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Boston Ballet’s Citydance program strong after 20 years

Citydance program manager Yo-el Cassell with students José Garcia and Madeline Romero.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston GlobE

Citydance program manager Yo-el Cassell with students José Garcia and Madeline Romero.

On the sidewalk just outside Boston Ballet’s Clarendon Street studios, third-graders of all shapes and sizes were spilling out from big yellow school buses with bouncy energy and happy chatter. It was the final week of dance classes for the 240 students of Boston Ballet’s Citydance program, which has reached more than 60,000 Boston public school students in its 20-year history.

Each fall, initial workshops introduce dance to 2,500 third-graders throughout Boston’s school system. Those with aptitude and interest are invited to the Dance Discovery leg of the program. “We look for enthusiasm, body awareness, the ability to follow direction, and teacher recommendations that the program will be a good fit,” explained Citydance program manager Yo-el Cassell. For 10 weeks, these select students take classes in ballet and in different dance styles, from Chinese and modern dance to hip-hop and mime. Upon graduation — which for this year’s crop of students occurred last week — the students can continue training through Introduction to Boston Ballet School weekend classes, which are also free of charge. Some graduate from there to Boston Ballet School, which currently trains more than 60 Citydance alums.

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Ricardo Rhodes, currently a soloist with Sarasota Ballet, grew up in Dorchester and attended Citydance in 1995. He went through Boston Ballet’s training program before landing a job with Sarasota Ballet in his first audition. Citydance, he said, “opened my eyes to a whole other world, being able to see an art form which I wasn’t familiar with, and I fell in love with it. It gave me drive and the confidence to believe I could do it.”

Originally Citydance was designed to help develop professional dancers reflective of Boston’s diversity. But over the years, the program has also come to offer a broader range of dance education with skill development that has implications beyond the arts.

“It taught me responsibility and respect, discipline and self-worth,” Rhodes said. “It taught me to take responsibility for myself and not to be afraid to be who you are.”

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As the kids prepared for graduation, several spoke about their Citydance experience. They uniformly expressed sadness at leaving the program, as well as excitement — and some nerves — about the graduation performances they were scheduled to give.

Interviews have been condensed and edited. Karen Campbell can be reached at karencampbell4@rcn.com.
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