In 2010, Lauren Friedmann started Carolina Dance Project at UNC-Chapel Hill after being inspired by a similar program in Boston, and she can’t help but smile when she talks about it.
Carolina Dance Project is a dance outreach organization that sends volunteers into local schools and provides a formal dance education to kids who might otherwise never have the opportunity to learn how to dance.
Prior to enrolling at UNC-CH, Friedmann, originally from San Diego, California, took a gap year after graduating from high school to pursue dance near her home in Boston. During that year, she was inspired by one of Boston Ballet’s programs called Citydance, which teaches dance to third-graders.
“I never directly participated with (Citydance) and always wished I had. I think that’s why (Carolina Dance Project) became so important to me,” Friedmann said. “I thought that it would be a great way to give back.”
Friedmann started working to found Carolina Dance Project during her first year at UNC-CH.
According to Friedmann, starting the program “operationally involved a lot of heavy pushing.”
Katie Kinniburgh, a senior psychology major from Matthews, North Carolina, and a member of Carolina Dance Project, recalled all that Friedmann had to go through to get Carolina Dance Project off the ground.
“She applied for organization status, worked with an advisor with experience in the field, networked with the school, and generally created an organization where just a year earlier there had been nothing,” Kinniburgh said.
Friedmann said that she also worked hard to recruit people from many different dance backgrounds in order to give the students some diversity in their dance education.
Her efforts paid off, as Carolina Dance Project officially started up in 2010.
Friedmann lit up as she talked about the students that she helped during her years with Carolina Dance Project.
“There was a part I remember really distinctly that was really, really beautiful. So, during sophomore year, we were able to get Carolina Performing Arts to give us two classes worth of free tickets for the school, which was really wonderful, to go see Alvin Ailey,” Friedmann said.
“I remember telling them about dancers they would see on stage, and…they were like, ‘What? You can get paid to dance?’” Friedmann continued, laughing.
During her junior year, Friedmann began to get nervous that Carolina Dance Project would fall apart after she left.
“I didn’t want this to be something that died with me. This wasn’t for me,” Friedmann said. “This was for UNC.”
After Friedmann graduated, she said that other students, including Kinniburgh, took over and helped make Carolina Dance Project what it is today.
“There were several people on the leadership team who knew Lauren and worked with her in developing (Carolina Dance Project), so we still have that vision and that foundation to work from,” Kinniburgh said. “In her senior year, Lauren took a step back and was available to answer questions and be a behind-the-scenes guide.”
“If she had just kept running things herself and handed over the reins when she left, we would have had to start from scratch, and I don’t think our program would be as strong as it is today,” Kinniburgh said.
Carolina Dance Project is still around today, teaching classes twice a week to students at Maureen Joy Charter School in Durham, North Carolina.
Today, Friedmann, 22, is working as a statistician at the Boston Public Schools’ central office. She believes that her work with Carolina Dance Project prepared her for her current job.
“I have encouraged the office to take advantage of a lot of different types of programs,” Friedmann said. “And also, whenever we talk to the principals and school leadership, I feel like I definitely have a much more keen idea of where they are coming from than many other people, which I think is very satisfying.”
Friedmann said that she is thankful for the opportunity to start Carolina Dance Project and help shape the dance community at UNC-CH.
“I’m so proud,” Friedmann said with a smile.