COLUMBIA — On a recent Thursday, little girls in black leotards and pink tights lined up at a ballet barre and counted along during exercises with their dance instructor.
The weekly dance classes are the realization of a dream for Kam Phillips. She created Dance Outside the Box last year as an extension of Dream Outside the Box, which she founded in 2009.
"The goal of Dream Outside the Box is to broaden the horizon for youths through extracurricular and career activities," said Phillips, who graduated from MU in May with a bachelor's degree in social work.
Both programs are intended for children with lower resources between ages 7 and 12, Phillips said.
Dance Outside the Box meets at Missouri Contemporary Ballet's studio at 110 Orr St. Phillips had the idea to start the partnership with Missouri Contemporary Ballet after a Dream Outside the Box event at which members of the company gave a demonstration for the children when they visited the studio.
"While we were waiting for the dancers, we asked the kids what they thought the dancers were going to do and they leaped up and started dancing and they were excited about it," Phillips said. "We saw the children expressing themselves in a way that we haven't seen before."
The dance program began with 10 children who were involved with the dream program. Now, although it's aimed at children involved with Granny's House after-school program and the Columbia Boys and Girls Club, any child in the community can try out. Right now, only girls are participating.
Auditions this year consisted of the children learning a dance and performing it. Fifteen girls tried out, and 10 made it — six from the Boys and Girls Club and four from Granny's House.
"They love the program," said Ashley Hayden, an MU senior studying psychology and black studies and co-director of Dance Outside the Box with Kortney Davis. "I think they understand what an awesome opportunity this is."
The children also have the opportunity to go on field trips to see their dance instructors perform.
"They are really learning from professional dancers," Phillips said. "They go see their performances and see what the teachers do."
Last May, the girls performed at "Dancing with Missouri Stars," the Missouri Contemporary Ballet's biggest fundraiser of the year. The girls had an opportunity to perform during the intermission.
Audience members were moved to donate to the group, Hayden said.
This year, Missouri Contemporary Ballet is providing dance clothes and shoes for the girls. This makes it a completely free opportunity for them, according to Joanne Sandorfi, director of operations at Missouri Contemporary Ballet.
"They wouldn't have the opportunity otherwise to take dance classes," Sandorfi said.
The girls practice every Thursday at the ballet studio in preparation for their performances in Dancing with Missouri Stars and in Missouri Contemporary Ballet's "Alice's Adventures in Wonderland."
Phillips hopes Dance Outside the Box will give the children the opportunity to dance and to continue dancing after they leave the program.
Phillips has a Dream Outside the Box program under way in her hometown of Fort Worth, Texas. Another is scheduled to launch in Detroit. Phillips wants to have Dream Outside the Box programs in Stockton, Calif., St. Louis and Chicago by the end of 2014.
"My dream," she said, "is to put myself out of business — that we reach a point where the children's horizons are broadened and realize the power of their dreams and they don't need a program to help them reach that point."
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