Armour Dance Theater’s Leader Is Driving Force For Inclusion In Dance Education – CBS Miami
MIAMI (CBSMiami) – A class of young, aspiring ballet flats is under the watchful eye of Ruth Wiesen, executive director of the Armor Dance Theater in South Miami.
She watches as they practice their graceful movements. Whether physically in class, virtually at home or in the satellite programs in the entire district – all dancers are under the supervision of Wiesen.
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“The mission of the armor dance is to use the dance to give children in our entire community more opportunities and to open up paths of choice that were not previously open to them,” said Wiesen.
In the 1980s, Wiesen was a teacher at the oldest youth dance school in Miami, the Thomas Armor Youth Ballet.
Together with a group of dancers, Wiesen gave a lecture to students in Carol City and had an eye-opening interaction.
“In the end, a little girl came up and said, ‘I love ballet! ‘she just raved. And I asked her, “Do you take lessons?” and she laughed and said. “No, only white girls are allowed,” she recalled.
Around the same time, Arts High School’s New World School opened.
“The kids in the magnet programs who have enough money to have classes after school were the ones who were competitive. So it was a very uneven playing field,” she said.
Wiesen took the opportunity to change something. She approached her boss – the world famous dancer Thomas Armor – and told him there was room to bring children from all over the world with a scholarship.
“He later told me that he said ‘okay’ because he thought I was going to fail and he wanted me to get out of his office,” laughed Wiesen, adding that he later became a big proponent of the program.
The scholarship program she developed is successful in reaching underserved neighborhoods.
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“Our four locations are Morningside, Miami Gardens, Frances Tucker and RR Moten Elementary Schools. And this summer we will be at Pine Villa Elementary doing a summer camp, ”said Wiesen.
The after-school program, funded by the Children’s Trust and other foundations, offers classes beyond ballet.
“We also give them reading with a literacy specialist, we give them an hour of math with the math teacher, we give them snacks and art class, it’s a great program. For the sixth graders, we make sure that they are ready to audition for these magnetic programs, ”said Wiesen.
There are success stories of academics from many backgrounds who have attended college, including dance, like Christopher Rudd.
Rudd met Wiesen as a fourth grader in Perrine. He entered the program and was the first black child to dance the title role in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker at the age of 11.
Since then, Rudd has performed all over the world and has opened his own dance company RudduR Dance in New York.
He cannot say enough about the opportunity he was given and about Wiesen’s impact on his life.
“Ruth not only became my teacher, she became my second mother and my greatest advocate,” he said, adding, “the discipline they teach us is applied in all areas of life.”
Meadows is busier than ever, keeping the program funded and running and teaching classes. But she never loses sight of the mission.
“Every kid that goes to The Nutcracker should be able to look on stage and see someone who looks like them, from the smallest part to the lead roles.”
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