Encore! raises money for special needs children
TNE Editor
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Encore! raises money for special needs children

Published 2/5/19

Jessica Treat

TNE Writer

To the Moon and Back Masquerade is a benefit event planned by Encore! Performing Society. The event promotes and raises funds for The Penguin Project, an organization that empowers children with special needs through theatre. Encore! Performing Society is a local, non-profit performing arts group in Cherokee County. It includes performers of all ages, elementary to college level.

“The mission of Encore is emerging in arts through education and participation,” said Lena Gladkova-Huffman, Encore Performing Society director. “We provide an artistic outlet for the kiddos starting at age four, and then it just keeps going. One of our older dancers is almost 21 and we also have adults that participate in our productions. We try to provide them with an outlet to experience what it might be like in a professional world.”

Lena Gladkova-Huffman moved from Russia in 2007. She started Academy of the Performing Arts in 2012 and began Encore in 2013. Gladkova-Huffman avidly works with the Tahlequah Playhouse and volunteers for The Penguin Project. This partially inspired her to work alongside them for To the Moon and Back Masquerade.

“There are no opportunities for anything professional level in this area, short of going to Tulsa,” said Gladkova-Huffman. “Unfortunately for our dancers, they would otherwise have no other chance to be exposed to a professional ballet or musical production.”

The Penguin Project is a national network that provides opportunities to children with special needs and gives them a chance to perform on stage. There is a system of actor to mentor. They are on stage performing while being shadowed by a mentor. The mentor does not outshine the actor, they simply guide the penguin into their choreography. Gladkova-Huffman has volunteered to do choreography for The Penguin Project for three productions, Annie Jr., Peter Pan, and now for their upcoming show, Mary Poppins Jr.

“We were really searching for ideas to figure out what we could do more in the community,” said Kevin Neal, Encore dance teacher. “Someone on the board had mentioned the idea of a masquerade and Diana had volunteered to take control. I was volunteered to come in and teach a small dance routine, and that is how I will be contributing my time.”

To the Moon and Back provides an afternoon for people of all ages to come socialize, dance and get to know dancers from The Penguin Project. The coordinators are excited for the event and to see the community collaboration.

“The children are simply what drives me to run an event like To the Moon and Back,” said Diana Gordineer, event coordinator. “I love the initiative everyone has before each project. I love the fact that this year we have an opportunity to be apart of a movement like this.”

Encore is excited to be working with everyone volunteering their time to the event. They invite people of all ages to attend the event or volunteer to work it. Encore wants to get the Tahlequah community as involved as possible.

“I think the arts are dying out in a sense,” said Gordineer. “It is always important to support, especially when young adults and children are involved. It is important to build their self esteem, and it is one of those things they can take with them into life. Letting them express themselves on stage is vital, especially for the kids that come in and work so hard. They get to see the fruit of their labor.”

Giving opportunity is what Encore stands for. They wish to promote dress up, performance and dance into their students of all ages. They believe every student should be given an opportunity they may never see and to have fun with it. In light of that, they decided to make their event all-inclusive.

“I hope to enrich our future generation in how they perceive the arts,” said Neal. “It does not matter if you are a boy, a girl or how old you are. What matters is if you love it, do it. That is what I would love to see here in Tahlequah. When you think of Tahlequah, you do not think of a progressive city with lots of fine arts opportunity and that is something I would like to see change.”

Guests can expect a dance floor, a DJ, snacks, crafts and a photo booth at To The Moon and Back Masquerade. The benefit provides parents and their children with a special night to take a pause from ongoing life. A short dance lesson is provided for those looking for a more structured routine or in case they do not know how to dance.

For this event, it is recommended for a parent and child to come together, but is not required. Anyone can attend, there are no restrictions and experience is not required.

Proceeds partially go to Encore’s sponsored dance lessons. They provide dance lessons to children that may have never been exposed to dance and may be interested or children that cannot afford dance lessons.

Profits are shared with The Penguin Project to support their Mary Poppins Jr. production. Encore does not have a set goal of fundraising. They are just hopeful to raise enough to support their next ongoing productions. Each event put on prepares them for the next.

“People should come to the event and take just two hours out of their day to get dressed up and have a special night,” said Gladkova-Huffman. “It is an opportunity to create an experience and a memory together.”

To the Moon and Back Masquerade is from 1-3 p.m. on Feb. 16 at the Tahlequah Armory Municipal building. Tickets are $25 a couple and any additional family member in your group is $5.

For more information about Encore or if interested in attending or volunteering for the event, call or text Gladkova-Huffman at 918-803-1408.


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