By LINDA CHION KENNEY
A Riverview resident’s drive to dance and give back has proven her detractors wrong, as Sara Battaglia turned an injury into an opportunity and a business into a beacon of support for others.
Today her nonprofit, inclusive dance studio, Dancing for a Difference, is for students of all ages and abilities, with a focus on giving back to the community.
For Battaglia, the story starts at age 8, when her love of ballet took root, which led, eventually, to her studies in dance at the University of South Florida.
“As a kid, dance always kept me busy, and I like to keep busy,” Battaglia said. “Dance was a form of expression for me, a stress relief, and it kept me active and happy. I liked having a routine in my life and dance did that for me, and I made really good connections with friends and teachers.”
When injury struck in college and derailed Battaglia’s plans for both a dancing degree and a career as a professional dancer, Plan B took root.
“When I’m not dancing, it feels like something is missing in my life; something doesn’t feel right,” Battaglia said. “I wanted to start a class that gave back to the community. That became a dance class for donations for other nonprofits. For the first class, we collected canned food that we donated to Feeding Tampa Bay.”
Soon, Dancing for Donations, the precursor to her studio today, had a name and a mission, with efforts that included collecting pet supplies for the Humane Society and school supplies for donations to teachers. As the mission grew, so, too, did the interest, which in turn led to a change in operations and renaming.
“Obviously, you can’t pay rent and teachers and staff with canned food,” Battaglia said. “Now we do charge a fee for students, but it’s about half the cost of a typical dance studio. From the start we welcomed kids with special needs, and about a year ago we started offering a program for kids in foster care.”
In January, Dancing for a Difference held a ribbon-cutting with the Greater Riverview Chamber of Commerce. Today, it operates out of a studio in Brandon, adjacent to the WalMart on State Road 60, with three dance rooms and two music rooms.
In keeping with Battaglia’s founding mission, the space when free is available to nonprofits and charities to use for fundraisers. Earlier this month she was at A Kid’s Place in Brandon to conduct dance classes for foster children in residence. She hopes to extend her services to nonprofits in south Hillsborough County, as well, and to summer camp programs throughout the county, as needed.
“We just like giving back to the community in the ways that we can since we’re not able to donate things like we used to,” Battaglia said.
What has stayed constant is Battaglia’s mission to “make a difference in the community through dance and music.” Her studio offers classes in ballet, point, jazz, lyrical, hip-hop, cheer, acrobatics, musical theater, voice, piano and ukulele.
The cost for 30- to 45-minute classes, three-to-five times per week, is $30 a month, Battaglia said. For classes that run 60 to 75 minutes, the monthly cost is $35. Multiple class discounts are available as well.
Looking back, Battaglia sees a woman driven to pursue her mission, despite both the uncertainties and naysayers.
“When I was 22, asking if I could rent space at a high school auditorium, they discouraged it,” Battaglia said. “There were a lot of people discouraging me for wanting to do this. But here we are, five years later, and a ton of kids are doing a lot of great things.”
To her generational peers, Battaglia said the lesson learned is to stay true to your passion and keep at it, which can be trying with “anxiety and depression, suicide rates and school shootings, and all this crazy stuff out there.”
“There are people in my generation who work hard and want to make the world a better place,” Battaglia said. “Sometimes it is just hard; there’s a lot going on. My wish is that other generations would allow for that to happen. Young people need encouragement, they need positive role models and they need positive experiences in their lives.”
For more, visit www.dancing4adifference.com. Call: 813-601-3009.