I heard about Melanie Rios Glaser through a colleague, who mentioned her as an incredibly remarkable woman from Guatemala who is making a difference with low-income children through dance.

This is how I found out about The Wooden Floor.  I had an opportunity to meet with Melanie (who is the Artistic Director and Co-Executive Director), as well as the Director of Communications and Marketing, Payal Kumar.

Like most organizations I have an opportunity to feature on this blog, I fell in love with them, their organization, and their mission:

To empower low-income youth from diverse backgrounds to strengthen self-esteem, self discipline, and a sense of accomplishment through dance, academic, and family programs.

What they do is divided into several areas:

  • Dance education and performance opportunities
    • Students are provided with free dance wear, but this is also used to teach them responsibility: if they lose it, they must replace it
    • The Wooden Floor partners with dance professionals who are the best of the best at what they do.
    • Dance classes are six days a week
    • Academic support and college preparatory programs
      • Free tutoring for all kids, but mandatory tutoring for children that have a GPA below a 2.0
      • Free computer access, along with a book lending library
      • If students complete the program, they receive college scholarships ranging from $4,000-$10,000
      • There’s also a separate scholarship fund provided to the students through College Access Foundation
      • Students with a higher academic capacity are in a special program where they are bussed to a Newport Beach prep school, where they receive a top education with students going off to Ivy league schools (mind you, these students get picked up at 6:30 a.m., and finish their day around 6:30 p.m., talk about dedication!)
      • Since 2005, 100% of young artists from The Wooden Floor graduate from high school on time and go on to pursue higher education (this is about three times the national average for their socio-economic peers)
    • Mentoring and enrichment programs
      • Students are surrounded by examples of success

        The banners represent students that have graduated, and list the college they have gone to.

      • Daily mentoring by skilled staff, faculty and volunteers
      • Workshops to develop communication skills, goal setting, and time management
      • Leadership training
      • Family services and parent involvement
        • Aside from their respective churches, The Wooden Floor is often the first place families turn to in a time of crisis.  The Wooden Floor has space and staff reserved to meet these needs
        • Workshops ranging from parenting and communication skills to college financial aid

Another thing that really impressed me that was mentioned by both Melanie and Payal was their dedication to ensure that their students receive the best of the best.  They know the students coming through their doors are used to getting by with minimal comforts, and they want The Wooden Floor to be the one place where they can receive the best dance instruction by top professionals, they can practice on the best wood floor that money can buy, they practice with live music (each studio has a piano), they study in a building that was purposefully designed to be beautiful and impressive: just for them.

When I asked Melanie what she wants to see done at The Wooden Floor that isn’t being done already, her answer surprised me.  There is obviously the desire to expand their own services: be able to take in more kids (in the last audition, 370 students showed up, but there’s only room for 70 of them) and expand their family services.  But Melanie is also looking beyond The Wooden Floor: she wants their model to be expanded to other cities where it could be of great benefit to low-income children.  She wants other organizations to copy what they’re doing: because it’s effective, because it works, and because it is making a difference in people’s lives.  I love the selflessness of that idea: she doesn’t look at their model as a trademark or something they should be the only ones doing.  Instead, she wants to share that with others that can help change lives.

This model consists of engaging students in “intensive dance education that when coupled with focused academic and family support programs, changes the way they make decisions, helping them discover and pursue their potential.” Why dance? “We use dance as a vehicle for transformational change in the students we serve because it is ideal for continuous learning in young people.  Dance instills core values found in other rigorous extra-curricular activities such as: self-discipline, self-respect and accountability, goal setting, focus and concentration skills, engagement in positive activities, and broadened horizons.” Sounds pretty good to me :)

If you’re intrigued in this organization as much as I am, be sure to check them out and keep an eye for their annual concerts.  They currently have one going through June 2nd (sorry for the late notice!), but stay posted for future concerts.  This would be a great opportunity to financially support the organization, while also getting to see exactly what they do, and exactly what these students are capable of doing.

Aside from attendance at their annual concerts, they also need volunteers for those concerts (costumes, make up, set up, etc.), as well as throughout the regular school year.

Follow them to stay informed on their latest events and achievements!