The National Endowment for the Arts recently gave a $10,000 grant to the Allegro Foundation (Charlotte, NC) in order to begin a weekly dance program at Rama Road Elementary School—and while the size of the grant was not exceptional, the students in the class were extraordinary.
Last year, the principal of this small school in Charlotte, Hugh Talbert, asked the Allegro Foundation to help its students with disabilities. The problem was funding, and as a new school year approached it seemed that the program would be cancelled. Fortunately, US Representative Sue Myrick and NEA Chairman Dana Gioia intervened, and with a special grant the Allegro Foundation was able to offer the class right on schedule.
Representative Myrick was particularly delighted, announcing that, "Allegro is a wonderful organization, taking children with disabilities and teaching them in ways traditional schools can't. I am glad the new NEA chairman, Dana Gioia, took a special interest in this organization and worked to secure funds for them."
Allegro is a musical term that denotes a lively or fast tempo. The Allegro Foundation is aptly named, as it provides students with disabilities and their typically developing friends with a unique opportunity to participate in dance and movement instruction together. Allegro serves children with mental retardation, Down syndrome, spina bifida, cerebral palsy, learning disabilities, and cancer—as well as children at risk. Classes not only improve their mobility, concentration, attention span, and independence, but also enhance their social skills.
The Allegro Foundation’s unique mission and curriculum were developed by its founder, Pat Farmer, a professional dancer and choreographer who started it in Los Angeles in 1991. The Pacific Foundation for the Performing Arts, as it was then called, began with eight teachers hired from her dance studio.
In 1998, Farmer returned to her hometown, Charlotte, to continue teaching children with disabilities; she moved the foundation, changed its name, and reached out to the community for support. Her foundation now serves more than 300 children in four public schools, and four community outreach programs. In an age when music and arts classes are systematically cut from school budgets, Allegro’s programs demonstrate the role that arts can play in educating children with disabilities. Grants like the NEA’s are helping Allegro to expand its programs so that it can reach even more of the 15,000 disabled students in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg community.