Florida girl, 10, raises money, helps kids dance

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TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Ten-year-old Drew Buckley loves ballet so much that she wants other kids to feel the excitement — starting with the tips of their toes.

Drew recently collected $1,700, with the help of her mother, to buy new ballet shoes for the kids at the Metropolitan Ministries Partnership School in Tampa.

The students there — some who live in a homeless shelter, others who live in tough urban neighborhoods — take ballet as part of their physical education class. But the kids were dancing in their stocking feet, and that upset Drew.

“The shoes make them feel special,” she said. “It makes them feel like a real ballerina.”

On Tuesday, Drew and her mother handed out dozens of pairs of shoes to the third, fourth, and fifth grades during their scheduled dance classes at the YMCA across the street from their school.

Drew sat on the hardwood floor and the other kids sat in a circle around her. She quietly passed out the shoes — pink for girls, black for buys — then set about tightening the laces for anyone who needed help.

For many of the kids, it was their first pair of ballet shoes. At a cost of up to $20 each, the parents can’t afford them, said school officials.

“To them, it’s an extravagance,” said ballet instructor Glynn Owens. He added that the shoes will help the kids with their dancing form and movement.

Owens is a dance instructor at the Patel Conservatory, which is also where Drew takes her private ballet lessons. Drew’s mother, Deana Buckley, volunteers at the Metropolitan Ministries school — a magnet school that was once a privately run charter school until it was taken over by the local school district — and told her daughter about the kids who were dancing in their socks.

Drew began collecting used ballet shoes from the students at Patel, which is attached to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. Then she began asking neighbors, relatives and anyone she could for donations for new shoes.

Eventually, she raised enough money to buy shoes for the whole school — about 100 kids. Drew and her mother said they would like to keep raising money because new students enroll all the time, and because kids grow out of the shoes so fast.

“The shoes make it a little more official for the kids,” said Deana Buckley. “It makes them feel like any other kid in a ballet class.”

Once everyone had the slippers snugly on their feet, Drew sat on a chair on the sideline to watch. The girls pirouetted and pranced, looking at themselves in the mirror as they pointed their toes gracefully.

“It feels great,” said a grinning Arlandrya Alford, who is 11. “The socks, they make you slip and slide. These shoes are good. Comfortable. You get to learn good moves.”