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Uptown Dance Academy to hold gala benefit at the Apollo

Linda Armstrong | 4/12/2011, 4:35 p.m.

Since 1996, the Uptown Dance Academy (UDA) has been a creative dance outlet in the East Harlem community, providing young people ages 3 to 19 with exposure to the arts and professional training in several areas of dance, including hip-hop, ballet, tap, African, and acrobatics. Located at 167 East 121st Street, this not-for-profit was started by Robin Williams--who also serves as the artistic director--to expose youth to something they would otherwise not experience.

The academy tries to offer services to every child despite any language barriers or cultural or physical challenges and does not deny students due to a lack of funds. During its existence it has served over 2,500 young people. Many have gone on to be cast in Broadway shows, featured on television in commercials and videos, and modeling. Now, the UDA needs the public's support.

This Tuesday, December 22 at 7 p.m., UDA will perform its original, now classic production of "The Black Nutcracker," choreographed by Williams and celebrating its 14th anniversary. The production utilizes the music of Tchaikovsky along with African drums and music from Duke Ellington's "Nutcracker Suite." The students will be accompanied by American Ballet Theatre soloist Misty Copeland. This production will take place at the world-famous Apollo Theater and be used as the organization's first gala benefit to fund UDA's Capital Campaign. UDA is currently housed in a 2,500-square foot space, but is trying to raise $250,000 so that they can move to a 12,000 square foot space and accommodate many more young people.

If UDA sounds familiar to you, it's probably because the UDA Uptown Kids Urban Dance Theatre won the 2009 McDonald's Gospelfest praise dance competition. However, this organization also prepares young people for auditioning for specialized high schools and colleges, as well as its own dance company, the Uptown Kids Urban Dance Theatre.

There are many reasons to come out to the Apollo on Tuesday and support this arts organization, and Williams was glad to talk about them. "Studying the arts helps with many things. Students that study dance always perform better academically because dance utilizes their comprehension skills and it helps build self-esteem," Williams shared.

What better self-esteem builders for these young dancers than to be on the stage with a renowned professional? The students are thrilled to be joining Copeland on stage, according to Williams. "Anytime that you can get a celebrity it is a big deal. Since Uptown Dance Academy is a grassroot-grown, community-based organization, having a guest artist of Misty Copeland's caliber join us means the world to the students and to me.

"She is the first African-American, soloist dancer of the American Ballet Theatre. You can only imagine what it means to see someone who looks like you in such a prominent position. Overall, many of my students have been with me for a while, and the addition of Misty Copeland has further increased and reinforced their artistic aspirations," Williams remarked.

During these difficult economic times, Williams is grateful that her students' attendance has remained consistent. "One of the most unique aspects of the Uptown Dance Academy is the fact that we offer a relatively affordable tuition compared to most dance companies. During these difficult times, my attendance has been consistent because both the students and their parents are committed to the programs that I offer," she said.