ST. LOUIS - Between the high jumps, the flips and the colorful flare of pom-poms at the Tandy Recreation Center, 14-year-old Rayana Tribbitt took on the dance floor Wednesday night, where she said she looks forward to finding a positive outlet every week.
“It keeps me off the streets and it makes me happy,” said the dance student, “like if I’m going through things and I dance, I don’t think about it all. When I’m dancing that’s my main focus.”
It’s that very confidence if not focus, dance director Ovaloretta Harris or “Mama Rita” said she is teaching her team called the AllStarz.
“You give them a life, a purpose, something to look forward to and ambition,” said Harris.
The long-time dance teacher is making her goal to be a positive role model while mentoring young girls and boys and building their character through her gift of dancing.
Harris said many of the kids come from neighborhoods where sometimes crime, loss of a parent due to violence or poverty is all they know.
“I’m their shoulder to lay on to cry on, I’m their person to talk to,” said Harris, “we’ve gotta give them a life of what is outside of the streets.”
Parents, some of whom are working single moms said that the free community supported dance program is a blessing.
“You have an extra set of eyes, sometimes several pair of eyes that are on your child for those hours they are with them,” said DeJanel Freeman, “and you know they are safe.”
“This gives them hope,” said Netra Wright, “this is a relief for a lot of kids because sometimes kids are tense and this is a way to relieve it.”
Harris said she can’t ever hide her emotions when it comes to seeing her young students excel in a program that could open a lot of doors in their future.
“I love these kids,” said Harris with tears, “my job is to empower everybody and to encourage them that they can do anything they want, they set their minds to.”
The dance team is set to perform in its first-ever regional dance competition in Cahokia. The team is in need of costumes for the competition. To help with the funding visit Stlcityrec.recdesk.com or on Facebook.
UPDATE: The day after this story aired, Harris contacted Fox 2/KPLR 11 to say two dance studios and a high school from St. Charles would be stopping by the rec center to present her dancers with donations of shoes, tights, leotards, costumes, and warm-up class attire.