Plié All Day

At Durham Rescue Mission, The Cary Ballet Company helps kids transcend hard times through dance

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By Corbie Hill
Photos courtesy of Plié All Day

When Arianna Arnold dances, she goes to another place. Ballet is her everything, she says. In the moment, in the movement, she can simply be herself. She lets go, she releases any pent-up emotion. Even when she talks about it, her expression changes, her face almost glowing for a second. At 13, she’s been dancing for a decade – long enough to have built up some skill, and long enough to pass on some of what she knows.

In April, at a workshop put on by Cary Ballet Company’s Plié All Day program, Arnold was one of the volunteer dancers who taught the grand jeté and tendu to children at the Durham Rescue Mission. In the moment, in the movement, these kids were able to let go. “A few of them definitely had that light in their eyes,” Arnold says.

Plié All Day let these kids, many of whom are in the midst of bad situations, simply be kids, and Michelle Gisondi wants to hold workshops like it again and again. Gisondi, the development coordinator at Cary Ballet Company, spearheaded the non-profit Plié All Day and has visions of it growing. She wants to expand, holding workshops at even more shelters, and to maybe someday put on a recital at the Cary Arts Center. It’s an idea that has thrilled Gisondi since it came to her, almost like a bolt out of the blue.

Arianna Arnold Photo by blaine butler

Arianna Arnold
Photo by blaine butler

“Not to sound overly dramatic, but it sort of woke me up in the middle of the night – ‘Oh! Women’s shelters!’” she says. “I had had a previous relationship with the Durham Rescue Mission through my church, so they came to my mind, and that’s just how we started.”

It was a perfect fit for the Cary Ballet Company’s desire for meaningful community outreach, so Gisondi reached out to the Durham Rescue Mission. The staff there was surprised at first, saying there was no guarantee the women sheltering there would see the value in a ballet workshop. Still, they said, come to a morning devotional and pitch your idea to the mothers. Just don’t be disappointed if they aren’t interested.

The pitch, turns out, was a resounding success.

photo by blaine butler

photo by blaine butler

“They were thrilled,” Gisondi recalls. “They were like, ‘How many times can you come? Can my grandchild come? Do you get to keep the shoes?’”

Yes, she was able to tell them, the girls and boys did get to keep the shoes. For that, thank Cary’s Relevé Dancewear, an early sponsor providing shoes and monetary support for Plié All Day. Going forward, Raleigh’s Dance Etc. is also sponsoring by providing leotards, tights, and boys’ dancewear. For Katherine Herring, owner of Relevé, supporting Plié All Day makes a whole lot of sense – and feels good. The arts are important, she says, and many people don’t have the opportunity to participate.

“I was watching the whole thing, and my daughter and I – I’ve got chills now remembering,” Herring says, sitting between Arnold and Gisondi in her store. “They know what their situation is and it just kind of got tossed aside for a few minutes.”

“Some of them had some real natural talent, too – remember?” Gisondi adds.

Ballet stuck in these kids’ minds, too. When Gisondi showed up at the Durham Rescue Mission in July to put down the floor and set up the bar ahead of the second workshop, the kids were already waiting. There were some familiar faces, and some new children, too. The Durham Rescue Mission’s program is eight to ten months long, Gisondi explains, so she’s able to build relationships with some of the children there.

“We had a different group of volunteer dancers,” she says. “From the company’s standpoint, I’ve designed this so everybody who wants to participate can participate.”

With another Plié All Day workshop planned in September, Gisondi is looking to the future. She wants to keep going, but also to grow this non-profit program. For that, she needs donations. Plié All Day is good for shoes and now, thanks to Dance Etc., there’s more dancewear to go around for the girls and boys of the Durham Rescue Mission. “It’s the funding – we need donors for that,” Gisondi explains. “To continue past October, we need monetary gifts.”

Gisondi, Herring and Arnold have seen why the program is important. They’ve seen girls and boys, kids who’ve experienced more than children their age should, lifted from their surroundings by dance. Gisondi knows the potential to touch even more children’s lives with Plié All Day, in Durham and beyond. The effects are simple, yet profound.

“Just seeing the smiles on the kids’ faces definitely makes me want to do it again,” says Arnold.  

To learn more or to donate to Plié All Day, visit caryballet.com/cary-ballet-company.html or contact Michelle Gisondi at 919.200.3939 or cbcompanydevelopment@gmail.com.