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Dancing in the streets

Summer Outreach Program to perform in Central Square

Summer Outreach Program students practicing for Reach! Photo by Jyllian Paul

This Thursday at 7 p.m., eight students from high schools around Boston, along with their mentors — two college interns and three professional dancers — will turn a parking lot in Cambridge’s Central Square into one of the liveliest dance spaces around.  The students, members of the University’s four-week-long Summer Outreach Program, will perform Reach!, a spirited work that splices together such styles as modern and jazz, hip-hop, and ethnic dance.  Thursday’s performance is the first since the troupe — pioneered 18 years ago by Boston’s Dance Collective — was brought under the wing of Boston University thanks to the efforts of their long-time artistic director, Micki Taylor-Pinney, who is now Coordinator of Dance at BU.

“I’m really excited to be able to continue the program,” says Taylor-Pinney, who hopes the troupe will provide inner-city teenagers with the chance to see what it’s like to be part of a professional dance troupe.

Taylor-Pinney treats the dance program as job training. She expects her dancers to be timely, responsible for creating a product, and able to work as a team. The first two weeks of the program — which runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. — the students take classes together and choreograph and rehearse a performance.

The second part of the program’s mission is to expose inner-city children to dance. “We go on a tour of community centers and camps in greater Boston,” says Taylor-Pinney. “Our dancers perform for about 1,600 kids in two weeks, and the kids we perform for are thrilled to see teenagers, often from their own neighborhood, up there doing something impressive.”

The young dancers also teach workshops at which they pass on the knowledge they’ve gained from their own dance mentors. The schedule shifts to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. during the performance weeks. “That’s pretty early for a teenager, especially in the summer,” laughs Taylor-Pinney, “especially when they’re taking the T. They work really hard.”

The eight dancers themselves are as diverse as the works they perform. Six of them come from Boston neighborhoods like East Boston, Mattapan, and Hyde Park, while one is from Wellesley and another from Cambridge; some pay full tuition, while others are on partial or full scholarships. All have been recommended by teachers and have been tested in an audition. The result, with the two college interns and three professionals, is an intergenerational company ranging in age from 14 to 40.

Bringing the program to BU has allowed Taylor-Pinney to add another layer to the mission of the program — a college prep component. The dancers are given a chance to meet with representatives from the dean of students office, the admissions office, and the Howard Thurman Center. “It will give the kids some experience with thinking ahead,” she says. “They come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and this may spark some interest in preparing to go to college.”

For more information about the July 20 free performance of Reach! at 7 p.m. in the parking lot of the Harvest Cooperative at 581 Massachusetts Avenue, call 617-353-1597.