Since it began in 2012, the Nehemiah Project has worked with more than 100 students during its summer dance workshops. This summer, the students ranged in age from 7 to 22, and our main classes—ballet, modern, and improvisation—were held at First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland, a beautiful historical building in Shaker Heights. Two days out of each week, the students worked with one of our artists in residence, Shantelle Jackson, an emerging choreographer with roots in Cleveland whose movement language is influenced by acrobatics and the martial art form chi kung (or qi gong). In this class the students had the opportunity to dance in limitless space at one of Cleveland’s Metroparks, Edgewater Beach. Through this experience they developed new connections between their bodies and the space around them.
This summer, partly funded by a Summer Grant, we also introduced the students to rhythm and sound in a music section that was led by Juilliard dance accompanist Paula Jeanine Bennett, a percussionist who’s also from Cleveland. She taught students how to count music and create rhythm as well as introducing them to the sounds of Brazil.
The mission of the Nehemiah Project is to provide the upcoming generation of artists the tools needed to take the arts community to the next level. Our program encourages students to push themselves artistically by offering them vital information that allows them to think creatively and articulate their thoughts while strengthening their artistic voice at any age. We emphasize important tools that will benefit the students by the time they get to a college level.
To show our support for arts and education, each year the project culminates in a benefit concert that helps raise money to help a high school graduate attend college. The scholarship is named after my mother, Callie E. Taylor, to honor her hard work and the time that she has devoted to making a difference in the lives of others as a longtime volunteer at my alma mater, the Cleveland School of the Arts. Since 2012, this scholarship has supported five deserving high school graduates. Seeing the effect this program has had on the students, I hope to one day expand this project into an after school program that works year-round with the students and to continue to mold and inspire these future artists.
Project The Nehemiah Project
Dates June 9-29
Juilliard Participants Fourth-year dancer Nehemiah Spencer, dance accompanist Paula Jeanine Bennett