Olivia Passalino, 18, of Lake Forest, remembers the first day she started teaching dance classes.
Passalino and her friend, Nina Tannenbaum, had decided to form a new organization, Dancer to Dancer, to offer free dance classes to underserved children in Highland Park. On the first day in September of 2010, a gaggle of little girls and their parents had showed up for the free classes at Highland Park High School—few spoke English and most were wearing jeans.
“We had to tell them to come back in sweat pants or something,” Passalino remembers.
Two years later, Passalino has developed a special bond with all of the 60 girls, ages 5 to 13, who take her free dance classes every Saturday.
Passalino, a senior at Lake Forest High School, and Tannenbaum, a senior at Highland Park High School, became friends when they were both performing in the Joffrey Ballet’s production of the Nutcracker in 8th grade. They formed Dancer to Dancer at the beginning of their junior year as a way to pass on their love of dance to others.
A student at North Shore School of Dance in Highland Park, Passalino has been dancing since she was 4, so she had plenty of training to teach, but she says it turned out to be more stressful than she imagined. “The girls look up to you, and you have to be prepared with what you’re doing,” she says.
Passalino says one of her favorite parts of the program was choreographing pieces and having the students perform 3 times a year at Highland Park High School.
Passalino recently received the Tradition of Service Award at Lake Forest High School for her involvement with Dancer to Dancer, and next year, she plans to study dance and English at Hope College in Holland, Mich.