Purpose Prize

Marc Freedman Portrait

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Sondra Forsyth

Ballet Ambassadors
Purpose Prize Fellow 2012

Forsyth gives less-affluent children and teens in New York the chance to experience the beauty, rigor and discipline of ballet, as they perform alongside professional dancers.

By the late 1990s, Sondra Forsyth had been teaching ballet to affluent students for decades and worked at studios in two of Manhattan’s toniest neighborhoods. “I loved my students, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that my true purpose in life was to share my passion for ballet with less fortunate young people,” she says.

As a child in Detroit she shared the stage with famed ballet partners Margot Fonteyn and Rudolf Nureyev during the Royal Ballet of England’s tour of The Sleeping Beauty. “To this day, hearing the music for Sleeping Beauty takes me right back to that experience,” she recalls. “It changed my life. I was no longer just a kid. I was a person with responsibility as a member of an important team.”

Forsyth founded Ballet Ambassadors in 2001 to bring dance to a broader range of children and teens. Since then, more than 20,000 have performed alongside professional dancers in productions at public schools, from kindergarten through high school, and in community programs in the New York area. The program’s Ballet-in-a-Day event has proven especially popular with schools facing slashed arts budgets.

“When I watch young people perform Firebird to the glorious music of Stravinsky, my heart beats a little faster,” says Forsyth, who recently signed a contract with the New York City public school system to continue the program through 2017.