By Tina Peng
The Cause: Everybody Dance Now!
Jackie Rotman, 19
Hometown: Santa Barbara, California
Family: Dad Kenneth; mom Kate; brother Robert, 20; and sister Madison, 12
An audience was staring at 12-year-old Jackie Rotman because the music had cut out in the middle of her dance performance for a group of Santa Barbara teens. But instead of panicking, Jackie pulled audience members onstage—and realized that "dance could bring people of all backgrounds together and make them feel happy and confident," she says. "I remember thinking that day that I somehow wanted to bring dance classes to people who otherwise wouldn't have the chance."
Over the next year and a half, Jackie set up a bank account, applied for grants, got insurance, and raised funds. By the time she was 14, Everybody Dance Now! (EDN)—with three other teens at her studio also teaching sessions—was offering free weekly hip-hop dance classes to lower-income children at local youth centers, after-school programs, and homeless shelters. The students perform for retirees and community groups. "It's beautiful to see the kids come out of their shells and experience the joy of giving back through performing," Jackie says.
As EDN grew, Jackie hired professional dancers to lead classes, in addition to the student volunteer teachers. She mentored other high schoolers who wanted to help, creating a nonprofit entirely managed by teens who maintain a performance troupe and form partnerships with community organizations like the Boys and Girls Clubs of America.
EDN has reached more than 1,000 kids and now offers 11 classes a week in Santa Barbara and 6 a week in Palo Alto, where Jackie is a sophomore at Stanford University. EDN chapters are also in the works across the country and abroad. Jackie remains the national director and still teaches one class a week, but has trained a team of high school students to run the Santa Barbara operation.
Jackie loves helping the younger directors grow as leaders. She says, "It's amazing to see them become empowered in their ability to create social change."
Originally published in the March 2011 issue of Family Circle magazine.