Digital Civic Engagement: New Orleans Ballet Association’s inclusive class options

The New Orleans Ballet Association (NOBA) serves over 30,000 individuals each year through two programs, the Main Stage Series and a series of comprehensive, internationally recognized courses. The Main Stage Series is a season of performances by world class dance companies of all genres, which present at the New Orleans Mahalia Jackson Theater. NOBA partners with NOCCA, the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts, and Tulane University, a local private university, to bring this series to the community.

In addition to these world-class performances, NOBA primarily focuses on community engagement on the ground floor. Since 1992, NOBA has acted with the goal of increasing accessibility of dance to underserved families. Its second program provides “comprehensive, internationally recognized education, health/wellness, and arts healing programs that educate, train, and nurture individuals ages 4-80+.”[1] NOBA provides over 5,000 tuition-free classes annually, alongside outreach activities in 20 neighborhood sites and through a virtual platform since the pandemic.

NOBA shatters the stereotype that dance is reserved for individuals with wealth to spare, instead focusing on providing classes completely tuition-free at every level and course type. While some classes may require a $15-20 registration fee, NOBA ensures that this one-time payment is the only instance where money leaves your pockets.

Collage created by Sara Miller using NOBA’s Facebook Page

The early childhood program caters to children aged 4-5 years old, offering tuition-free ballet classes at partner locations throughout Orleans Parish. Programs run at the Cut Off Recreation Center on 6600 Belgrade St, the Gernon Brown Recreation Center on 1001 Harrison Ave, the Joe W Brown Recreation Center on 5601 Read Blvd, the Morris F.X. Jeff, Sr. Recreation Center on 2529 General Meyer Ave, the Stallings St. Claude Recreation Center on 4300 St. Claude Ave, the St. Bernard Recreation Center on 1500 Lafreniere St., and at the Treme Recreation Community Center on 900 North Villere Street. These locations are scattered across Orleans Parish, ensuring that multiple communities have easy access to arts centers and classes with little transportation cost required. Just as tuition-free classes allow parents to send their children to classes guilt-free, these locations ensure that transportation does not become an issue either in monetary or time cost.

NOBA also provides tuition-free preparatory youth and teen courses in ballet, tap, jazz, and hip hop. Despite being known primarily as a ballet association, the institution has provided classes outside of the ballet sphere for many years.  These preparatory classes are open to individuals ages 6-18, and the teen and adult open community courses are available to anyone ages 13 and up.

NOBA also provides a June Twilight Dance Program in the summer for individuals ages 4-18. This program is held in June as an extension of NOBA’s academic year program at the same 7 locations throughout Orleans Parish. [5] The Twilight Dance Program was created with the goal to provide prolonged education and activity for children outside of the academic year and maintains the same tuition-free, audition-free criteria. These evening classes are held at every level of ballet, modern, jazz, hip hop, and West African Dance.

Pre-professional classes are offered to individuals ages 7-18, although these courses are only offered by audition or invitation. Still, when one does receive this invitation or succeed at auditions, these classes are also tuition-free. Pre-professional classes are specifically catered to provide intensive instruction in many types of dance, providing individuals with opportunities to study under and perform with world-renowned artists.

Collage created by Sara Miller using NOBA’s Facebook Page

Alongside catering to underserved families through its decreased cost, NOBA ensures that individuals of all ages may receive an arts education at any point in their life. While many people believe that dance is only for little kids, or that you have to start your dance education in your youth to do well, NOBA completely disregards this stereotype.

In addition to its myriad of childhood and teen classes, NOBA provides many adult and even senior age-level classes. Adult open community courses at NOBA are free and open to all adult, teen, and senior individuals who wish to attend. However, the truly outstanding and unique adult courses are the senior program and the Dance for Parkinson’s Program. The Senior Dance Fitness Program is catered toward individuals age 55 or older, and these free classes focus on movement and stability for older members of the community.

NOBA’s Dance for Parkinson’s Program also caters to older community members, providing tuition-free classes are designed specifically for people living with Parkinson’s disease. Parkinson’s is a “brain disorder that causes unintended or uncontrollable movements, such as shaking, stiffness, and difficulty with balance or coordination.”[2] This disease is progressive as symptoms gradually worsen over time; however, studies have shown that regular exercise is proven to lessen symptoms’ effects.[3] NOBA’s Dance for Parkinson’s Program focuses on just this, as it is designed specifically for people living with Parkinson’s, offering a variety of low-impact, movement-centered exercises. This program is also open to caregivers, friends, and family members of those living with Parkinson’s, as well as others with different movement or neurological challenges. NOBA’s inclusive atmosphere is designed to decrease stress, allowing individuals to focus on healing movement with the support of the community around them. Classes within this program also feature live music with an accompanist, as music, alongside dance, is proven to ease Parkinson’s symptoms.[4]

NOBA further focuses on inclusion through its livestream classes, which came about in March of 2020 amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Many dancers felt unmoored and anxious during the pandemic, as in-person classes became either impossible or stressful to attend for fear of contracting the virus. While many studios completely shut down or paused their classes for months, NOBA sought out a solution. Livestream classes arose from this crisis, allowing NOBA to provide individuals with free, online instruction from the safety and comfort of their own home or private dance space. These livestream classes are split into categories, with some aimed toward children and teens, another toward adult dance and wellness, a third for senior dance fitness, a virtual Dance for Parkinson’s program, and a class catered toward veterans.

Collage created by Sara Miller using NOBA’s Facebook Page

The Freedom of Movement adaptive dance program was created in partnership with the Southeast Louisiana Veterans Health Care System (SLVHCS) and began in 2019 in person. It is tuition-free and open to the public, although it is catered toward veterans first and foremost. The classes are held at the New Orleans VA on Canal St. and is funded in part by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. It is also partially funded by a grant from the South Arts in partnership with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Louisiana Division of the Arts, Office of Cultural Development and Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism. In its inciting year, this program kicked off with a featured performance and class with world renowned wheelchair-based dance artist Kitty Lunn, who grew up in New Orleans herself. The program moved online during the pandemic, but now operates through both the online platform and in person.

The New Orleans community and dance world as a whole express their love and gratefulness for NOBA and its inclusive programs. On Yelp, two of the three reviews rated NOBA 5 stars, with both local community members expressing their admiration for the program. Kathleen T states,

“I really love the space and am having a great time practicing with Kynt and the rest of the NOLA Flash Mob crew. I met Nikki briefly and her adorable son, both are very charming. Looking forward to dancing in this studio for a long time to come. Location is a super bonus as well. If you come out of practice hungry, thirsty, or just in need of something cold to drink, there are tons of places literally within a four block radius.”

Alex G agrees, stating that

“New Orleans School of Ballet is the best studio in New Orleans to pursue ballet. The staff is kind and honest. My children have learned so much from participating in classes and performances with the New Orleans School of Ballet. As long as my children remain passionate about dancing, this is the studio for us.”

One negative review appeared on Yelp, however this review was left by a tourist and featured a personal anecdote about slipping and being upset that the floors were slick. This review left no negative feedback on the individuals or instructors within the course, stating that the other dancers and instructors attempted to comfort her by blaming the floor for her mishap.

On TrustAnalytica, the reviews are similarly glowing. 93% of the reviews were at 5 stars, with 0% at 4-2 stars, and 7% at 1 star. Of the 5 star reviews, standouts with commentary include Chelsea Sun, who spoke on NOBA’s positive impact on her entire family, saying,

“My family has been enjoying the many benefits of dance education at NOSB for four years now. I can’t say enough good things about the caring instructors, performance opportunities, and invaluable life lessons my children continue to learn about art, dance, respect, self-care, resilience, teamwork and commitment. I’ve enthusiastically recommended NOSB to anyone who asks about dance lessons and will continue to do so.”

Jeff Sgambato gushed about his personal experience at NOBA, stating,

“I love this ballet school! The teachers are positive, patient and caring. The instruction is excellent. The atmosphere is friendly and no fuss. I highly recommend it.”

L Mags expresses gratefulness to NOBA for her daughter’s experience as she says,

“Found the perfect place for my daughter: she’s learning ballet and dance as an art form and a discipline (not some weird cheerleading style competition cult). . . she’s high energy but her focus and attention have improved dramatically and she’s excited about ballet and performing . . . the teachers and owner are patient, understanding, and very professional– we’ve also enjoyed seeing her teachers perform with Marigny Opera Ballet. Definitely priced well for what you get.”

The single 1 star review on TrustAnalytica is identical to the 1 star review on Yelp, even though the individual who commented on this website went by Laura Perkins rather than Laura W like she did on Yelp. Once again, this review is the sole negative review among a myriad of incredibly positive reviews from community members who are directly linked to and invested in NOBA, and every review, including this negative one, speaks well of the individuals who dance at and teach at NOBA.

Collage created by Sara Miller using NOBA’s Facebook Page

Overall, as locals and dancers agree, the New Orleans Ballet Association is a gem in the New Orleans community, creating an inclusive, friendly, and enthusiastic environment in which anyone can learn and experience the joy of movement.









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