Community , Culture

Smith takes ballet to area elementary schools

Jenna Smith, founder of the Dance Maker Performing Arts Academy in Pawhuska, is taking her Dreamstarter grant and using it to infuse ballet class with the local public schools.

Awarded the $10,000 Dreamstarter grant in March from Olympic gold medalist Billy Mills’ organization, Running Strong for American Indian Youth, she is using the money to teach ballet classes in area schools for third grade students.

Smith and ballet instructor Kelci Pickering have spent three weeks at the Indian Camp Elementary and two weeks at the Pawhuska Elementary, and they’re not finished.

“I feel that it is important to do things that are sustainable and can be make a difference for future generations,” she said. “My dream is that no child will be missed. All who desire will have the opportunity to take dance classes.”

She said she hopes to teach future ballet dancers who learn to feel the music, who will discipline themselves year after year, and become caliber dancers the likes of Maria and Marjorie Tallchief, the famed Osage ballerinas from Fairfax.

“But, I want to do it here, on the Osage Reservation. Because I am Osage, I feel that I can better relate to some of the struggles the students here experience that is not necessarily common outside of the reservation,” she said. “There is community participation here that will help implement my dream to train excellent ballet dancers.”

Smith said they are teaching some basic positions and creative movements, she believes that interacting at an early age with a common goal teaches the students to connect with others and to interact socially. Children are stimulated mentally by memorizing movements and positions and the class gives them freedom of expression in dance.

She said the kids really enjoyed when they were able to free dance and when they got to choose an animal and then dance like that animal.

“We were very honored to be chosen as a site for this program and the students absolutely loved it. They learned a lot of skills, flexibility, strength, and balance,” said Blayne Shuping, Indian Camp Elementary second grade teacher. “We really enjoyed Jenna and Kelci, they were a pleasure to work with.”

Dance Maker Performing Arts Academy opened in 2014 and had 44 students with the help of various camps and the number has grown to 99 students with 62 students on scholarships.

“The principals of the schools are excited about our project and the PE teachers are there to help out,” Smith said. “We will be going to Woodland Elementary School and Barnsdall Elementary School next. We hope to go to Hominy, Shidler, and a few other local community schools.”

For more Information on Dance Maker Performing Arts Academy call (918) 704-4668 or visit