Walltown Children’s Theatre took center stage in a dance performance on Sept. 19 at the Durham Arts Council’s annual CenterFest in downtown Durham.
The dance students stood in formation, anxiously waiting for the beat to drop, while a curious crowd gathered around to watch the free show. The hip-hop and Bollywood performances showcased the diversity and skill level of Walltown dancers.
WCT parent Gina Simons said the ballet dance program covers point, a classical ballet technique requiring dancers to support all their body weight on the tips of fully extended feet.
“It’s a really difficult technique to learn but our kids can do it, and that sets our dance program apart from others,” Simons added.
Walltown Children’s Theatre, a non-profit organization located on 1225 Berkeley Street, opened in 2000 to young performers.
WTC spokeswoman Meg Feigal said that Walltown has been called one of Durham’s best kept secrets.
“We teach children more than dance techniques, we teach children to express what can’t be expressed on a standardized test,” Feigal explained. “We also teach children to express creativity and wisdom. Performing is another way to help build character and wisdom.”
“We are not just building technique, but leaders in the community,” Feigal said.
The artistic programs offered at WTC include dance, acting, vocal technique, and piano and guitar classes. Children are also able to participate in Zumba classes designed especially for active children who love to dance. After-school academic tutoring and collaborative leadership opportunities also are available.
WCT programs operate year-round, and include a summer camp. Children enrolled at WCT range from 3 to 17 years and vary in ethnicity and economic status.
The cost of classes at WCT fluctuates depending on the session; WCT offers students and families two price structures. Families have the option of paying a tuition starting at $210 which includes one class per week from the fall until January.
This plan is for families who can’t pay or commit to a year-round enrollment.
WCT also offers a year-round program. These classes start at $135 per month and students are may attend an unlimited number of classes each week.
Because WCT is committed to providing opportunities for young performers, scholarships are available for those who cannot afford tuition. Although a scholarship or reduced rates are not always awarded WCT works to ensure all students passionate about performing are included in the program.
“I was also given a scholarship to dance and act at Walltown Children’s Theater, which opened me up to more opportunities than I could ever imagine.
We performed all over the place. We went do workshops with Alvin Ailey and even performed at The American Dance Festival.”
Ashley Bagley, Alumni, Walltown Children’s Theatre
Founding Executive and Artistic Director Cynthia Penn-Halal created the program to inspire hope and perseverance, using the arts to develop character.
According to its website, WCT has partnered with city and local agencies, universities, community development organizations and churches to identify and meet the needs of families that are not able to afford instruction. “As a ‘need-blind’ organization, we have always promoted inclusion,” the site says.
Feigal, who has worked at WCT for three years, said many of the alumni keep in touch and many come back to teach.
Walltown alumni Ashley Bagley said, “I was in the Walltown community’s summer camp. It helped me come out of my shell. Broke me out of being shy real quick. And also taught me to get involved in the community.
“I was also given a scholarship to dance and act at Walltown Children’s Theater, which opened me up to more opportunities than I could ever imagine. We performed all over the place. We went do workshops with Alvin Ailey and even performed at The American Dance Festival.”
Bagley acted with the theater for five years, performing at the Carolina Theatre and several other places. She currently performs in “Lovers Lane,” an online drama series starring many local actors.
WCT dancers are preparing for their annual Durham “Nutcracker” performance, to be held at the Durham Arts Council Dec. 11-13.
“The show is largely inspired by “The Nutcracker.” but has a Durham flavor,” Feigal said. “About 50 kids perform, ranging from 5-17.”
WCT’s “The Nutcracker” will showcase a variety of dance styles, including classical ballet, hip-hop, Bollywood, and tap.