Maple Grove teen shares passion of dance with children in India
By Kristen Miller
Since she was a toddler, Sophie Dale has worked to improve her own dancing skills. Now, as a rising junior at Wayzata High School, Dale decided to spend her summer teaching dance to 140 impoverished youth in India.
The experience was through Bible Faith Lutheran Church of India, a ministry started by her late grandparents Deva Karuna Dasani and his wife Karuna, both of whom lived, worked and worshiped in Plymouth.
In 1988, the Dansanis opened the Moriah Children’s Home and School in Guntur, located in Andhra Pradesh, about 40 miles from the Bay of Bengal, as a way to provide an affordable educational opportunity for impoverished children from nearby villages. Moriah means “God will provide,” explained Sophie’s mother, Esther, who, along with her brothers, has been entrusted with the mission.
Since her parents died, her father in 2001 and mother in 2011, Esther has been visiting twice a year, and helping with various service projects.
As a science teacher, Esther had been thinking of the next project and what type of science-related content she could create for the students. However, with an already rigid national curriculum, which leaves no room for the arts, the children weren’t interested in any more science experiments.
Seeing how much the children loved to dance, Esther suggested Sophie, who they refer to as “akka” (meaning big sister in Telegu, the native language) provide them with a dance lesson.
Tired of the traditional Bollywood-style dancing, the students were eager to learn a different style of dance, particularly ballet and hip hop.
Sophie began her dance career at 3 years old and has been competing since she was 6 years old. Recently, Sophie became a solo dancer at Larkin Dance Studio in Maplewood, where she has been improving her technique and reaching her fullest potential at platinum level. She loves learning a routine and performing it on stage.
“I just get such a positive vibe from it,” she said.
With her passion and dedication for dance, Sophie began the Moriah Dance Project in an effort “to provide a fun, positive experience for these children who don’t have anything, and to provide fun costumes for future programs,” Sophie said.
Last fall, Sophie began her fundraising effort which allowed her purchase dancing shoes and tulle for the recital costumes. She also received a generous donation of Disney princess costumes.
In July, ahead of her visit to India, Sophie created three dance tutorials that the Moriah students could work on during their school day.
The videos included a lyrical for first- through fourth-grade students, plus a full ballet routine and a hip-hop routine for fifth- through 10th-grade students.
In August, Sophie flew to India to work one-on-one with the students in preparation for a recital for family and members of the community.
“They had such a good time,” Sophie said. “They worked so hard and learned so much in just four days,” she said.
“I just loved watching the students perform for their teachers and families. They loved their costumes and their hair and makeup,” Sophie said. “On stage, they were smiling and dancing for joy.”
Her mother could also see the joy the entire experience brought her daughter.
“I’ve never seen her so happy,” Esther said.
Despite the extreme weather that comes with summer in India, “I had such a good time,” Sophie said.
She was particularly impressed with how well the students listened and how gracious they were to her for the experience.
“They always thanked me,” she said.
Sophie doesn’t want the Moriah Dance Project to end with just one visit and is already looking to expand the project next summer and incorporate more technique into the lessons. She also wants to provide the same opportunity to more children by visiting different villages in India. Sophie is hoping other dance instructors will assist her with the lessons, noting the challenge of a 1:140 teacher-to-student ratio.
“This was just an introduction. I want to keep building those relationships,” she said.
“They realize how easy it is to do public service,” Esther said of teenagers like her daughter who choose to serve others. “They go from being a kid, to a leader.”
As a privileged American teenager, visiting India provided Sophie with a different perspective on life.
“It was so interesting to see … how poverty changes somebody,” Sophie said. “I never realized how lucky I am to be living in a home, to be living in such an amazing country …” she said.
Seeing how different things are, “changed me as a person,” she said. “It helped me to be more thankful for who I am … I’ve just started to appreciate everything a little more.”
To learn how to become involved with the Moriah Dance Project, visit Facebook @moriahdanceproject or email Sophie at [email protected]