by Asmi Kothari
A Chance To Dance started as an idea on the first workday of Suzzanne Ponomarenko’s Self-Expression and Leadership Program with Jon Rubinstein in New York. She is a dancer/choreographer, so she knew from the beginning that her community project would involve her passion and involvement in dance.
Suzzanne’s passion for dance extends beyond what she’s capable of expressing via words. With that abundance, she knew she had something to spread far and wide. She thought New York would be a challenge, but did not light her up when she first started exploring it. She is also an avid traveler and started playing with the idea that A Chance To Dance being an international project. This first seemed next to impossible, and even kind of ridiculous, but once the idea took root, she knew she had to create it.
Having worked in dance studios and being surrounded by a world of dance educators, Suzzanne was clear how typical it is for average American families to have their kids in some sort of dance/art course at some point of their life, whether provided by family or at school, and how that is not the case for most children around the world.
She thought it would be amazing to enroll her dance educator friends in a project that could use their expertise in a community that does not have these types of opportunities. She envisioned exactly what she created, which was to give children an opportunity to create, practice and perform in front of their family and friends – an experience they would otherwise never have if she didn’t show up.
Suzzanne created A Chance to Dance as an educational outreach program that targets international communities that have little to no access to dance or movement as self-expression beyond this program. She gathered a team of highly qualified dance educators, and created a weeklong curriculum that culminates in a community showing of at a targeted location.
The first location was in Xela, Guatemala, where Suzzanne ran workshops, three community performances, and a fundraiser for a daycare, a women’s shelter, and an after school program.
She did all this with the support of a brilliant team of dance educators: Chantelle Herrera, Danielle Tamburro, Heather Robles, Rita Robles, Nicole Hennessy, Gabrielle Burgess, and Rebecca Greenbaum. The wonderful organizations Go Guatemala and A Broader View, and over 100 individual donors helped make this possible by raising the money to fund the trip.
During the entire process, from creating a project, enrolling educators keeping them in their power, fundraising, creating a schedule/curriculum, teaching in Spanish Suzzanne faced many such hurdles. Needless to say, breakdowns occurred, nearly every week. But she dealt powerfully with every difficulty, surpassing her own expectations. Suzzanne never thought that the team would have created a successful fundraising campaign and exceed the goal by $2,000.
“Most importantly, believing in myself was half the battle.” says Suzzanne.
Now the entire team is fully committed to see this program live in other locations around the world, as well as to continue their relationship with their students in Xela. Her next dream location would be at a school in Les Cayes, Haiti, which is in its pre-planning stages, as well as an orphanage in Nepal. They are busy planning fundraising strategies so they can make this possible. The team believes that they have something amazing to contribute, and also gain so much from each experience.
When asked about Landmark, Suzzanne mentioned that “Without the Self-Expression and Leadership Program, this project would not even be realized. I always dreamed about putting together something of the sort, but never felt powerful enough, organized enough, or supported enough to do so. The Daily Action Plan, coaching calls, and stimulation from all the work days and classroom really kept me going at times when I wanted to quit or felt extraordinary loss of power. Because of this community, A Chance To Dance is a reality, and I am hoping to continue this journey and see what develops by using the education from Landmark and the Introduction Leaders Program, which I will be starting this March.”