Maurice Brandon Curry, executive artistic director of Eglevsky Ballet, is introducing young students of color in the Uniondale district to the fun and joy of ballet, as well as the discipline, dedication and opportunities it offers. Credit: Newsday/Danielle Silverman

On a recent spring afternoon, the notes of a piano came from the auditorium of the Northern Parkway Elementary school in Uniondale, occasionally punctuated by a voice commanding ballet instructions and the giggles of children.

“Plié jump, plié straight,” said the tall man dressed in black as he directed his 20 students assembled on the stage in orderly lines.

They were listening to Maurice Brandon Curry, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer and executive artistic director of Eglevsky Ballet, the premier ballet company based in Bethpage.

It was an introductory ballet lesson for a program that Curry is bringing to the Uniondale Union Free School District starting July 5 for elementary students enrolled in summer school. He said he hopes to introduce the students, who are predominantly of color, to the fun and joy of classical dance as well as the discipline, dedication and opportunities it offers.

“Exposure is the biggest thing missing in the classical arts for African American children,” he said. “They don’t get to see ballet dancers, pianists, conductors and opera singers of color — and we’re there; we are in all of those spaces.”

Monique Darrisaw-Akil, district superintendent, said the ballet program will help with what she calls the access gap. She said for higher wealth families, summer is a time for camp and pursuing new passions, but economically that is not always an option for some students.

“So we thought about reimagining our summer learning program so kids could increase their reading, writing and numeracy skills, but at the same time integrating it with the things to help them discover their passions,” she said.

Half the day will be filled with academic work, while the rest will be devoted to ballet and other themes such as entrepreneurship and STEM.

Darrisaw-Akil said $10,000 in CARES Act money will be used to fund the ballet program.

Curry, who lives in Hicksville, studied at the School of American Ballet starting at age 6, fulfilling a dream of his mother's to have one of her children become a dancer. He has danced with the New York City Ballet among other companies, and choreographed for musical artists including Prince and Diana Ross.

He was appointed executive artistic director of Eglevsky Ballet in 2015. Despite his celebrated career, he says his most important role has been educator.

"If you are lucky enough and focused and selfless enough, you get to share your gifts as an educator," he said.

Founded by former New York City Ballet principal dancer Andre Eglevsky, Eglevsky Ballet is a professional school and company that has served Long Island for over 50 years, school officials said.

Emma Daniels, 18, has completed her studies at the school and is headed to the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where she will continue studying dance. She said she is inspired by Curry’s artistic excellence and resilience as a Black man excelling in an arena where there are not many.

Her advice for the summer students?

“Keep your listening ears on and absorb every single thing he’s telling you,” Daniels said.

Fourth-grader Zaina Mohammed, 10, said the class was "an entertaining way to get all my energy out.”

At the end of the summer, the students will put on a showcase, and several will be offered scholarships to Eglevsky Ballet in the fall.

“I’m hoping the students see the possibilities they have if they dream and work hard to make those dreams become reality,” Curry said.

On a recent spring afternoon, the notes of a piano came from the auditorium of the Northern Parkway Elementary school in Uniondale, occasionally punctuated by a voice commanding ballet instructions and the giggles of children.

“Plié jump, plié straight,” said the tall man dressed in black as he directed his 20 students assembled on the stage in orderly lines.

They were listening to Maurice Brandon Curry, a world-renowned dancer and choreographer and executive artistic director of Eglevsky Ballet, the premier ballet company based in Bethpage.

It was an introductory ballet lesson for a program that Curry is bringing to the Uniondale Union Free School District starting July 5 for elementary students enrolled in summer school. He said he hopes to introduce the students, who are predominantly of color, to the fun and joy of classical dance as well as the discipline, dedication and opportunities it offers.

“Exposure is the biggest thing missing in the classical arts for African American children,” he said. “They don’t get to see ballet dancers, pianists, conductors and opera singers of color — and we’re there; we are in all of those spaces.”

Monique Darrisaw-Akil, district superintendent, said the ballet program will help with what she calls the access gap. She said for higher wealth families, summer is a time for camp and pursuing new passions, but economically that is not always an option for some students.

“So we thought about reimagining our summer learning program so kids could increase their reading, writing and numeracy skills, but at the same time integrating it with the things to help them discover their passions,” she said.

Half the day will be filled with academic work, while the rest will be devoted to ballet and other themes such as entrepreneurship and STEM.

Darrisaw-Akil said $10,000 in CARES Act money will be used to fund the ballet program.

Curry, who lives in Hicksville, studied at the School of American Ballet starting at age 6, fulfilling a dream of his mother's to have one of her children become a dancer. He has danced with the New York City Ballet among other companies, and choreographed for musical artists including Prince and Diana Ross.

He was appointed executive artistic director of Eglevsky Ballet in 2015. Despite his celebrated career, he says his most important role has been educator.

"If you are lucky enough and focused and selfless enough, you get to share your gifts as an educator," he said.

Founded by former New York City Ballet principal dancer Andre Eglevsky, Eglevsky Ballet is a professional school and company that has served Long Island for over 50 years, school officials said.

Emma Daniels, 18, has completed her studies at the school and is headed to the Boston Conservatory at Berklee, where she will continue studying dance. She said she is inspired by Curry’s artistic excellence and resilience as a Black man excelling in an arena where there are not many.

Her advice for the summer students?

“Keep your listening ears on and absorb every single thing he’s telling you,” Daniels said.

Fourth-grader Zaina Mohammed, 10, said the class was "an entertaining way to get all my energy out.”

At the end of the summer, the students will put on a showcase, and several will be offered scholarships to Eglevsky Ballet in the fall.

“I’m hoping the students see the possibilities they have if they dream and work hard to make those dreams become reality,” Curry said.

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Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of “Good Morning America,” George Stephanopoulos, about his new book, “The Situation Room, The Inside Story of Presidents in Crisis.” Host: NewsdayTV Anchor Jasmine Anderson

Newsday Live: A Chat with George Stephanopoulos Newsday Live and Long Island LitFest present a conversation with the former senior advisor to President Clinton and co-anchor of "Good Morning America."

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