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OC Register: Junior Hannah Weinmeister Spreads the Joy of Dance Through Her Nonprofit

Reporter Theresa Walker of the OC Register wrote about rising junior Hanna Weinmeister and what inspired her to found a nonprofit dedicated to providing dance instruction for at-risk youth under the age of 18.

Young dancer wants to teach even younger dancers — around her stint at The Joffrey

A nonprofit, Hannah's Dancers, will spread the joy for free at a Boys & Girls Club in San Juan Capistrano.

Hannah Weinmeister knew since second grade that she wanted to work with kids when she grew up.

At 16, Hannah still has a few years to go before she is, in fact, a grown up. But this summer she'll be getting a jump on her dream.

Wait? A jump? Actually, it'll be more like a grand jeté, to use the language of ballet, which Hannah plans to introduce to youngsters through a dance program she's about to launch.

With help from her mom, Rhonda Weinmeister, Hannah recently formed a nonprofit, Hannah's Dancers, to bring the joy of dance to children who can't afford the sort of dance instruction she's been getting since the age of 2.

Beginning next week at the Boys & Girls Club in San Juan Capistrano, she will teach a variety of dance forms — jazz, lyrical, tap, ballet — to children ages 5 to 12.

Tuition will be $0.

"I want to spread the joy of dance and the passion I have for it," Hannah says.

"Let their dreams take them wherever they want to go."

Not just Hannah's dream
Not only will Hannah start to meet her own goal this summer, she'll also be fulfilling a long-sidelined dream of someone else who wanted to see children dance at the Boys & Girls Club.

The studio Hannah plans to use as a classroom, at the Via Positiva Branch of the Boy & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley, was built a decade ago, paid for by San Juan Capistrano residents Traci and Jim Parr.

Traci Parr was involved in several philanthropic activities at the time, but she had a particular passion for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Capistrano Valley. She served as a regent for the organization and donated the money to build a studio in the club's teen center.

But Parr, a mother of three, also battled cancer. She died in 2009, at the age of 45. And after her death, dance classes at the club remained in limbo — no volunteer stepped up to launch a dance program. The room, which is equipped with a wooden floor, floor-to-ceiling dance mirrors and soundproof panels, has been used as a music studio where teens practice and record.

Hannah's program — which will include about 20 dancers in each class and run through Aug. 1 — is the first time the studio will be used the way Parr hoped. Hannah wants the classes to become an annual summer series.

Group effort
Hannah's Dancers already has purchased ballet barres and portable mirrors that will expand available dance space beyond the studio. Donations to the nonprofit, she says, will provide students with ballet slippers and, hopefully, tap shoes. Also, students will wear T-shirts with the Hannah's Dancers logo and the motto, "Giving A Chance to Dance."

Within two days of posting the first fliers around the club, 10 girls had turned in permission slips.

Boys, Hannah says, also are encouraged to join.

"Boys can dance too. And they're really appreciated in the industry."

To see the power of a dream that can be ignited at a community club, not an expensive dance academy, look no further than dance superstar Misty Copeland, the first African-American female principal to dance with American Ballet Theatre. Copeland, now 36, took her first formal ballet class at age 13. It was at the Boys & Girls Club in San Pedro.

It adds up
Hannah started dancing because of math.

Rhonda Weinmeister, who runs a business that plans corporate events and meetings, struggled with math growing up. Still does.

"I clearly have a learning disability in math," she says. It was something she hoped to fend off in her children, Hannah and Hailey, 14.

After reading in child development studies that the rhythm and counting routines involved in dance instruction could also help a child grasp math, she enrolled her then-toddler, Hannah, in dance lessons. And, for seven weeks, Hannah was too shy to leave her mother's lap.

But the teacher urged Weinmeister to remain patient, so she kept bringing Hannah back, time after time, to sit through the ballet and jazz class. Finally, one day, Hannah walked off in her tutu to join the other youngsters. She hasn't stopped since.

"There are so many things you can portray through dance — your feelings, your emotions," Hannah says. "It's a place I can go, and it will just take me away from everything else."

Hannah, a junior next school year in the art magnet at JSerra Catholic High in San Juan Capistrano, is an A student. That includes math.

Dance for all
Dance isn't cheap.

Hannah's family paid $60 a month for her classes when she started and, today, even with a discount, her instruction runs $350 a month. Hannah knows that kind of financial commitment is out of reach for many. When she becomes an educator, her plan is to bring dance to children of all economic backgrounds.

Last summer, she landed a part-time job teaching young dancers at Pacific Ballet Conservatory in Aliso Viejo, where she also studies dance.

Even though she doesn't intend to pursue a career in the competitive and highly stressful world of professional ballet or commercial dance, Hannah is still a serious dancer herself. She recently auditioned for and won a prestigious spot with the Joffrey Ballet Summer Intensive Program.

She'll spend a week in June at the Joffrey in New York City. For the week she'll be absent from Hannah's Dancers, she's recruited two guest teachers: Ann-Marie McClellan, director of the dance department at JSerra, and Dana Zoon, who graduated as a company member of the Joffrey Ensemble and dances with Jersey City Ballet Theater.

Zoon met the Weinmeister family in California through a mutual acquaintance six years ago. A bi-coastal friendship grew.

Zoon, who also teaches a dance-cardio fitness class for a company run by two former Rockettes, says it is unusual for someone Hannah's age to have mapped out the kind of dance program planned by Hannah's Dancers.

"She's so blessed," Zoon said. "And she wants to pay it forward.

"And it's so cool that she's really going for it."

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