Lindsey Kelly has loved dancing since she was a teenager. Growing up just off of 32nd and Silver Spring, she has kept a budding fascination with the art form. At first, her family’s financial situation made it difficult to find affordable opportunities. Fortunately, she and her family soon discovered non-profit faith-based organization Above The Clouds, which provides free instruction for art forms like ballet, hip-hop, and theater to inner city youth. She became one of the more than 625 young people taught. Several years later, she would return to the organization, this time as a teacher.
Kelly’s story is a shining example of the empowering and life-changing effect the organization can have. She’s amazed at the changes she’s seen in her four years of teaching, including those at the Holton Youth Center, which has a full ballet studio. This Saturday, the organization will celebrate its 15th anniversary at the Grace Center. Prior to the event, Milwaukee Record spoke with Kelly about her journey from student to teacher, and the lasting impacting of Above The Clouds.
Milwaukee Record: Can you tell us a little about becoming a student at Above The Clouds?
Lindsey Kelly: I had always wanted to take dance lessons and my parents couldn’t afford it. Every New Year’s we’d get together as a family and talk about the things we wanted to happen and things to look forward to. And I brought up this idea of dancing. We worked as a family and heard about Above The Clouds, and I enrolled in dance. I started in ballet level one. The teacher said I caught on really quickly, so they moved me to level three right away. I took two or three levels at the same time. I had a curiosity for it and enjoyed it.
MR: What year did you join? How old were you?
LK: It was 2010, so I would have turned 14.
MR: What was a typical day like in class?
LK: We would start out in a circle and they would ask for prayer requests, and then you’d go straight to the ballet bar. We would basically do warm-up exercises at the bar and move to the center and take the things that we practiced, like pointing our toes on the bar, and work with movement. One of the things we worked on is called “port de bras.” It’s basically a fancy word for moving your arms. Most ballet studios have a mirror, but we didn’t exactly have one, so we would go in the hallway and look at our arms because they had a mirror in the hallway. We would practice the arm position and having good technique. After that we would move to movement on the floor. We’d go one at a time or two-by-two and practice things like walking and turning and jumping and that sort of thing.
MR: Did you meet a lot of kids that you could relate to going through similar life situations?
LK: I guess for me, since I didn’t dance until a later age, I was usually one of the older girls in class. So I don’t want to say it forced me, but it encouraged me to learn more and pick up more. I don’t want to say it made me take on a leadership role at early age, but it kind of made me aware of if another student was struggling to help them out or be a group participant and leader.
MR: Is that the root of what got you interested in teaching?
LK: Yeah. After a while, I learned what my teachers were telling me. Sometimes I would notice another student not necessarily picking it up. It was like I could relate to the teacher and to the student. I would hear what the teacher would ask for and think of it in a new way and be able to explain that to the student. I mean, it happened over time, gradually. It didn’t start out that way. But gradually, that’s how I developed my passion for teaching.
MR: What year did you start teaching?
LK: My senior year of high school, which would be 2013.
MR: How much time was there between you being a student and teacher?
LK: I guess like four years. Maybe three. I guess I never really thought about that. Because there was so much happening that senior year. I had gotten a scholarship to take dance at Steps Of Grace in Brookfield. And Above The Clouds, they also wanted me to teach. So I was taking a class out there and teaching beginner level ballet to five- and six-year-olds.
MR: What does it mean to have this organization celebrate 15 years?
LK: Personally, looking back at missed opportunities of times when I wanted to take dance at places, and having the lack of funds and financing, really motivates me to provide that for children. It gives them a safe place where they can freely learn and pursue their passions. And dance is not for everyone, but you could take any art form or class and you’d be able to develop skills and abilities, just the consistency and working hard and just being able to see how that can apply to everyday life. I think I’m starting to realize that a lot as a college student where you have good days and bad days. After a while, it’s just moving your body and just being artistic, and being creative that releases positive energy. I want to be part of the community, and just releasing energy in a positive and organized and beautiful way. That’s really why I love dance.
Above The Clouds’ 15th anniversary celebration takes place at Grace Center this Saturday from noon to 2 p.m. Tickets are $50 per person or $400 per table of eight. All funds benefit Above the Clouds. The event will feature special speaker and co-host of Real Milwaukee Cassandra McShepard, soloist/recording artist and ATC instructor Denise Burtonm, and performances by ATC ballet and drama students.