Real People: Teen shares love of dance with underprivileged

As long as she can recall, Vanessa Alamo has been crazy about dancing. But with her family’s tight financial situation, she knew that the expense of lessons and recitals was beyond reach.

“Ten years ago, my mother cleaned houses for a living, and my dad was in the hotel industry,” said Alamo, the daughter of immigrant parents from South America. “It was never economically possible for me to take dance classes.”

Instead, she joined a Girl Scout troop at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Buckhead that turned out to be a way into the dance world.

“The Girl Scouts really helped me grow and develop into a confident leader, and through them I had the opportunity to attend the summer program at the Latin American Association,” said Alamo. It turned out that the association had a partnership with the Atlanta Ballet. Through that connection, Alamo was offered a scholarship to study with the ballet, a dream that came true in 2005.

“That was the first time I ever experienced dance; I never had any formal training,” said Alamo. “Now, I do the Nutcracker every year, and have done Snow White and Pinocchio with them.”

Being part of the ballet brought other major changes to Alamo’s life. It introduced her to the Atlanta Girls’ School, where she is now a senior, and it brought her in contact with the City of Refuge, a nonprofit that supports neighborhood programs in the 30314 Atlanta ZIP code north of Interstate 20. Her senior service project for school has been raising money to fund a dance program for the students in the City of Refuge neighborhoods.

“I’ve been working with them in the afternoons, and I’ve even brought some of the students to my school to perform,” said Alamo. “Last week, I sold quesdadillas in the lunch room at school and raised $420 for their dance program.”

Alamo also volunteered with the Atlanta-based CARE International and traveled to Ecuador and Costa Rica to work on rain forest projects and to help high school students with conversational English. Her efforts earned her the 2011 Girl Achievement Award as the top scout in the Girls Scouts Greater Atlanta Council for her outstanding character and leadership.

Rehearsing 25 hours a week with the ballet has also moved Alamo into the ranks of the pre-professional dance corps. As well as having the chance to perform in ballet productions, the training has given her the skills to nab a dance position at Six Flags amusement park this summer. It has also contributed to her winning a full scholarship to Brandeis University outside Boston where she plans to major in business and performing arts.

Though she’s still devoted to dance, Alamo now sees a bigger purpose to her studies.

“I have developed a passion for serving the community,” she said. “I’m not really sure if I see myself in a company at this point. But I do know ’d like to start an organization that supports performing arts and brings them to children in underserved communities.”

Despite her accomplishments, Alamo admits that she still struggles financially.

“The recession hit my mom pretty hard, and my dad helps me with my expenses, so we do what we can,” she said. “They are both big supporters of what I do. At least with my full-time job at Six Flags, I’m actually getting paid to dance.”

Every other Wednesday, H.M. Cauley brings you positive stories from our community. To suggest a story idea, e-mail