The youngest of 10 children, Fabian Barnes grew up in a single-parent home. Although his mother's strength and love compensated for their lack of money, dancing changed his life forever. "If I hadn't had dance, I would have ended up like so many of my peers — on drugs, in jail or dead. It set my life course."
Fabian discovered his passion for dance at age eleven when he followed his brother to a dance studio. By the time he was 18 years old, he was dancing with the world-renowned Dance Theatre of Harlem. "I've just experienced life in a way that would have never happened for me had I not danced. Now as a result of that I have a responsibility to also give something back."
In 1987 Fabian founded the Dance Institute of Washington (DIW) to give inner-city children the opportunity to get off the streets through a dance program. "We happen to use dance as our vehicle, but the philosophy of what we do here is bigger than just a dance class, it's about the whole child. There's a need for these children to learn discipline, work ethics, tenacity — all of the things a dance program can give them."
In addition to dance classes, DIW has a number of outreach programs, such as providing full and partial scholarships to families who need them. One parent whose child benefited from the scholarship program says, "Outside of being homeless, I also had no job and because the program offered scholarships... we were able to come." "Positive Directions Through Dance," a program for teens, offers SAT preparation workshops, anti-smoking and pregnancy-prevention programs. One student who participates in the pregnancy-prevention program says, "It helps you focus on your main goal."
"There's drugs, there's gangs, there's crime, there's alcoholism, that's what's out there, and it's important that we have our program to offer these kids something better," says Fabian. "When I see dance and the power it has in my children's lives, how it's able to turn their lives around, it makes it all worthwhile."
Bringing Dance Classes to At-Risk Youth
DIW used Oprah's Angel Network Use Your Life Award to establish a scholarship endowment fund for dance students. DIW has also formed two new programs: "Creative Communities" teaches dance to young teens living in projects and "First Position" which brings dance into low-income public schools.