CUYAHOGA FALLS — Ballet Excel Ohio is celebrating the 20th anniversary of Reach Out And Dance, a program that visits Akron public schools and invites students to audition for scholarships in ballet.

The Ballet Excel Ohio mission is to open up the world of dance to the area, and ROAD was the first program to enter public schools in our area, said Director Mia Klinger.

Started in 1998 by Lori Klinger and Thecla Harris, ROAD has impacted more than 10,000 public school children and many have received scholarships to attend classes at Ballet Excel Ohio.

"Ballet has to do a better job of opening the world of ballet to everyone," Klinger said. "The goal is to bring classical ballet into as many lives as we can. I want it to be part of their culture."

Ballet Excel Ohio Board President Kevin Coughlin and board members are part of the program and mission to reach out to the community and raise funds for scholarships for students.

"The board believes in the mission and helping all the dreams of every kid come true," Klinger said.

Students were busy learning the dance steps to a new ballet Aug. 16. Lazlo Berdo is the choreographer for the Peter Pan ballet Ohio Excel Ballet will perform in March.

Berdo spent Aug. 10 through Aug. 17 at the 2315 State Road studio rehearsing the ballet with the students as they narrowed down parts. Klinger will work with the students during rehearsals through March 2019.

"I clean up technique and the lines," Klinger said. "It’s what I love to do."

Klinger said she was looking for a new choreographer 10 years ago and talked to Berdo about doing a children’s story ballet, which is the most difficult. The audience has to follow the story.

Berdo’s first ballet with Ballet Excel Ohio was Snow White about 10 years ago and followed with Peter Pan two years later. The ballets are being reprised for new students to perform. Berdo has made some changes and has added a crocodile and sheepdog to this version of Peter Pan.

"It’s never the same ballet twice," Klinger said. "The choreography changes constantly."

Some of the ROAD dancers, students who became interested in dance when they saw performances in their schools, are part of the Ballet Excel Ohio company and will perform in Peter Pan in March 2019.

Sameer Mainali, 10, of Akron attends Miller South School for the Visual and Performing Arts and will play Michael. Lex Zorich, 12, of Cuyahoga Falls attends Miller South and will play John. Both were part of the ROAD program.

Other dancers who joined because of the ROAD program include Akronites Brieahn Beckett, 10, who attends Portage Path CLC; Wendy Moreno-Garcia, 10, who attends Harris-Jackson CLC; Nadia Lanham, 9, who attends SCOPE Academy; and Ellie Pildner, 9, and Jonathan McCray Jr., 12, who attend Miller South. McCray was one of 24 dancers — including six from Ballet Excel — accepted into the Chautauqua Summer Dance program. Guest dancers include Layla Motley, 9, and Hayley Moore, 9.

"I’m so excited about ROAD’s 20th anniversary," Klinger said. "We have the largest number of ROAD kids in our company and getting to work with someone like this [Berdo] is wonderful."

Auditioning for the part of Wendy are Cuyahoga Falls residents Maggie Stone, 13, who attends Bolich Middle School and Vivian Gray, 13, who attends Miller South. Selected to play Tinkerbell is Elizabeth Coughlin, 13, of Cuyahoga Falls, who attends Our Lady of the Elms. Hudson Middle School student Jade Blankenship, 12, will play Peter Pan.

It isn’t the first time a female has played Peter Pan, Klinger said.

"Laszlo liked how Jade would follow all the little nuances," Klinger said. "It shows it doesn’t matter whether the role is played by a male or female."

Jade is a great jumper and shows the attitude of Peter Pan in her stance and expression, Klinger said.

Ballet Excel Ohio program continues through high school in a pre-professional program, she said. Students audition each year. Sometimes they don’t get in, but that teaches them how to overcome disappointment.

"Something good can come out of everything that happens whether it is good or bad," Klinger said. "Disappointment [in not getting a part] will make them try harder. Don’t quit. Work harder."

Klinger said that she recommends ballet students take another dance class such as tap or hip hop to enhance their dance skills.

"No company just does ballet, but ballet is the center of all dance forms," Klinger said. "Everyone should have strong classical training. If you want to be good at contemporary dance, you need to be good at ballet."

Ballet Excel Ohio also will be working with Wayne Center Ballet in a collaborative effort for the performance of the Nutcracker Suite ballet in December.

Reporter Laura Freeman can be reached at 330-541-9434 or lfreeman@recordpub.com.