Memphis’ New Ballet Ensemble honored at the White House with national award

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- A Midtown after-school dance program received a national award at the White House Monday.

The New Ballet Ensemble and School on Young Avenue was one of 350 nominees and 50 finalists. They came out one of the twelve winners of the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

The award-winning program makes the dream of dancing come true for youth from every corner of the community.

"I' d like to present the award for the New Ensemble Ballet and School located in Memphis, Tennessee," Margo Lion, Co-Chairman of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, said at the ceremony.

It was a proud moment for New Ballet Ensemble's CEO Katie Smythe and 17-year-old dancer Briana Brown. They represented the Memphis community school of arts and arts education at the White House.

The pair received a 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award and congratulations from First Lady Michelle Obama.

The moment was shared by students, teachers, and staff members at the school's Midtown studio.

The recognition of the after-school program marks the first time a program from Tennessee has been honored with the national award.

"What we do is provide and opportunity for children who can pay for dance and people who cannot pay for dance to come and find a place in our organization and grow mature as artists," New Ensemble Board Chairman Juliet Wischmeyer said.

The school has provided a springboard of great opportunities for dancers like Maxx Reed.

"I have danced background for Michael Jackson. On two different occasions I danced background for Usher and the Pussycat Dolls. I did a three-year stint on Broadway playing Spiderman, in Spiderman: Turn Off The Dark," Reed said.

Reed said he was very lucky to get a scholarship and five years of free training at the school and says it changed his life.

He believes anyone with a passion for dance can also improve their lives by leaps and bounds.

"The elements or entertainment and arts that I work in full-time now are things that as a child, a low-income child in Memphis, I didn't even know they existed. And now they are my lifeblood," Reed said.

In addition to the award, New Ballet Ensemble and School will receive $10,000 and a year of communications support from the President's Committee on Arts and the Humanities.

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