Ministry Coordinator Jenny Barr. "We love New Orleans and our community. It's been amazing to see the rest of the country fall in love with New Orleans, too."
If IPDC's artistic director has her way, Indigenous Pitch will fall in love with additional locations as they take the joy of dance to other youngsters affected by tragedy. Lisa longs to conduct dance camps in North Jersey; Newtown, Conn.; and Oklahoma to comfort young survivors from Hurricane Sandy, the Newtown murders and the Oklahoma tornado.
"We want an emergency fund, so that when there's a disaster, we just pick up and go," Lisa wished out loud. Her dream of building children beyond Philly's Main Line costs a lot to keep alive. So, step by step, Indigenous Pitch Dance Collective's camp fundraising continues.