The Purple Tutu

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

A few Sundays ago, our pastor mentioned, "a girl in our congregation, who wants to teach ballet to kids with Down Syndrome." My ears perked. I was a ballerina, and in our small town, I went to school with a girl with Down Syndrome, Kristie. Our families were friends, and I spent many summers swimming in Kristie's pool. I learned a lot from her - how to love and laugh more openly, and how to just be around people who are different. I never thought about Kristie taking ballet, but as I sat in the church pew and reflected . . . Kristie loved to dance.

I meant to ask, "Who's the girl? What is she doing?" but I didn't. Instead, I got an email from another friend who'd heard: You've got to read about this amazing girl.

I did, and from what I've learned so far, the amazing girl who is putting all this together wouldn't want this to be all about her. The first thing you should know is that her organization is called,

and she needs your help. 

On April 1 – April 4, while other 10th graders are enjoying a spring break, Holland McDowell (that's her name!) will be launching her new not-for-profit, The Purple Tutu.

Using her nine years of dance training, love of classical music and dedication to teaching, The Purple Tutu’s founder and instructor, Holland McDowell, will teach classical ballet to youth with Down Syndrome.  Her goal is to pay it forward with some of the confidence, strength and grace that learning ballet has given her.

The mission of The Purple Tutu is to bring the beauty and artistry of ballet to dancers with Down Syndrome who may feel that classical dance training is out of their reach.

How can you help?
Holland needs students! If you know any families who might be interested, or simply want more information, email Holland at:

The Details
Students will be accepted on a first come / first serve basis. Each class will be taught at Mt. Pleasant Presbyterian Church. A $15 donation will be requested at class registration.  All profits generated by The Purple Tutu will go to a scholarship fund to benefit the education of a child with special needs.

Participants are encouraged to wear sweatpants/yoga pants, a t-shirt, and bare feet.  Tutus will be provided for class use. 

And finally, here's Holland, in her own words:

Where did you get the idea for combining dance with serving children with Down Syndrome?
I have been dancing ballet since I was a little girl, and it has helped me gain confidence.  I wanted to share my knowledge of ballet with others who could benefit.  In my biology class, I learned that children with Down Syndrome have amazing flexibility but lack core strength.  Ballet involves flexibility and improves core strength.  I struggle with my flexibility, so I felt like we could really work as a team and share our skills.

Any significance to the name, The Purple Tutu?
Yes, most of the public associates ballet with the color pink.  Our organization is a little different, so we wanted a special color just for us.  Hence the purple!

Tell us about your dance background.
I have been dancing for nine years.  I began with Charleston Ballet Theatre and was fortunate enough to be a part of many great performances.  I am now dancing under the direction of Charleston Dance Institute.  I am blessed to have studied under such great instructors from Charleston Ballet Theatre, Charleston Dance Institute, and the South Carolina Governor's School for the Arts and Humanities.

Have you worked with special needs kids before?
I am currently teaching the kindergartners and first graders of Meeting Street Academy, and I am looking forward to working with these Purple Tutu dancers.

You seem to enjoy teaching. Do you see that as part of your future?
I absolutely love teaching but I am not sure what my future holds.  Through teaching at Meeting Street Academy, I have learned how much of a positive impact ballet can have on children.  Every week when I walk into the school I am greeted by a swarm of dancers running toward me asking various questions like: What are we doing today?  Can we learn something like this today?  Are we going to have a recital?  Can we show our parents this? Do we get to wear tutus today too? That is an awesome feeling that can fix any bad day.

Let's help Holland and The Purple Tutu! Leave a comment of encouragement for her here, share this post on Facebook, via email, or elsewhere, and if you can help in any way, shape or form, email Holland:

Thanks :)

P.S. I just watched a fascinating story on the BBC about how ballet is helping Parkinson's patients. Ballet is awesome!

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One Response to “The Purple Tutu”

  1. Awesome! Ballet is awesome! Holland is awesome! You go girl!