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Arts & Life

For Self-Taught Sisters, Starlight Scholarship Will Be Their First Chance At Dance Lessons

T’khara Jones and her younger sister KhaTera Jones wanted to take dance lessons.

Their older sister won gymnastics and dance trophies, and they had an aunt whose dancing mesmerized them.

"I just thought, 'Wow that looks so much fun, it just looks beautiful," says T'khara. "I always wanted to do it."

Same went for KhaTera, a year behind her in school.

"One of my friends took dance classes and I thought it was really cool. When I first started wanting to take dance classes, it was maybe fourth or fifth grade."

But dance lessons were never an option. So they began teaching themselves.

"I decided: Take action and do it yourself then," says T'khara. "Watch YouTube videos, or just dance to music by yourself in your room when no one’s looking."

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Credit C.J. Janovy
Arrowhead Middle School theater and debate teacher Billy Brame in the center of a lesson early in the fall 2015 semester. Brame has encouraged nearly 30 of his students to apply for Vincent Legacy Scholarships.

They practiced routines in their living room and critiqued each others' work. By the time they were seventh- and sixth-graders at Arrowhead Middle School in Kansas City, Kansas, the sisters caught the attention of theater and debate teacher Billy Brame.

T'khara had participated in school plays and musicals at every opportunity, KhaTera was a member of the All City Children's Chorus, and both were on his debate team.

Brame knew there were resources for talented middle-schoolers who wanted to be better performers. Specifically, Starlight Theatre's Vincent Legacy Scholarships.

The scholarships were started a decade ago by Greg and Rebecca Reid, musical theater fans who wanted to do something to honor the legacy of Greg's son Vincent, who died in infancy. At the time, Greg was on Starlight's board of directors.

"I got the idea for some sort of program that could help aspiring minority youth — who were not necessarily all that present on stage or all that present in the audience — to have an opportunity to be involved in theater," he says.

The scholarships award $2,500 to ethnically diverse middle schoolers to pay for professional training in the performing arts. Starlight assists with the rigorous application process, which involves recommendations and auditions. Winners can't just be talented — they have to be excellent students and demonstrate, even at an early age, a commitment to community service.

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Angel Duong, surrounded by supporters at Grain Valley South Middle School, receives news of her Vincent Legacy Scholarship.

Since the scholarships began, 27 kids have won. Several are now in college. It's too soon to know whether they'll go on to careers in performing arts, but Reid says the emphasis is on success in whatever they choose.

"It’s just amazing to see how much talent comes through," Reid says. "There hasn’t been a single kid who hasn’t had a passion, who hasn’t had talent, who hasn’t had a dream."

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Nia Phillips from Raymore-Peculiar East Middle School, with (from left) Amy Reinert of Starlight, Rebecca Reid, Greg Reid and Rich Baker of Starlight.

Sisterly support

The Jones sisters were among 15 kids who auditioned for the scholarships this past spring.

"It was apparent to us that they had a lot of raw talent, but it was also apparent that they hadn’t had the opportunity — which is typical for a lot of the young people that we see — to have any professional instruction," says Reid. "But they had even made their own outfits and looked pretty similar, so they were sort of all in. They had done everything on their own, obviously with the help of their mom."

Something else about the Jones sisters moved the judges.

The two girls auditioned separately. After each performance, the judges asked each one what she would do if she won but her sister didn’t.

"Their comments were so inspirational to us," Reid says. "They said they would want to get the training and do the best they could so they could come back and train their sister and share that knowledge. Both sisters answered the same way."

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Credit Courtesy of Starlight Theatre
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Courtesy of Starlight Theatre
Sophia Mesa from Eastgate Middle School with (from left) Rebecca Reid, Greg Reid and Rich Baker of Starlight.

So both sisters won one of this year's scholarships. Thanks to assistance from the Black Community Fund, there are five Vincent Legacy Scholarship winners this year. The other winners were Angel Duong from Grain Valley South Middle School, Sophia Mesa from Eastgate Middle School, and Nia Phillips from Raymore-Peculiar East Middle School. (They'll be recognized from the Starlight stage on Sunday.)

In the spring, the Reids, along with Starlight's president and CEO Rich Baker, and Amy Reinert and Andy Pierce of Starlight's educational programs, showed up at an Arrowhead Middle School assembly with a check.

"They came in and gave this long speech and said it was the first time two sisters get to share the scholarship," says T'khara. "And I’m like, 'Yes!' They announced it, and a lot of kids of all grades got to see what happened."

Finally, T’khara and KhaTera Jones will get to take dance lessons.

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