On one of the coldest nights of the year, Culver Girls Academy senior Meagan Rioux and three little girls braved the icy winds coming off Lake Maxinkuckee for their dance session at the Culver Beach Lodge. Rioux, from Granville, Ohio, is hoping to make the joy of dancing accessible to the children of Culver – and, eventually, any place that someone wants to devote the time and energy to make it happen.
A member of Dancevision, Rioux’s senior service project is operating a free dance studio at the beach lodge from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. She is averaging nine students and has had up to 16 children come for the one-hour sessions. The classes are offered to children from kindergarten through sixth grade (6 to 12 years old).
She started teaching classes in Culver at the Boys and Girls Club last spring. Rioux said she didn’t consider her program as a senior service project “but it met all the criteria.” This fall, the classes moved to the beach lodge.
The classes cover the basics of dance and ballet, but Rioux also gets into such areas as building confidence and learning about establishing personal space. Seeing the children develop not only as dancers but as individuals from week to week makes it worth all her time and effort, she said.
She is hoping to have the children perform during the Dancevision spring program. Rioux is also planning to have a spring recital for the children.
But her goal goes way beyond fulfilling her senior service project requirements and graduation. Rioux held a 5K run in Culver the Friday after Thanksgiving to raise funds for the program. Her run sponsors included the Culver Coffee Company and Evil Czech Brewery. And she has younger members of Dancevision shadowing her in order to take over the program next year.
“We are a 501C3 (non-profit) corporation, so contributions are tax-deductible,” Rioux said. “We have a board of directors. My goal is to raise $100,000 so the program can be sustainable.”
She is developing a franchise-style business plan that would allow others in different communities to start a similar program. Through the business plan, Rioux hopes to make it easier for people to spread the joy of dancing. It is her way of giving back to something that has given so much pleasure to her.
Rioux has been dancing since she was 3. Two years ago, her mother lost her job and the family settled in Florida while she was job-hunting. Rioux went to a local YMCA to use its dance studio. One day, she noticed two little girls watching her through the glass. After she finished, Rioux invited the girls into the studio for a quick session.
Seeing the children enjoy themselves so much was “one of the best experiences of my life,” she said. But she also knew the girls’ parents could not afford dance lessons. That moment made her realize that teaching dance, and making it accessible for all children, was something “I wanted to do the rest of my life.”