Artists for Africa - A guest blog by Cooper Rust

Columbia continues to amaze me.  After training and dancing in Boca Raton, New York City, Milwaukee, Las Vegas and Santa Barbara, I feel that I have been part of arts communities in cities big and small and all over the country.  But it is right here in Columbia where I find the most supportive and most giving artists of all.

I spent the off season from Columbia City Ballet in Nairobi, Kenya, where I was honored to volunteer with Annos Africa, providing after school classes in the arts to children living in some of the world’s most impoverished slums.  The level of poverty was so extreme -- it was appalling.  But equally remarkable was the level of joy that I saw in the faces of the children in their ballet classes.  In those dirt floored rooms, with no mirrors or barres, the children morphed into the same fairy princesses and princes that our own young dancers become.  The inspiration and beauty of ballet knows no international or socio-economic  boundaries and each of the students demonstrated their own determination to master each skill and to learn each combination.  The staff who works with them in the most meager of facilities with such limited resources do an amazing job of sharing their love of their art with the students and in giving them the creativity, confidence and the self esteem that only studying a discipline of the arts can give a young scholar.

Back here at home, I have shared my experiences with my  peers . We, as dancers, don’t have the income to be able to write the checks it will take to include another slum or another arts discipline in the Annos Africa project.  However, we have something unique to us, as Columbia’s professional dancers, something only we can give to the project and to our community.  The response to my desire to produce a performance, dedicated to these children, was immediate, strong and sincere.  Over and over I have heard “how can I help?”

Many hours  of choreographing, staging and rehearsing has gone into the production of Artists For Africa.  Each artist has given generously of their time, talent and resources to make this event happen.  It has been a remarkable journey for me, both personally and professionally, to have the opportunity to experience first hand the bountiful graciousness that is Columbia’s dance community.  I am honored to be home, and to be part of this family of artists.

Please join us on Friday, September 21, 2012 at 6:30pm or on Sunday, September  23 at 2:00pm at the CMFA Art Space, 914 Pulaski Street. For tickets or information, please call Cooper Rust at (803) 467-9004.

-- Cooper Rust