Local-Motions is now the same age as many of the students it serves. The company, which caters to the 6-18 set, provides training in dance, costume design and art education to predominantly lower-income students.
It was the brainchild of D’Lana O’Neal, who, along with business colleagues Sandra Simmons and Therese Molina, opened the business in 2001 largely using personal funds. Though hopeful, they knew it would be a challenge to maintain a new non-profit organization in the hemorrhaging post-9/11 economy.
“During the time we were preparing to open the business, the Sept. 11 tragedy occurred, and it put an enormous strain on the economy,” O’Neal said. “We would not be able to secure federal funding for the first five years, and I had concerns about whether we could keep the business going at the time.”
Thanks to persistent fundraising efforts and several private donors, Local-Motions was able to provide training in ballet, hip-hop and jazz to West Side youth.
But funding the organization remained a key issue in the early years.
“It really became a situation where everyone began to pitch in because funding was so limited,” O’Neal said. “The kids worked on their costumes for our presentations of Guy and Dolls and The Wiz, but it may have been a blessing in disguise because it was the impetus for our expansion of Local-Motions to include an art design component.”
This has allowed the students to not only explore their interest in dance, but also create the visual design for their costumes, giving them even more creative skills.
Leah Yancy, a 12-year-old student at Lovett Elementary School, says Local-Motions creates a feeling of community.
“It’s like an extended family,” said Yancy, who has been taking tap, ballroom dance and ballet for two years.
“We can come here after school and express ourselves through art and dance. A few of the students who came in initially were nervous to dance in front of strangers, but the atmosphere is so friendly and upbeat, even the most shy students begin to feel comfortable performing in front of crowds.”
Former Local-Motions ballroom student Samantha Guerrero, currently a freshman at Oak Park and River Forest High School, says her fondest memory was the amount of time O’Neal spent with her to improve her reading comprehension along with her double reverse spin.
“D’Lana used to work with me before practice to improve my reading when I first began coming,” said Guerrero, who started at five and continued for six years. “Even though Local-Motion is a dance studio and the young people who attend are getting training in the arts, there is always a high priority on doing homework and succeeding in school. D’Lana says that arts and academics must work hand in hand.”
“When the students leave and then return to say how much they appreciate what we did for them, it makes me proud,” O’Neal said. “The impact on the youth is what has kept the doors open for a decade.”
Local-Motions, originally located at 6246 W. North, was able to move two years ago to its present location, also on North Avenue, to accommodate more children. The company is working more with West Side schools and community sponsors, including Catalyst Circle Rock Campus, and receives a grant from the Department of Family Support Services, which allows students to attend via full or partial scholarships, with parents paying only the registration and/or costuming fee.
According to O’Neal, “There is so much talent within our community, and it should not be squandered because financial limitations prevent parents from placing them into a [more] expensive dance studio or art class.”