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Wooden Floor raises the ceiling

Students credit Santa Ana-based dance studio with instilling work ethic to guide them into college.

June 06, 2013|By Rhea Mahbubani
  • Itzel Guerrero, left, 18, from Sage Hill High School and Edith Delgado, 18, from Santa Ana High School, both received scholarships from Wooden Floor, a Santa Ana-based nonprofit aimed at helping low-income students, to attend UCI in the fall.
Itzel Guerrero, left, 18, from Sage Hill High School and… (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Itzel Guerrero can't imagine her life without the Wooden Floor. She tries to picture it sometimes, but fails. Most likely, she doesn't want to.

So many experiences during her 18 years have taken root in the nonprofit's Santa Ana campus, she admits.

Growing up in a household where her older sister Elideth was a gymnast — an expensive undertaking — Guerrero recalls there being no resources for her extracurricular activities.

When she was 9, her parents took their friend's advice, introducing their daughter to the world of dance with a hunch that she might enjoy it. Turns out, they were right.

For the past nine years, Guerrero has spent, on average, six hours per week training — a number that has increased to 20 with performances at Irvine Barclay Theatre, Roy and Edna Disney/CalArts Concert Hall (REDCAT) and the group's own Studio Theatre.

“Less than being a dancer, being a part of the Wooden Floor has impacted me,” said Guerrero, who lives in Orange. “It has opened doors to so many opportunities, as cheesy as that sounds.”

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The Wooden Floor, which is in its 30th year, works with 375 youths ages 8 through 18 in the hope of using dance to transform low-income communities across Orange County.

According to Dawn Reese, executive director and co-chief executive officer, Sister Beth Burns, a Catholic nun and trained ballerina, founded the Wooden Floor as a healthy and safe environment to keep kids off the streets. Initiated as a summer pilot project, it quickly gained traction when Burns homed in on the power of dance and joined it with academic and social services support.

The new name of the organization, which was called the St. Joseph Ballet Company until 2009, reflects the “foundation provided to each student as a launching pad for [his or her] success,” Reese said.

Now, 53 classes per week run for 42 weeks of the year, exposing students to classical ballet and modern choreography, improvisation, composition and more. An estimated 3,000 elementary students are also offered Dance Free Weeks — a community engagement program with public schools in September and October.

“We set high expectations for the students in the studio, in the classroom and in life,” Reese said. “The teaching style is nurturing and at the same time rigorous. Our goal is to provide hope, opportunity, life skills and mentoring to help economically disadvantaged students realize their potential.”

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