PORTLAND, Ore. — A nonprofit dance company in St. Johns will soon hang up its dance shoes and shut down. The studio let parents and donors know its doors are closing this spring.
Sue Darrow started The Aspire Project in 2009 after moving here from Kansas City more than 30 years ago. The Aspire Project aims to provide quality dance instruction to anyone that walked through their doors regardless of the ability to pay.
"We don't want any child to be turned away," Darrow says.
In a letter sent to donors and parents, Sue Darrow broke the news writing, "It is with great sadness that I must announce that after 11 years of sharing our joy of dance with kids and adults alike The Aspire Project will be closing June 7th."
She says a lack of donations and the inability to work out an acceptable lease with the building's owner are the reason for the closure. For the last 11 years, Darrow says she has never taken a salary and when the donations couldn't meet their budget, she and her husband would fill the gap.
"When my husband and I started The Aspire Project, we didn't know what to expect and we just expected to say we reached 10 kids. That was in 2009 and now 5,000 students later here we are," she said.
The letter continues, "Tuition alone covers only one-third of the costs of running a quality program. Our focus has always been to serve families that would otherwise not be able to afford the opportunity to dance."
Darrow writes she and her husband Dan, the founders of The Aspire Project, are retiring from service over the next year.
"As Executive Director, I've had the privilege of directing this organization, fueled by my passion to share my joy of dance with everyone," Darrow wrote.
Each week, the studio teaches dance to nearly 500 students.
"To have kids come and not have it be a barrier to have your tights and leotards and your shoes, it's just expected that you'll borrow. You don't have to feel weird even asking," Zapoura Newton-Calvert is a mom of two students, 10-year-old Vera and 8-year-old Quincy.
"The confidence level of the kids has grown, Vera wants to be a professional dancer now! She didn't know that at 3," She said with a laugh.
In 2016, The Aspire Project was featured on KGW in a segment with former Oregon Ducks Quarterback Joey Harrington as part of his series, Joey's Journals.
The program, which started by providing instruction through Multnomah County SUN schools, has grown to a space with three dance studios on North Lombard. The studio provides dance lessons for jazz, tap and ballet with tuition on a sliding scale based on family income.
"Something was stable outside of us and I see the same with other families," Newton-Calvert says. "There's no way we could've paid full price for dance classes for the kids for so many courses. They were able to try contemporary and hip-hop and try tap and ballet and no matter where we were in terms of who had a job or not."
Over the next five months, Darrow says her goal is to put on the best spring term and the best recital program ever on June 6th.
"From here on out we are gonna celebrate until June 6th. We are having one big party. I like to celebrate we are going to celebrate all things dance." Darrow says.
The letter ends by saying, "I look forward to sharing lots of stories, lots of hugs and lots of tears. Thank you to each and every one of you for your heartfelt support. My wish for you is this, I hope you dance, always."
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