Urban Renewal

In the wake of ABT’s migrating swans last week, a small inner-city dance academy in the heart of Compton won honors and recognition of excellence.

Compton is more known for gangster rap than for ballet.

Carol Bristol-Henry and Compton Dance Theatre received the Addie Patterson Award for Outstanding Service in Community Development from the City of Compton. The U.S. House of Representatives bestowed a Certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, and the California legistlature presented a Certificate of Recognition.

With a BA in Psychology from Howard University and an MA in Dance and Dance Education from NYU, Bristol-Henry trained at Dance Theatre of Harlem and the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. “I reluctantly started teaching dance at Compton High School to earn money between gigs,” she says. “Making a difference was unintentional.”

Most days after school, she noticed that idle students would fight just to entertain one another. The more studious sought refuge in the few available after-school activities. “I offered to teach dances to three students after school,” Bristol-Henry remembers. “They invited their friends and relatives. It started getting pretty crowded.”

Rapidly running out of room, Bristol-Henry scrambled for space in which to hold classes. “I had to,” she says. “Several kids confided in me that dance was their only reason for showing up to school every day.”

In 2002, Bristol-Henry founded the 501-c-3 nonprofit Compton Dance Theatre Foundation in order to meet eligibility for financial support. Since then, the organization has won numerous grants to stay afloat. “Funding remains the biggest challenge we face,” said Bristol-Henry. “Our ability to survive is tested all too frequently.”

Evidence of the quality of CDT’s dance training is apparent in student dancers’ discipline and technique. One of them, 11-year-old Victoria Portor, auditioned and was accepted to American Ballet Theatre’s 2008 summer intensive program, during ABT’s recent residency at the Music Center.

Contributions are tax-deductible. Compton Dance Theatre can be reached at (310) 669-9908, or www.comptondancetheatre.org. — Penny Orloff

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