Like a Footloose-style crusader, Darcy Carozza is on a mission to bring dance to teens in the Coachella Valley.
That’s why she created the Palm Springs Dance Project, which provides free, professional dance instruction to local high school students, builds a network of local dance studios, and is set to pepper the area with live performances next month.
Carozza isn’t a dancer herself, but when she saw her first professional dance performance a few years ago, she was inspired to bring more of the art form to the community she’s called home for more than 40 years.
“Dance itself can communicate so much without words,” she says. “I think what it does to us, as humans watching it — we can feel the emotion and relate to it, and… it links us together in a shared experience
She produced a dance program at the Palm Springs Art Museum in 2016, which grew into a dance festival that featured various professional performances and a “master class” for kids.
But she wanted to do even more for local students, particularly those who wouldn’t ordinarily have an opportunity to take professional dance lessons. She dreamed of creating scholarships that could make potentially life-changing arts instruction available to the most vulnerable kids. She thought of her own now-adult daughter, who won a scholarship trip to Italy as a teen that changed the course of her life and career.
Palm Springs Dance Project provides free, professional dance instruction to local high school students, who will show off their skills at VillageFest on March 5 and a community showcase on March 6.
“The discipline it takes to learn dance relates really well to children’s overall discipline in learning,” Carozza says. “Studies show they have better success rates as adults contributing to society. So that’s something I really wanted to grow and provide.”
Carozza applied for grants and asked local donors to support her mission of providing dance classes to Coachella Valley kids. She ultimately raised funds for 70 scholarships, half of which will be awarded during the inaugural Palm Springs Dance Project.
Students will receive 24 hours of free training this month before showing off their skills at VillageFest on March 5 and a community showcase on March 6. The festivities culminate on March 7 with the Main Event, a gala program featuring performances by three Los Angeles-based dance companies.
One of them, Luminario Ballet, will bring the first-ever aerial dance performance to Palm Springs Art Museum’s Annenberg Theater. Special rigging had to be installed inside the theater to accommodate the troupe’s high-flying needs.
“I’m really enthusiastic about presenting this program,” Carozza says, “because besides bringing this to our local community for the first time, we’ve also opened up an opportunity for the museum and the theater” for other aerial performances.
While the Main Event promises Hollywood-style flash and dazzle, the real focus of the Palm Springs Dance Project is creating opportunities and community for local young people.
Carozza has already seen positive effects from the “master class” offered last year. One young student said learning to dance felt like an escape from problems at home and inspired her to be more open to new challenges. “It changed a big part of me and I’ll always be grateful for the experience,” the teen said.
That’s what moves Carozza. She spent a year putting together the 2020 Palm Springs Dance Project, and as soon as it wraps, she’ll start working on the 2021 event.
Luminario ballet incorporates high-flying theatrics to its performance.
BrockusRED is one of three LA dance companies performing on March 7 in Palm Springs.
“When you see what this experience meant to them, how they connected to other dance students and what they learned about themselves, it’s just incredible,” she says. “It’s been a really big inspiration for me to try to create experiences that could be meaningful to a kid in their life, that their parents would want for them but just can’t give them.”
Three Los Angeles dance companies — BrockusRED, Lulu Washington Dance Theater, and Luminnario Ballet — will perform March 7 at the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum. For tickets and more information, visit palmspringsdance.org.