Melissa Baumgart

Writopia news! And an ode to Jacques d’Amboise

One of the people I most admire in the world is Jacques d’Amboise, former New York City Ballet dancer and founder of the National Dance Institute.

Jacques d’Amboise in George Balanchine’s Apollo, Photo by John Dominis.

I worked with Jacques on several documentaries, and he is one of the most inspiring and wonderful people I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting. The National Dance Institute goes into schools all over the USA – actually, all over the world – and teaches children to dance. Its mission is to inspire a love of the arts in children through dance. I have attended NDI shows and they are incredible – like, not just cute kids dancing – they are legitimately impressively choreographed, produced, and performed. A documentary about Jacques from 1983, He Makes Me Feel Like Dancin’, won an Oscar and an Emmy.

National Dance Institute founder Jacques d’Amboise with young dancers.

So, I am excited to share that I have started teaching at Writopia!

First question: What’s Writopia? Here’s the description from the Writopia website:

Writopia Lab is a national community of young writers, ages 6 to 18. Founded in New York City in 2007, Writopia Lab has now spread to Greater New York, Greater Washington, D.C., Chicago and Los Angeles.

Second question: How is Writopia related to my interest in Jacques and his work with NDI? Well, I see Writopia’s mission as being similar to that of National Dance Institute, but with writing rather than dance.

Being able to express oneself effectively through writing is invaluable, and the earlier children can learn this skill, the better. Plus, being encouraged at a young age to be creative and to experiment with your creativity can lead to so many wonderful works of art – books, plays, movies, comics – etc. And since I’m not much of a dancer myself, teaching at Writopia is exactly how I want to share my love of the arts with children who are just getting started in their creative lives. Another important skill Writopia teaches children is to finish their work – in a Writopia workshop, students will complete and polish a piece by the end of the semester. As a serial restarter myself, it’s important to remember that you cannot make your work better until you write through to the end and figure out what it is you have written. That’s when the real work begins – in the revising and refining until you have expressed yourself as well as you can – whether it’s in dance, writing, or another form of art.

I am beyond thrilled to join the Writopia team. I used to volunteer with Minds Matter NYC, where I helped students with their college applications, financial aid, resumes, essays, etc. and I plan to continue to help kids and teens with their essay writing as well as with their creative writing. In my short experience so far, I have been blown away by the quality of writing and the passion students bring to the Writopia workshops. I can’t wait to see what new voices I will get to hear as a Writopia instructor, and what lessons I am sure to learn from my students.