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Cultural Dance Troupe of the West Indies [in Hartford Connecticut] looking for new location

Artists for World Peace on Broadway 2By Alex Putterman, From The Courant

HARTFORD — After 19 years on Main Street, the Cultural Dance Troupe of the West Indies needs a new home.

The program, which caters to low-income children in Hartford’s North End, must leave its location by Aug. 31.

Val Coleman, who founded the troupe in 1982 and has run it ever since, said she fell behind on rent as funding for the program gradually dwindled.

Coleman said the program — the size of which ranges from about 60 kids during the school year to nearly 100 in the summer — had outgrown the Main Street location. But because children whose families can’t afford to pay are allowed to attend the troupe for free, Coleman has little means to secure another venue.

“We don’t have the money to pay beyond what we used to pay and even then we are having problems,” she said. “Most places, even in the North End, are beyond our reach.”

Originally from Jamaica, Coleman was inspired by Hartford’s annual West Indian Independence parade to start a program that would integrate Caribbean culture.

The children perform yearly in the parade and at other events. Coleman said she teaches Caribbean, ballet, jazz and contemporary dancing. During the summer, a teacher helps the kids with reading and math for part of the day.

“This is not just a dance program,” said volunteer Nancy Walker, who has a daughter and three grandchildren who have participated in the program. “[Coleman] looks for the whole child. Not just that they dance, but she looks for their social needs, their academic needs, the neighborhood’s needs.”

David Okae has three daughters involved with the program, including one with special needs, who has particularly benefitted from the program, he said.

“During the summer, when this program is here, they get to interact with other girls,” Okae said. “And as a single parent it relieves me of a lot of everyday stress and pressure of parenting. When they come here there’s adults here, they’re learning, they’re playing, they’re reading.”

But throughout the program’s history, money has been a problem, Coleman said. She knows forcing families to pay will drive them away, but the money she receives from the city and various foundations isn’t enough to meet the roughly $80,000 yearly cost of the program.

“Most of the time I’m on edge because I don’t have enough money to pay the bills,” she said. “Give me the money I need to help [the kids], keep them out of jail, keep them learning.”

Coleman said she hopes to move nearby but has struggled to find a location with suitable floors, bathrooms and enough space for a manageable price. The city of Hartford offered to house her in a school, she said, but the building’s hours weren’t good for her program.

Walker said she hopes the troupe doesn’t move far.

“If she’s forced to come out of this neighborhood, that’s an issue,” Walker said. “We have a high majority of children in this neighborhood who are underserved, don’t have the money, and they want to dance.”

For more on this story go to:,0,7207866.story



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