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Community Spotlight: Take the Lead Dance Project

Inspiring confidence in high school kids, one “step” at a time.
Take the Lead Dance Project teaches high school students the art of social dancing. | Provided
Take the Lead Dance Project teaches high school students the art of social dancing. Kristen Catoe Photography

Take the Lead Dance Project is a non profit that inspires high school students to take the lead in their own lives as well.

Founded in 2008 by Shana Heidorn and Leigh Byron, the organization was originally called Philadelphia Dance Foundation.

“Shana is a professional ballroom dancer and owner/director of The Society Hill Dance Academy. Leigh has a distinguished background in education as a former superintendent and principal of schools in New Jersey and New York,” says Jackie Fisher, Executive Director of Take the Lead Dance Project. “When they first met to discuss how to combine their respective backgrounds into enriching the lives of children and youth, it led to the formation of Philadelphia Dance Foundation.”

In 2016, Fisher took the role of Executive Director and launched the Take the Lead Dance Project, which became so successful, the non profit changed its name.


Executive Director Jackie Fisher

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Our mission is to enrich the lives and education of high school students in Philadelphia though the practice of social dance,” says Fisher. “A professionally trained teaching artist partners with a classroom teacher in school for a 10-week course that meets twice a week for a total of 20 classes. Students learn partner dances such as Merengue, Foxtrot, Bachata, Salsa, Swing, and Tango. Line Dances such as the Cha-Cha Slide and the Cupid Shuffle are also taught.”

When the program began in Philadelphia, only two high schools participated. Flash forward to this year, and Take the Lead Dance Project is partnered with 10 Philadelphia high schools, serving over 1,000 students.

"We have the awesome privilege and honor to work with high school students from all over the city," Fisher says. "Every area of Philadelphia is represented. North, South, West and Center City."

So why is social dance so important?  According to Fisher, it’s a great way for students to find balance in terms of their social and emotional well-being. High school is stressful enough and the tumultuous times we’re living in add to that stress.

There are other added benefits, too.

“Social dancing improves cognitive functioning and fosters the social and emotional learning needed for success in other areas of education and life,” Fisher says. “Students improve tolerance of others, enhance physical coordination and develop communication skills while learning cooperation and teamwork.”

Fisher’s favorite thing about Take the Lead Dance Project is that it inspires confidence in students.

“We feel so honored to do the work we do everyday in Philly,” she says. “For most high school students, this program will be their first exposure to these forms of dance.  We help them receive a well-rounded arts education that is necessary to prepare them for a bright future.”

So how can you get involved?

“The only volunteer roles being filled currently are by the Board of Directors,” says Fisher. “Our Board of Directors believe in our mission, are dedicated and active in their governance roles.”

Given that the organization wants to expand to all Philadelphia-area high schools, more help will be needed.

You can also support the organization through making a donation.

“Every gift matters whether it’s $1 or $10,000,” Fisher says. “Many Philadelphia high schools lack the financial resources for arts programming and are forced to eliminate the arts from their curriculum.  Support of the Take the Lead Dance Project provides an effective way to make a profound difference in the lives of high school students in Philadelphia.”

For more information on Take the Lead Dance Project and to get involved, visit: taketheleaddanceproject.org.