Dance leader sees talent at Chaney



The founder and artistic director of the Dance Institute of Washington hopes to offer scholarships for several Chaney Campus dance students to study at his school next summer.

Fabian Barnes spent Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday with students at Chaney, leading a master class with dance students.

The Seattle native discovered dance at 11, when he followed his brother to a class. The teacher took an interest in him, and he joined the Dance Theatre of Harlem as a teenager.

He toured the world with the company before starting his own school in 1987 in the nation’s capital to provide other young people with some of the opportunities he had.

“I see a lot of talent here,” he said following a master class Wednesday at Chaney.

If he can work out some scholarships, he’d like to take all of the boys from the class and five to six girls, Barnes said.

Without dance, he believes he’d either be dead or in jail.

“It gave me a focus,” Barnes said. “It was the one single thing that I felt good about — that I knew I was good at.”

He pointed to a couple of students that remind him of himself as a young dancer.

Students lined up along the barre in the school’s dance room.

“First, side, flex, point, plie, stretch,” Barnes led the young performers as they executed the arm and leg movements. “Keep your knees straight.”

He walked the room, correcting posture and demonstrating the proper positioning.

Tracy Schuler-Vivo, visual and performing arts coordinator for Chaney’s VPA program, said ballet provides the foundation for all dance so it’s important that students learn the proper technique.

Barnes also quizzed them in ballet terminology.

“Port des bras” translates to carriage of the arms. “Fendue” is to melt and “ronde jambe” is circle of the leg.

Freshman Luis Velazquez, 16, has been dancing for about two years.

“It’s impressive, and it inspires me,” he said. “It’s the way I express myself.”

He was wowed by Barnes.

“It’s an honor to work with him,” Luis said. “I never expected anyone like him to come here.”

Sophomore Carrelyne Rhoads-Farley, 15, said dancing gives her energy and makes her feel good about herself. Her academic classes aren’t as much fun, she said.

Barnes, who used to be the ballet instructor for one of President Barack Obama’s daughters, came to Youngstown after meeting Penny Wells, director of Mahoning Valley Sojourn to the Past.

Barnes’ institute’s outreach program won 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award from the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, the same year Sojourn earned the award.

Barnes got involved with Sojourn, and Wells invited him to the city.

Barnes’ other awards include the Linowes Leadership Award and the Oprah Angel Network Use Your Life Award. CNN named him an “American Hero,” and Washingtonian magazine selected him as Washingtonian of the Year.

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