Since 2000, the Mountain West Ballet has touched the lives of more than 15,000 Jordan School District elementary students.

"We call it our 'Stride Forward' program," said the company's assistant artistic director Yvette Atkin.

Atkin, who is also the vice president of the Mountain West Ballet school, said, "And the idea is to give opportunities to children who wouldn't otherwise get a chance to see a ballet."

Children who take advantage of the program and see the dancing are actually seeing their own school mates dance.

"Our company is comprised of 100 dancers," Atkin said. "And when we have performances, we use a lot of the students from the ballet school who are students in the Jordan District."

The benefits go both ways, though, Atkin said. "From the Sandy Amphitheater stage, the dancers can see all the seats in the reserved section filled. And then there are people watching from the grass behind the seats. It's a great boost for the dancers' confidence."

The next outreach performance of excerpts from "The Frog Prince" will be at the Sandy Amphitheater on Thursday at 10 a.m. See www.mountainwestballet.org for more information.

Through the outreach program, the company writes letters and sends them to schools throughout the Jordan District, Atkin said. "We would eventually like to include other school districts as well in the future.

"Usually the principals and teachers are supportive," she said. "There are some that are a little harder to reach. But we have had cases when a few teachers attend a performance and talk with the principals and that helps."

Overall, Atkin said, there really hasn't been many bumps in the road when it comes to community support.

"We are lucky to be in such a great city," said Atkin, who graduated with a degree in ballet from the University of Utah. "I joined the company in 1996 when Gary Horton was the artistic director. I was out of college and looking for a place to teach.

"He apparently liked what he saw, and I've been here ever since.

"With (current artistic director) Paul Murphy, the company cannot stand still," she said. "He has many great ideas. And he is supportive to both the artistic staff and the dancers. Every one of the dancers who auditions for a production gets to dance. We have dancers who want to be professional dancers, and we have some who are just in it because they like to dance.

"And they are all important to the production."


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