For Doricha Sales, the new program director for Sarasota Ballet’s Dance for All initiative, teaching is way more than just time spent in a classroom.
Sales attended the Boston Ballet School, the School of American Ballet, Walnut Hill School for the Arts and Indiana University and danced professionally for 16 years across the United States. In the mid-’90s, she found herself teaching at a performing arts school for children in Lakeland. There, she brought kids with behavioral issues into her dance studio, and they thrived. The story of two students, Randy and Dominique, in particular, showed her the power of dance to reach people of all ages.
After facing disciplinary action, Randy and Dominique were required to attend Sales’ classes. The two spent many days watching Sales teach the footwork of a dance routine, and, eventually, Randy was eager to show Sales that he had learned the moves. While his footwork was unpolished at first, Randy later met with Sales and performed the routine flawlessly and even choreographed a routine using a song from the film Schindler’s List after the movie was shown in school.
Dominique went on to study dance at the prestigious Ailey II dance school, but Randy eventually left the Lakeland school before graduating. His parents were incarcerated, and he was being raised by an older sister. When Randy was in eighth grade, his father was released from prison, and he took Randy out of the dance program because he didn’t want his son to study the art form.
“Randy ended up failing and was removed from the school,” Sales says. “To this day, I have no idea where Randy is. That was the earliest moment I got the real connection between what dance can really do and how important dance education is.”
That belief in the power of dance is the force behind Dance for All, Sarasota Ballet’s new community engagement initiative that consists of several programs. Dance—The Next Generation, for example, brings ballet to underserved youth in the area, while Joyful Movement Through Parkinson’s engages people with Parkinson’s through classes that emphasize movement and exercise.
The program also includes performances in public schools and working with outside nonprofits and organizations. It is expected to reach 10,000 people in the greater Sarasota area each year and will allow anyone—regardless of age, race, ability or socioeconomic background—to access the arts.
After retiring from the artistic side of the ballet world in 2021, Sales took on the responsibility of leading Dance for All last fall. When she landed the job, “I had tears in my eyes,” she says. “I always loved community engagement as a dancer and to devote a whole job to it, it’s a gift. Sarasota is so culturally rich. I think my profession can help more people see that dance is accessible to them.”