What Makes Ballet Memphis' Education Model So Compelling?

We often hear about arts organizations partnering with community members to create exciting and meaningful programs. We're happy to announce that today we'll bypass the theoretical and instead look at a real-life case study of successful partnerships in action.

The organization in question is Ballet Memphis, which recently received two national grants worth a combined $60,000 — one from the Hearst Foundation for $50,000 and one from the Dizzy Feet Foundation for $10,000. The grants will be used to fund Ballet Memphis' successful after school program and need-based scholarships.

Ballet Memphis' success didn't happen overnight. "After a lot of different iterations over our 28-year history, we’ve found an [educational model] that has a lot of sticking power," noted artistic director Dorothy Gunther Pugh.

So what is it about Ballet Memphis' educational model that makes it so special? And what can other arts organizations learn from it? For an answer we return to the concept of partnerships.

Partnerships should supplement, rather than reinforce, key elements of an arts organization's existing model. As cynical as it may sound, a successful partner provides something that the host organization needs. We venture to guess that Ballet Memphis employs word-class instructors. Dance is their core competency. There's no need for them to source this expertise elsewhere.

Instead, Ballet Memphis works with two local partners that supplement its core mission of teaching dance. One is Knowledge Quest. Based in South Memphis, the nonprofit organization's mission is to "vigorously equip youth to maximize their potential through intellectual and character development."

Knowledge Quest primarily serves the 38126 and 38106 zip codes of Memphis, which, as their site notes, encompasses some of the city's highest rates in poverty, school drop-outs, substance abuse, teenage pregnancy, and violence.

The second partner is the Leadership Empowerment Center, which works to "bring resolution to our youth's problems by meeting the spiritual, academic, and social needs of the youth in the community through bible study, club, discipleship, tutoring, and recreational activities."

By integrating these two community partners into its larger educational model, Ballet Memphis takes a holistic approach towards changing lives. It's as if their programming directors said to themselves, "We're really good at teaching dance. But what else can we provide kids to further enrich this experience?"

Twenty-eight years later, Dance Memphis has an answer. Dance education is powerful stuff. But when coupled with character and leadership development provided by proven community partners, the net effect is even more powerful.