Port middle schooler sponsors three students at Berest Dance Center

Port middle schooler sponsors three students at Berest Dance Center
(Left to right) Two student teachers, Hannah Edelsen and Olga Berest. (Courtesy of Steve Edelsen)

Hannah Edelsen sponsored three dancers through the Dance for Joy program at Berest Dance Center in Port Washington – and she is only 12.

The Dance for Joy program, which started back in 2021, gifts underprivileged children in the community whose families cannot afford classes with dance scholarships.

And when Hannah’s bat mitzvah was approaching, she knew exactly what she wanted to do with her birthday money.

“I knew that I wanted to support a cause by donating money, but I also wanted to take action,” Hannah said.

Her bat mitzvah money was enough to support one child in the program, which costs $1,000. But Hannah didn’t stop there.

The middle schooler, who has been dancing at Berest Dance Center “since she was a babe,” according to studio owner Olga Berest, began working with the high school seniors who taught the scholarship classes. Hannah assists the seniors with demonstrations and makes sure the students in class understand the instructions, since even introductory ballet classes often include a slew of French technical terms.

As an assistant in the Dance for Joy program, Hannah went to Berest with another idea. The theater department at the Port Washington middle school holds a talent show called Talent for a Cause. Students present a pitch on a donation they’d like to make by using the prize money and the winner is decided by the theater board, Berest said, and Hannah was determined to win that prize money.

“Of course, I took this with a grain of salt. I said, ‘OK, Hannah, this is a wonderful idea,’” Berest said. “Well, sure enough, they presented my teacher with a check large enough to sponsor one student and my teacher calls me. She said, ‘Olga, I just got enough money to sponsor one child. What is this?’ She didn’t even know this was happening and then I realized it was Hannah.”

Hannah’s parents said their daughter came up with this idea all on her own. But her dedication to the cause certainly swayed her dad, who is responsible for the third sponsorship.

Hannah’s father, Steve Edelsen, owns a new ice cream sandwich shop, Smushed, in Port Washington. One day, he showed up at Berest’s doorstep with a check from his business sponsoring a third dancer, Berest said.

“Living in Port Washington and being able to have our kids who have such amazing opportunities…knowing that there’s a lot of kids in Port Washington who don’t have those same opportunities and trying to share those opportunities with everybody just makes us really happy and [a] better overall community,” Edelsen said.

Berest has been running Berest Dance Center since 1976 and she said there is a dire need to break down barriers to the arts, especially in Port Washington.

“There’s a disparity in Port Washington. Port Washington is known for wealthier families, but it’s not so…and from what I have seen, there are no programs. No outreach programs other than little projects here and there,” Berest said. “We have to support these people and we have to make the arts, not only dance, accessible to them.”

And that is no small feat, considering how quickly the expenses for dance can pile up at any studio. Every class at Berest Dance Center costs $1,000. For senior dancers who stack lots of classes, their tuition is capped at seven classes.

But costs extend far beyond the price of classes, to recital costumes, leotards, tights, specific shoes for each dance genre, photos and more. Berest estimates that a student dancing for 12 years spends a minimum of $35,000 at her studio.

That barrier to dance is why Michelle Wasserman, then a high school senior in Great Neck, jump-started the 10-week Dance for Joy program soon after the pandemic.

Now, students who complete the introductory 10-week program are merged into the Berest Dance Center classes. The studio currently supports 16 families and their dancers through a 36-week program, covering costs for attire, shoes, tuition, show tickets and costumes wholly through fund-raising, Berest said.

It is a program that brought tears to Berest’s eyes while she spoke and moved Hannah to dedicate her money, time and effort.

“This program is so meaningful to me because I’ve always loved to dance. I’ve been dancing since I was like 2 1/2,” Hannah said. “It’s something where I know I can express my joy, my happiness, all my emotions and I really feel that other people should be able to be given the opportunity to dance because it’s really powerful.”

Donations can be made through the Berest Dance Center. Interested sponsors can reach the center at berestdance.com or 516-944-6687.

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