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Marlene Orr

Connecticut Ballet has been highly instrumental in the rehabilitation and growth of the girls in our center. Learning the discipline of dance and working together with peer support has helped them regain their self-respect within the community.

- Marlene Orr
Former Program Coordinator
Odali Center for Girls, Hamden




Begun in the summer of 2001, Connecticut Ballet's Juvenile Justice Outreach Program works to reach out to incarcerated and recently-released youth who can benefit from exposure to dance and other art forms. The program was jump-started with funding from The Tow Foundation, allowing us to gain valuable expertise and build a unique faculty of teaching artists in disciplines such as hip hop, jazz, martial arts, African drumming, African dance, capoeira, spoken work, and visual art. Beginning in 2005, the organization was under contract with State of Connecticut's Judicial Branch, providing year-round classes to the following facilities:

  1. Bridgeport Detention Center, Bridgeport
  2. SAGE Center for Girls, Hamden
  3. New Haven Detention Center, New Haven
  4. Hartford Detention Center
  5. Washington Street Detention Center for Girls, Hartford

During this time, we simultaneously developed satellite programs in other juvenile detention facilities and community-based programs with agencies such as FSW in Bridgeport, Village for Children and Families in Hartford, and NAFI in Waterbury and Litchfield. In the summer of 2011, that contract was awarded to another agency, representing a change in course by the Court Support Services Division.

Having spent the past ten years working with this population and with the administrators and support staff who serve them, we are in a unique position to provide this broad range of programming. Our teaching artists are trained in their own field of expertise as well as in current methodology and policies (such as gender-specific issues) which apply to this population. We are encouraged by our successes to date and look forward to developing the next phase of juvenile justice work within many of the residential treatment facilities around the state, often in concert with Department of Children and Families. With the help of forward-thinking probation officers and therapeutic staff, we also mentor selected youth released from detention into the community.

After being referred to us or identified by our teaching staff, Connecticut Balletís Director of Education meets with the youth along with probation officers, social workers, counselors, parents, and educators to design an appropriate program of instructional classes and community service. We are proud of this career-track program and the mentors who give so much to their work on behalf of the youth.

Artistic Director Brett Raphael at a recent professional development workshop with Connecticut Ballet teaching artists.

Program Impact

1) The Juvenile Justice Outreach Program has impact first and foremost on young people by assisting in the development of a more positive individual identity. Our classes provide a safe structure within which young people can take risks and develop a stronger sense of self-worth by mastering increasingly complex musical rhythms, dance stretches and combinations.

2) Our class program helps young people develop a sense of belonging in an unfamiliar environment in which they are often cut off from family and friends for significant periods of time.

3) Our classes teach both open-mindedness and discipline, leading to a greater sense of confidence and individual assumption of responsibility.

4) By connecting the participants with exciting artist role models, we help develop an awareness of the spiritual possibilities inherent in participation in cultural groups, communities, and/or extended families, an ingredient which may be missing in the clients’ backgrounds and world view.

5) The Juvenile Justice Outreach Program helps young people to develop concrete areas of physical ability and strength, specific dance or drumming skills which require agility and focused attention, knowledge of the cultural context in which the dance or music form exists, and overall positive attitudes toward new and challenging things.

6) Our program assists with the all-important area of physical health by developing muscle groups and coordination of the body.

7) The program helps young people’s mental health by assisting them in responding affirmatively to both positive and adverse (or difficult) situations and/or experiencing time to ‘release’ their internal stresses and have fun.

8) By introducing new cultures and dance styles such as Afro-Haitian, Latin and hip hop dance to the students, we increase their intellectual ability to learn and retain knowledge about the arts. The classes require them to use critical thinking while practicing new rhythms and/or ways of moving, exercising their creative and expressive sides in a controlled environment relatively free of domination by adults.

9) The program teaches a healthy respect for differences amongst cultural and racial groups by introducing them to trustworthy and inspiring role models of diverse backgrounds and traditions --- in this case, social dances (such as cha cha, foxtrot, tango, merengue, and samba), hip hop, Latin dance and West African percussion.

Recent performance (with audience participation) at Mount Saint John, Deep River, CT


The following are validating comments taken from client questionnaires in one of the detention centers following a Connecticut Ballet class:

Question: “How does it make you feel?”

Answer #1: “Good, forget I’m in here.”

Answer #2: “I feel happy that I tried something new.”

Answer #3: “Happy, excited, and confident.”


For further information about the Juvenile Justice Outreach Program, please call 860-293-1039 or 203-964-1211.

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