FALMOUTH, Maine (A.W.)—When girls or boys finish their end-of-year recital at the Maine State Ballet Dance Company—whether it’s a ballet, tap, or jazz class—their costumes, which range in price from $65 to $100, are used only once. Costumes change annually from class to class, and the parents of kids in many of these classes often find themselves collecting and storing gorgeous and professionally made ballet costumes in their closets for years.
Maine State Ballet has been a dancing school in Maine for nearly a century. A nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, its mission is to uplift the community through the medium of dance. When one of the parents—author, lecturer, and Maine resident Anna Astvatsaturian Turcotte—approached School Director and Principal Dancer Glenn Davis with an idea, he realized her proposed project fit perfectly with the dance company’s mission.
“My daughter was in two recitals in May of 2017 and wore two gorgeous costumes for them…dresses she would never wear again,” Anna explained. “At eight years old, she is not into dress-up games, and I would not want her to dirty up such gorgeously and professionally made costumes anyway.”
Anna said her family loves Maine State Ballet and felt so at home there that a few weeks after the recital she felt comfortable approaching Davis about a topic near and dear to her heart: Artsakh. “I asked if we could reach out to the parents in my daughter’s two classes to see if they would donate a few of the same dresses that I could bring back to the Artsakh’s Stepanakert Choreography Academy,” Anna explained.
“Anna and her daughter approached us with the project idea. We had previously done a dance clothing collection project for Tanzania. So Anna provided us with the motivation and vision, and we just asked our dance community to help out. The results were overwhelming,” Davis said.
Knowing very little about Artsakh and its independence movement before starting the donation request process, Davis and the team at Maine State Ballet read up on some information Anna provided on the current situation and history of Artsakh, including the conflict surrounding it that leaves the country blockaded and isolated by neighboring Azerbaijan.
“The Stepanakert Choreography College lacks the basic dance gear for the children enrolled there: shoes, tights, leotards—but most especially dance gowns. The age for dancers ranges from 6 to 18,” Anna explained.
The email to all Maine State Ballet’s parents and supporters, along with a Facebook post, initiated an outpouring of donations: many gently used and many new items. Most of the parents who donated to the cause knew very little, if anything, about Artsakh and the Armenian people.
The donations weighed a total of 200 pounds: 140 Ballet Dresses, 111 Leotards, 71 pairs of tights, 30 tutus, and 75 pairs of shoes—mostly ballet, but also tap and jazz. The total value of the shipment to Artsakh, taking an average value of each item, was nearly $25,000.
“When describing the collection initiative, I am humbled by people’s willingness to help each other out,” Davis said, moved by the outpouring of donations. “There is a saying in the United States: ‘If you build it, they will come.’ If we create the right project to serve our ‘neighbors’ in need, people respond.”
Anna collected the dresses in her home. “After we realized the response will be huge, I had to buy a double clothes rack to keep these 140 delicate dresses hung while the collection period was open. Plus, the tutus and the leotards! My daughter helped me sort and pack the items every few days. We had a whole process for that,” she said.
For Anna, it’s no surprise why the parents were moved by the inspiring dancers in Artsakh who love their country and want to express this love through dance. “It made no sense to me why these gorgeous dresses can’t be collected and used by Artsakh’s children. They don’t have many costumes or shoes, yet they are so dedicated and dance so beautifully,” she explained. “And many parents wanted to donate these beautiful gowns so intimately tied to the childhoods of their children to something very meaningful. And this was a perfect opportunity.”
The donations are now on their way to Artsakh. They are expected to arrive at the Stepanakert Choreography College before the end of the year.
“If I can do this with a supportive non-Armenian Dance Company in Maine and an eight-year-old child, anyone can do this,” Anna pointed out. “I encourage others to find one-off opportunities like this one to help Artsakh. This was the first humanitarian effort that I initiated independently, and the process and the outcome were amazing.”
Davis is so inspired by the project that he is planning on visiting Artsakh to teach ballet at some point in the future. “I have lived overseas multiple times and have an interest in the world’s cultures,” he said. “Together with my background in ballet, an opportunity to teach in Artsakh seems like a great way to learn about the region and give back some of what I know.”