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Diane Sales

I

Story by DeMARCO MORGAN

t was toes down and heels up throughout the performing arts center and athletic facility on the campus of Atlanta’s Drew Charter School. Inside, young, mostly African-American youth between the ages of eleven and fourteen are in harmony, gracefully gliding across wooden floors in fourth and fifth position; their reflections ricocheting off the mirrored walls projecting images of their meticulous, yet, at times, timid young souls – all participants in Atlanta Ballet’s AileyCamp.

Facing a potential loss of funding and the imminent closure of the “AileyCamp”, instructor Diane Sales chose not to give in, and her prayers would eventually be answered with the help of a major grant from The Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation. It allowed the “AileyCamp” to continue its operation.

It was famed choreographer, activist, and legendary dancer, Alvin Ailey who founded “AileyCamp” in 1989. Ailey’s goal was to provide inner-city youth with an environment for developing creative expression, discipline, and critical thinking skills. Atlanta would become the first city in the South to play host to the camp. The camp has been in existence for almost nine years. However, after several successful years of operation, the program almost came to an abrupt halt when it lost its funding along with one of its major sponsors.

The world-renowned ballerina and dance instructor would have to revert to the unwavering perseverance and strong will she developed at age ten when she first became infatuated with dancing after watching Russian dancer Natalia Makarova on her family’s black and white TV in her native Brooklyn, NY.

“This is the first time that some of them are dancing, putting tights and leotards on and being exposed to something different,” said Diane Sales, the director of the six week summer program. “My position is to give them ownership of their life. To stand behind them so that they know there are so many possibilities. And, if they take advantage of what’s around them, they’re going to be successful.” It is a message Sales is hoping the aspiring dancers will inherit once they have completed the camp. The students, both boys and girls, all come from under-served communities. However, you would not know it by their carefully manicured haircuts and tightly pulled back ponytails with black leotards - for the girls - along with their signature satin pointe shoes. It’s as if all of the campers’ cares and worries somehow dissipate when the soothing sounds of classical piano chords collide with the formation and cadence specifically designed and tailored for both the danseur and danseuses. “They learn so much about themselves and personal development,” said Sales. “They’re building their self-esteem and self-confidence and critical thinking skills – such a range of growth.” More than one hundred “Ailey Camp” participants are spread out across the center, some in the auditorium, and others in the school’s gymnasium learning technique, form, and style from a group of dance instructors under the leadership of Sales.

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“My heart was broken and I felt so much pressure,” said, a now emotional, Sales. “If it weren’t for the Atlanta Ballet, this program would have been dissolved two years ago.”

“There were times when I was told that I wasn’t going to be successful as a ballet dancer,” said Sales, who would eventually attend the Joffrey Ballet School in Chicago IL, and later begin her professional career with Ailey II performing across the world in places like Italy, Syria, Africa and nearly all fifty states here in the U.S.

“I pray and I keep myself grounded knowing that even in the hard times, I’m going to succeed because I have to.” “That’s the most rewarding part that I can be a part of bringing arts to so many children that haven’t been exposed,” said Sales. “If I have inspired young African American girls and boys to pursue dance as a career, I’ve done a lot because I didn’t have anyone there to tell me that I was going to be successful.” To learn more about Atlanta Ballet’s AileyCamp please visit http://centre.atlantaballet.com/community-programs/atlantaballets-aileycamp

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