Philadelphia Ballet takes city kids to the next level

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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (WPVI) — “I used to think it would be impossible and affordable to have ballet near my house,” says Chanel Hollander.

The 31-year-old’s mission is to be the role model she wished she had as a child.

“I don’t think it’s possible for an African-American dancer to be in the lead,” she said, “and that motivates me even more to keep going.”

In 2017, Holland created the Chocolate Ballerina Company, which provides a low-cost space for children and adults of color to learn advanced dance skills. Monthly lessons are offered for free, while weekly lessons are priced between $50 and $150 per month.

Today, Assoutlas, Senior Principal Ballerina of The Chocolate Ballerina Company auditioned for children and teens to become professional dancers.

“It’s so much fun. I really want to be a dancer in the future,” said 12-year-old Layla Harris-Fisher. “I’m learning new combinations, new tricks to help me balance better and probably have to work really, really hard to get there.”

Auditions are conducted in a professional manner, with dancers encouraged to provide headshots and resume upon arrival. According to Holland, this is part of a long-term plan to prepare dancers for the big stage.

“We want them to get into the best high school, the best college, so they can move and live a fulfilling life,” she said.

These dancers may also have the opportunity to perform at community events. Just last month, the Chocolate Ballerina Company made headlines with its first-ever “Chocolate-Dipped Nutcracker” performance.

This is an important step forward in Holland’s vision of helping urban children see more people who look like them in the spotlight.

“Sometimes it brought me to tears because I was in that position where I didn’t think anyone saw me,” she said. “If they knew I saw them, then they would have told me who they were.”

To learn more about Chocolate Ballerina Company and their free dance lessons, visit their website.

RELATED: ‘Mom, Get Up’ Connects Philly Moms with Resources for Success

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