It started around a table in 1989, after 13 years of success for the National Dance Institute (NDI), The Times publisher Richard Bilotti invited NDI founder and principal dancer with the New York City Ballet Jacques d’Amboise to meet a group of city and school district leaders in Trenton to discuss the possibility of a Residency program for Trenton youth. Joining Richard and Jacques were Michael Newhouse, General Manager of The Times; Ed Meara, Executive Director of the Mercer County Chamber of Commerce; a representative of the Mayor’s office; and Carol Belt, Art Resource Specialist for Trenton Schools on behalf of Superintendent Crosby Copeland. Jacques understood that the arts have a unique ability to engage children and motivate them toward excellence. He captivated the room with stories of NDI, and the group was inspired to begin a journey that has changed the lives of thousands of children in Trenton over these 25 years.
Two fifth grade classes were selected to pioneer the NDI residency program in Trenton; one from Franklin School and one from Grant School. Superintendent Copeland, Assistant Superintendent Pat Maffei, Executive Directors Nicholas Burke and Julie Dixon Thomas, school principals, educators, parents, and community volunteers all worked together to bring the idea of Trenton’s first NDI Residency to life. For two weeks, students rehearsed in the auditorium of the Board of Education building, learning first hand from Jacques d’Amboise, Ellen Weinsten, Kay Gayner and Jerry Korman. The culmination of this effort was the performance of “Fat City”. The dancers performed 13 shows on stage at the Trenton Central High auditorium. This first production was such a success that it was barely over when plans began to unfold for the following year’s Residency. The following years took the Residency and its vibrant curriculum to other schools in Trenton, helping hundreds of children develop self-esteem, discipline, and an appreciation for hard work.
In 1992, the NDI Residency program became Trenton Education Dance Institute (TEDI) and its first officers Richard Bilotti (President), Dot Albert (Vice President), Carol Belt (Secretary) and Nicholas Burke (Treasurer) assembled a Board of Trustees dedicated to the mission of teaching the art and life skills of dance to students in Trenton Public Schools. TEDI has had a series of talented Artistic Directors, each dedicated to the program’s mission and its NDI pedagogy, advancing the direction of the program, and nurturing it from its initial 3-week residencies to what is now a full year in-school program. TEDI encourages the participation of all students, including those with special needs who begin and progress at their own pace. TEDI’s former Artistic Director of thirteen years, Dufftin Garcia strengthened the program’s lasting impact on students as he further developed TEDI’s curriculum of advanced classes. Following participation in the core in-school program, selected TEDI students are offered an opportunity to attend advanced after-school classes as members of SWAT (Scholarship for the Willing, Achieving and Talented) Team, and 6th–10th graders can audition for the TEDI Celebration Team which continues to build skill and discipline.
Each year, the TEDI Artistic Team selects a theme with careful consideration of curricular connections and ties to the NJ State Standards and District Ends Policies. Students keep written journals translating movement, feelings and emotions to words. The success of TEDI as an in-school program is supported by the open dialogue between the TEDI Artistic Director and teachers, ensuring to incorporate other areas of study such as math, geography or science into TEDI classes to reinforce educational concepts.
For many years, TEDI received major funding from The Times and the Trenton Public School District. From 1998 to 2006, former Superintendent James Lytle understood and recognized the importance of the arts for students and their healthy development, and was able to provide significant TEDI funding.
Due to the economic downturn, TEDI’s funding was cut over recent years, and TEDI’s board sought new partnerships to keep the momentum going. In 2011, TEDI joined with The Children’s Home Society of New Jersey (CHSofNJ). By the determination of two committed boards and CHSofNJ staff members Dolores Ijames-Bryant (Director of School-Based Programs) and Louise Shabazz (Administrator of School-Based Programs), the two organizational cultures have blended into one cohesive unit preparing TEDI for continued success for the students of Trenton.
Today, TEDI enjoys strong support from Trenton Public Schools Interim Superintendent Lucy Feria and her leadership team, as well as the current school board. TEDI’s Interim Artistic Director Yolanda Drislane has plans to further enrich the NDI pedagogy with the incorporation of increased connections to core standards in the classrooms. This year’s talented team of staff, production team, and volunteers, led by Drislane, is already preparing to launch TEDI into another year of energy, creativity, learning opportunities, achievement and a lifetime impact on Trenton’s youth.
The future goal of TEDI’s partnership with CHS of NJ will be to expand the TEDI experience allowing even more students to continue with the program for more than one full year. The lengthened exposure to TEDI with its educational components and positive experiences will ensure more lasting developmental outcomes for TEDI participants.
TEDI could not be the ground-breaking program that it is today if not for its supporters throughout the years. As we celebrate the 25 year journey of TEDI, we thank Jacques d’Amboise for planting a seed that has grown to touch the lives of so many in the Greater Trenton area. We also thank the professionals and volunteers who have helped shape TEDI into the program it is today, the talented children who dedicate so much of their time to TEDI, and the thousands of community members who show their support of the arts and Trenton youth by attending TEDI performances.
As we celebrate the continuing journey of TEDI, we thank Jacques d’Amboise for planting a seed that has grown to touch the lives…