January 2017

Whoever you are, walk into a dance studio and everything changes. Walk into a dance studio and see the expansive open space, the mirrored walls, the ballet barres extending horizontally around the room. Feel the music and elevated energy level and suddenly the pulse quickens, the posture elongates, head held high. You’re suddenly taller, more elegant, more spirited. You’re a dancer!

Many low-income Hispanic children grow up thinking such experiences are reserved for the wealthy, that the notion of dance class is outside their realm of possibility. But thanks to the cultural arm of the non-profit (501c3) Hispanic Family Foundation, families have access to dance classes and opportunities for the performance experience.

Folklore Dance Group; Photograph by Diana Perez

Baila (pronounced bay-la) means dance and was created to provide free classes for children and adults, over a range of dance genres—Mexican Folklore, Mexican Aztec, traditional ballet, and contemporary dance (hip-hop), as well as Martial Arts (Kung Fu), each led by a specialized instructor.

The studio is located on the former Kroger Shopping Center property at 3967 Nolensville Pike. Baila is adjacent to the new Plaza Mariachi (opening early 2017), which offers shopping, dining, cultural venues, and service providers, housed in an exquisitely detailed mall reminiscent of picturesque Mexican streets, squares, and markets.

By embracing the love and knowledge of their own Hispanic culture, children (many of whom were born in the U.S.) develop self-esteem and pride in their heritage. Word is spreading among parents, but there are challenges in bringing more children into the program, says director Diana Perez.

“I grew up in a dance studio,” she says. “But it’s rare for families to know kids who have been inside a dance studio. Many of these parents work multiple jobs, and then there’s the sensitive issue of transportation. Some undocumented workers are afraid to drive and get out on the highways.” The convenient location on Nolensville Pike, the open registration, and no-cost instruction (donations are accepted) alleviate some of the challenges.

“When things are free, people may not be committed,” Perez says. “We want parents to be committed and children to learn discipline, so as part of that commitment, we have rules about missing class or being late.” The discipline associated with dance, the exercise, the cultural pride, and the development of individual self-esteem while working as part of an ensemble are all part of the value of this program.

“Many of these children are dealing with bullies,” Perez explains. “A girl came to me and said, ‘I don’t want to perform because I’m ugly and don’t deserve to be onstage’. We try to take that from their minds, to offer them the challenge of being free by building discipline and self-confidence.”

Ballet Class; Photograph by Diana Perez

That confidence level is starting to grow as Baila connects with schools, events such as Celebrate Nashville, and community organizations such as Casa Azafran. “One of the good things that has developed is our relationship with Nashville Ballet,” Perez says. “I took 14 kids to The Nutcracker auditions so that they could see a ballet academy and have the audition experience. Five of them made it into The Nutcracker children’s dance group. I never imagined any of my girls would be dancing at TPAC. It was so rewarding see their excitement and to see the reality among all of our students: “That could be ME!!”

For more information, visit hispanicfamilyfoundation.com/baila/ or email baila@hispanicfamilyfoundation.com.

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