The Fostering Dreams Project held their first ever fundraiser “A Night of Dance: Youth Empowerment,” at the Colony Theatre on Tuesday, November 28th with performances and a silent auction to support the organization’s efforts.
Fostering Dreams Project is an organization that teaches dance and performing arts programs to students in foster care in an effort to enhance and empower their social, emotional, and academic success. They partner with schools, government agencies, non-profits, and rehab recovery centers to change the lives of young people, while providing them with opportunities in the arts.
In just the last school year, Fostering Dreams Project has danced with 13,306 students across 130 schools. Melanie Buttarazzi is the founder of the organization and has been a dancer since she was 4 years old. She organized the event at the Colony Theatre with the help of Burbank Cultural Arts Commissioner, Cindy Pease. “We met Melanie at a Burbank Cultural Arts Commission meeting, heard her speak on the work she does, and immediately invited her to the theatre to discuss how we could get that work showcased on the Colony stage, giving a platform for her program participants to shine. Her organization is an amazing one,” said Heather Provost, the Producing Artistic Director at the Colony Theatre.
Ticket sales from the event went to Fostering Dreams Project so that they can continue to bring dance to disadvantaged students in the area. Complimentary food was served from World Empanadas, and The Conundrum Theatre Company provided music in the lobby while guests ate, drank, and browsed the silent auction items. California Creative Arts had the gallery inside the Colony filled from end to end with their latest art exhibit “Together.” Artists gathered for pictures and mingled with attendees through the night. The exhibit will be on display through December 31, 2023.
Senator Anthony Portantino was in attendance and awarded Buttarazzi a certificate on behalf of the State Senate. “Kids just need to be exposed to as much as we can expose them to, and help them have as much of a life as we can offer them. This organization is providing them the opportunity to experience dance, art, camaraderie, teamwork, everything that every kid should be exposed to,” said Portantino.
Exposure to the arts is critical for those that don’t have access and come from disadvantaged backgrounds. Dance education can build confidence, community and civic engagement, understanding of cultural differences, conflict resolution, empathy, value and more. “They’re changed forever because of it,” said Lisa Campbell-Motton of the LA County Probation Department.
“Foster youth, as you all know, have a lot of trauma, and they hold that trauma in their bodies. Traditional therapy doesn’t work for our kids, like just sitting down talking in a room. Melanie probably did more therapy than they’ve ever had in their life in those sessions because after the day she would sit and journal with them and talk with them about how they felt. They were able to express their trauma through this dance.”
Groups of girls danced on stage, showcasing the hard work and dedication they have put into learning their performance piece over the last weeks. It was an emotional night as the audience could feel the energy and passion come from each dancer on the stage. “You can tell those girls have been through a lot, but they’ve overcome, and now they believe in themselves because they were able to do something they didn’t think they could do,” added Campbell-Motton.
Buttarazzi has taught dance in every type of facility you can think of. From courtrooms and kitchens, to warehouses and office spaces, she has never let the environment hinder reaching the students and young adults she works with. “It’s actually better if it’s not a typical dance space, because it takes them out of their head and into their body,” said Buttarazzi. When there’s no mirrors there, they’re not judging themselves, they’re not critiquing, and they’re feeling it. They’re connecting to their bodies, they’re connecting to one another, and that is the essence of what dance and fostering dreams is all about. It’s that connection back to ourselves, to know that anything is possible and find that with belief you can overcome and you do anything.”
13 young women from the Teen Project’s Freehab center performed an energetic dance that had the crowd cheering in excitement. Located in Sun Valley, Freehab helps to offer healing and hope to transitional age young women who have survived human trafficking and homelessness. With 74 beds, the residential center provides drug treatment, detox, withdrawal management, and the tools to get their lives back on track towards graduation and employment.
Gina Edner, a representative from Supervisor Kathryn Barger’s office awarded each girl with a scroll, as they hugged, cried, and blew out kisses to their family, treatment team and case managers sitting in the audience. “Dance gave me a shot at hope,” said one of the girls on stage. “This is something I have always wanted to do and being able to do it with the women I live with and enjoy time with, is a blessing.”
The fundraiser proved to be a successful, heart-warming event, enjoyed by everyone in attendance. To learn more about the Fostering Dreams Project visit their website at https://www.fosteringdreamsproject.org/.