HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - The following is a news release from The University of Southern Mississippi
University of Southern Mississippi senior elementary education major Laura Catherine Dawson has already found her spot at the head of a class full of students - a dance class that is. Dawson is the founder and head instructor of the Leaps of Faith dance program.
Leaps of Faith is a school ministry born out of a partnership between the Edwards Street Fellowship, Earl Travillion Attendance Center and Dawson's personal mission to start a free dance company.
Dawson started dancing when she was two years old. The Hattiesburg native studied classical ballet at the South Mississippi Ballet Theatre until she graduated from high school, and since then she has been an instructor at On Your Toes Dance Studio. After starting Leaps of Faith in September of 2015, Dawson realized this was not going to be a normal dance class. Her biggest challenge has been changing her students' attitudes and mindsets.
"I realized pretty quickly there were some other lessons I was going to need to teach besides dance. I had to learn how to have better classroom management," said Dawson, an alumna of Alpha Delta Pi sorority at USM. "I didn't know how to make them be nice to each other and use nice words. How was I going to get them to respect themselves and be motivated?"
That's where her elementary education major and academic mentor, Dr. Janet Boyce, became an important resource. Dawson recalls how Dr. Boyce invested extra time and energy into making her feel more prepared, and even attended several dance classes.
"She's been the biggest help. I am so grateful," Dawson said.
Teamwork is the theme of the semester for Dawson's class. Dawson described how they are currently preparing for auditions for the Nutcracker ballet. She believes this will inspire the girls to work together to do their best so they can have a role in the South Mississippi Ballet Theatre's performance at Hattiesburg's Saenger Theatre in December.
"We are going to try out for it," Dawson said, "If we can work together, be a team, set our goal and work together to reach the goal, maybe we'll get to be in it."
Dawson's ballerinas have responded to the challenge.
"The change was immediate. Having this common goal is really uniting them," she said.
The mother of a participant in the program described it as "an answer to our prayers." "One daughter wanted to do gymnastics and one wanted to do dance," she said. "We knew we couldn't afford both. But we got the letter about the free dance class!"
Third-grader Ariel loves being part of the program. "Miss Laura Catherine is my best friend," she said.
As for Dawson, Leaps of Faith is a dream come true. She recently re-discovered her yearbook from her sophomore year of high school, and listed under her future goals and dreams was the desire to start a free dance program. Dawson, her 13 third-graders, and support of volunteers and donors have made that a reality.
The current students' dance shoes and leotards were donated from local studios, and Dawson recently received a $250 grant from the Hattiesburg Junior Auxiliary to purchase matching ballet shoes for their Nutcracker debut.
Leaps of Faith currently has a waiting list and Dawson hopes to add more students in the future, but is in no rush. "I'd rather help a small number of kids and really make a difference in their lives, than help a hundred kids and just make them happy," Dawson said.