Local News

Free Four-Year Program Keeps Teens Dancing During Pandemic

When Michael McGowan launched Flight Path in 2018 with a strict tuition-free mandate, his intention was to create a curriculum that prepared dancers—many of whom don’t have the means to pay for what can amount to $10,000 a year of training in New York City—for a sustainable, meaningful career in the arts.

He had no idea he would soon be up against a global pandemic that has severely stunted the world of performing arts and concert dance, but he and his team found a way to make it work by thinking on their feet. 

“In a time defined by uncertainty, we are certain that our mission is more important now than ever,” said McGowan, who has doubled down on his efforts to provide cost-free education to young dancers at a time when many families are facing financial hardship strained further by the impact of COVID-19.

“We’re keeping hope alive by continuing to help students harness skills for sustainable careers in an unpredictable industry.”

The four-year training program has successfully implemented a “Pivot Program” so that students can rehearse, learn, and work from home while reaping the continued benefits of expert instruction. Each student dancer has been provided with a ballet barre, Marley floor, and, to ensure a consistently smooth connection for remote learning and rehearsing, a wi-fi extender, wireless headphones, and an HD tablet. 

“I love to learn from the dancers around me, and even though I’ve dancing with a group of girls I have never met in person, we’re so supportive of one another,” said student Courtney Lucius, 16. “This has brought a sense of comfort and support in a crazy time when all of us are being pushed past our limits.”

Some of the virtual courses offered include financial literacy, business skills, cooking, meditation, and visits with clinicians from NYU Langone Harkness Center for Dance Injuries so that students can learn how to keep their bodies healthy.

“It’s not easy to be an immigrant, but I’m pushing forward,” said Laura Mendes, a first-year student. “My biggest dream is to be in a huge, amazing company work with creative choreographers while touring the world and sharing our art. This has become my safe place and [fellow students have become like], a family during all of the craziness of this year.”

In the end, the program’s main objective is to help dancers graduate with healthy habits of mind, body and soul, and a deeper understanding of working within professional and artistic communities.

“Our goal is to support the dancers in whatever steps they take next,” said Program Manager Sean McCabe. “Some of our dancers now are looking at college dance programs, some are looking at transitioning directly into working professionally.”

Ideally, says McGowan, they’ll emerge on the other side as versatile artists prepared for the rigors of professional life and a substantial career. 

“Adaptability is an essential skill in the performing arts, and at the core of our programming,” McGowan said. “Whether it’s a global pandemic or a professional hurdle, what matters most is how we get back up and continue dancing.”