Georgia Bernbaum, age 11, had to come up with a community service project for her bat mitzvah. That’s how The Dance Happy Project was born.
Words by Tracey C. Velt Photos by Lisbet Photography
When it came time to develop a community service project, Georgia, a sixth-grader at Maitland Middle School, knew she wanted to create a project that would incorporate the nonprofit dance studio she attends for classes. Over time, her idea took shape, and she decided to bring dance classes to children living in homeless shelters. A quick call to the Coalition for the Homeless, and Elizabeth Bernbaum, Georgia’s mom, discovered a program called Art by Coalition Children (ABC). “They bring in artists for different programs offering everything from movie-making to puppetry,” says Elizabeth.
What Georgia liked so much about the idea is a dance class was something the children could always use. “All you need to dance is you, not paints, paper, clay or anything else. I hope the dance lessons will give the children confidence so that no matter where they are, they can feel powerful,” says Georgia.
As a dancer with The Center for Contemporary Dance (CCD) in Winter Park, Georgia immediately decided to meet with Dario Moore, the artistic director of the dance studio, to find out how to bring the classes to the homeless. “The CCD has a history of working with Title One schools and loved the idea,” says Elizabeth. With the idea and execution in place, Georgia needed to get working on fundraising. “We named it The Dance Happy Project, and a friend of ours designed the logo,” says Georgia. “I came up with The Dance Happy Project [name] because I want people to feel happy when they dance. This is why I wanted the logo to be smiley-face yellow.”
After brainstorming with mom, Georgia decided to do a project asking designers from dance and Broadway to donate their artwork, which would be sold at an auction. “Georgia wrote the letters on her own; I just corrected the grammar,” laughs Elizabeth.
“One of my favorite pieces is the costume design for Glinda the Good in Wicked. It is the original sketch, signed by the designer, Susan Hilferty. She won the Tony that year. I cannot believe that she sent this to me!” says Georgia. “It is exciting when a new piece arrives. I cannot believe how many donations I have received from artists all around the world. Some of them have sent me personal notes, which I will save forever.”
With artwork pouring in, Georgia and Elizabeth continued to research ways to earn money for the project. “Our goal is to fund this class for three years,” says Elizabeth. They discovered The Pollination Project, an organization that provides thousand-dollar seed grants to “ordinary people doing extraordinary things.” Georgia wrote the narrative. “I made sure the tax information was correct,” says Elizabeth. At the same time, Donna Dowless, Orlando’s official Ambassador of Love, told Elizabeth about The Awesome Foundation, which provides thousand-dollar grants to fund small projects that make the area a better place. Georgia’s Dance Happy Project won both grants. The auction fundraiser will be held February 9 at the John and Rita Lowndes Shakespeare Center. Moira from the Philips Phile will be the emcee. “I am looking forward to my fundraiser because it is going to be really exciting to see art and dance come together on stage,” Georgia adds.
Bodies in Motion
Thankfully, with the two grants, Georgia didn’t have to wait for the auction to start the dance classes. “The intention is to do it four times a year—every three months. Each time, it will run for four consecutive weeks,” says Elizabeth. “Georgia has the funding for it to be held three times this year, plus to rent the space for the auction.”
While the dance classes take place when she’s at school, Georgia recently took an afternoon off to see the fruits of her labor. “I was moved by the dance class. Mr. Dario was teaching the children how to choreograph their own dance, using their ideas, and I could tell that The Dance Happy Project was already successful!”
The size of the classes depends on the number of children at the center. “There could be up to 200 children staying at the shelter at one time,” says Elizabeth. “Although, the first class had 20 kids.” Says Moore, who was hired to teach the classes, “I like to say that I have a 12-year-old boss. It is amazing what this young lady is accomplishing. This is an important project for reasons that extend beyond the technical aspects of dance education. The classes at the coalition teach young people, quite literally, how to take control of their movement through time and space. Through dance, students learn to see that they can create choices and that their choices have both value and consequences.”
Says Elizabeth, “I’m so proud of Georgia. She’s worked really hard on this. I’ve helped, but I’m staff. I do what she can’t do, like sign contracts and checks.” The whole experience has been rewarding for Georgia as well. “When I go to college, I want to major in nonprofit management,” she says. It’s obvious Georgia’s heart and head are in the right place.
Take a sneak peek at the art to be auctioned off for The Dance Happy Project:
If you click on a piece of art on the website, you can read about its origin.