A local nonprofit after-school dance program recently gained the national spotlight after being honored by the MTV show America’s Best Dance Crew.
Everybody Dance Now!, which provides free after-school dance classes for underprivileged and at-risk children in Santa Barbara, was one of five groups in the nation to receive $10,000 and a private dance lesson from the season five best dance crew. The organization currently reaches out to 850 of Santa Barbara’s 1,800 at-risk youth and coordinates 11 dance classes per week in the area.
The nonprofit was founded in 2005 by Santa Barbara native Jackie Rotman when she was 14 years old. Rotman has also expanded the program to Stanford University, where she now attends college.
“I felt so lucky to be able to afford dance opportunities — something I was really passionate about — and I wanted to extend that opportunity to others,” Rotman said.
Everybody Dance Now! managing director Alina Wattenberg said the organization offers dance classes to almost every after-school program in Santa Barbara in an effort to give local children a chance to express themselves in a positive way.
“Instead of just providing basic needs, we give them an opportunity to grow and challenge themselves,” Wattenberg said. “We’re also run entirely by youth. We’re not only empowering our students, we’re empowering all youth and the community as a whole.”
Magda Arroyo, a director at the Santa Barbara Boys & Girls Club, said the program is especially beneficial for the community because it is free of charge.
“Everybody loves dancing, and this way everybody can participate,” Arroyo said.
Arroyo also said the children who had the opportunity to work with Poreotix — the winner of America’s Best Dance Crew’s fifth season — were greatly impacted by the experience.
“Afterwards, the kids felt like they could accomplish something that was bigger than themselves,” Arroyo said.
Wattenberg agreed that working with the professionals was a rewarding experience for the children.
“For our kids, a lot of them had been watching the show and were familiar with the group, so they were really excited to be given this opportunity,” Wattenberg said.
Lauren Serrano, a third-year dance major and teacher at Everybody Dance Now!, said it was valuable for the aspiring dancers to work with positive role models.
“Working with the crew was magical,” Serrano said. “It was refreshing to see the kids look up to such positive and talented role models, which is not what they always get on TV.”
Rotman said the competition also sparked far-reaching interest in Everybody Dance Now!’s cause.
“Since then we’ve been getting dozens of e-mails from people all throughout the U.S., Canada and even Peru who want to start Everybody Dance Now! in their communities and want our help doing that,” Rotman said. “They’ve been so inspired and empowered. It’s been beautiful and now we’re excited to help them turn their passion and excitement into action.”