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Dana Hokin Garvey, Joffrey board member and co-chair of Joffrey’s Spring Gala, on the universal language of performance


Dana Hokin Garvey

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Updated: May 9, 2014 2:16PM

As a lifelong student of and practitioner in the arts, joining the Joffrey Ballet’s Women’s Board five years ago made perfect sense for me. My days as a young woman studying at the School of American Ballet in New York City instilled in me discipline, grace and an appreciation for physical expression I incorporate into my daily personal and professional life. I believe studying, watching and performing world-class dance is transformative and, therefore, everyone should have access to it — something the Joffrey also believes.

A perfect example is Joffrey’s Community Engagement (CE) program, which reaches 5,000 students a year in 44 schools throughout Chicago. Chicago Public Schools pay for the program, which offers free classes to any interested students. One such student is 10-year-old Sharonda McNickles, a fourth-grader who began taking dance classes at the South Shore Fine Arts Academy three years ago via Joffrey’s CE program.

When Sharonda was just a shy kindergartener, her principal noticed her enthusiasm during a creative movement class and suggested to her mother that she join the program. Today, her mother cites numerous examples of how the program has had a positive impact on Sharonda’s life: She has more self-esteem, stands taller, carries herself with poise and grace and projects confidence. She’s more focused and disciplined and has improved her academic grades. She’s more comfortable taking risks and shows a sense of pride while trying new things and pays attention to her health by staying active and taking an interest in nutrition. These are core values she will take with her and build on for the rest of her life. And as a direct result of her time in the program, Sharonda now takes classes at Joffrey’s Academy of Dance three times a week and has performed in the company’s annual production of “The Nutcracker” for the past two years.

Sharonda’s two sisters have also joined the program, giving them the opportunity to meet other kids of different backgrounds. It also gives them a chance to come downtown and study at Joffrey Tower, to perform at the Auditorium Theatre and to work with professionals to build their confidence.

These experiences foster growth within all of the program’s students, regardless of their background or financial situation — proving dance is a universal language. And this growth has an impact on all of Chicago: These programs help integrate our communities by removing perceived barriers and offering ballet as a bridge that gives each individual the same access to knowledge.

This concept — “We All Speak Dance” — is the focus of the Joffrey’s 2014 Spring Gala, an annual celebration of the universal language of dance, the company and its educational programs. As co-chair of the Spring Gala with my partner Elisabeth Adams, I am enthusiastically committed to raising awareness of the need for these programs and the impact they have in our community. If you are interested in supporting the Joffrey Ballet, I encourage you to join us for the Spring Gala April 25 at the Hilton Chicago.

For tickets and more information about the Joffrey Ballet Gala, visit For information about the Joffrey Academy of Dance, Official School of the Joffrey Ballet or the Joffrey Ballet’s Community Engagement programs, visit

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