On Wednesday, October 30, CityDance DREAM Co-Director Chandini Darby testified before DC Council Member David Grosso and the Committee on Education on the impact of the arts on our city’s youth. Watch the video of Cha’s thoughtful and compelling testimony to gain further insight on the impact of DREAM in Washington, DC here (3:22:20).
Good Morning Councilmember Grosso and the DC Council Committee on Education. My name is Chandini Darby and I am the Co-Director of CityDance DREAM, a tuition-free dance program working to level the playing field for youth living in low-income District neighborhoods by providing access to free high-quality dance programming. Our mission is to challenge youth to push boundaries, unlock potential, and achieve their dreams through the transformative power of dance. Additionally I take great pride in saying that, like our students, I too am from Washington, DC and my family’s history is generations steeped in this city.
Since 2005 CityDance DREAM has grown from what was a 10-week pilot-program at Turner Elementary in Ward 8, to a robust multi-pronged dance institution serving hundreds of DC youth across 7 of our city’s 8 wards through two core programs: DREAM Connections, engaging students through free after-school dance classes and community performances at 11 DCPS elementary schools; and the newly opened DREAM School for Dance, a comprehensive 10-year scholarship program for talented students ages 8-18, that pairs high-quality dance training with academic services, college readiness, and family engagement, addressing the needs of the whole child.
A student’s long-standing engagement in the arts produces outcomes that not only support, but advance the expectations that we as a community have for our youth; developing drive, perseverance, problem solving skills, intelligence, collaboration, empathy, compassion as well as social emotional capacity, creativity and ingenuity. These skills are integral in developing well-rounded and engaged citizens, capable of pursuing their passions and contributing to the future of our city. We can not, and should not, rely solely on our school systems to bare the weight of youth development alone. The collective impact of arts organizations across this city ensures that all District youth, regardless of race or socioeconomic status, can access the benefits of arts programming.
In a 2018/19 survey soliciting CityDance DREAM family voice and feedback, families observed increases in their child’s confidence, responsibility, dedication, independence, and commitment. The mother of 8th grade student Ja’kyah, reported that her daughter was an average scholar with a horrible attitude, to the point that she was going to withdraw her child from the program. With the mother’s willingness to work with DREAM leadership and commit to the breadth of services and support within the program, Ja’Kyah was given a chance to grow. Ja’Kyah attended her dance classes 4 days and up to 11 hours a week in addition to her commitment to her studies, utilizing the on-site academic support services integrated at the DREAM School. Just months later, she reported that her daughter was maintaining honor roll status and eventually made the Principal’s list, quoting “I know without a shadow of a doubt, we would not be here if it wasn’t for the DREAM.”
Funding and support from our city has been crucial to our ability to meet the needs of students like Ja’Kyah. Today, with a bold vision for providing sustainable artistic excellence in Washington, DC for traditionally marginalized youth, CityDance DREAM has a diversified portfolio of funding sources. However, without the support of the City over the past 15 years we undoubtedly would not be where we are today. And undoubtedly, without the support of the City into the future, our ability as an artistic community, to meet the vast and numerous needs of our city’s most underserved students will be greatly diminished.
I thank you for the opportunity to testify before council. It is my sincerest hope that you continue to support arts and humanities education for DC youth through your investment in organizations serving the collective impact of arts education and the critical role they play in providing equity to our city’s youngest residents.