Rwandan families receive food thanks to donations from World Dance for Humanity. (Courtesy photo)

Within a week of the COVID-19 lockdown, World Dance for Humanity launched free daily Zoom classes. Since then, the Santa Barbara-based nonprofit has been offering people of all ages and abilities a lively social forum and an invigorating workout.

Participants are finding an antidote to isolation and anxiety through dance, as well as the opportunity to be of service during the pandemic.
World Dance for Humanity (WD4H) is using every penny from donations received from dancers and supporters to help people in desperate need, both locally through the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County and globally in Rwanda.
The class funds are being used to provide emergency food relief for the families and orphans World Dance works with in Rwanda, who are facing starvation as a result of closed businesses and flooded farms.

So far, World Dance has provided more than $9,000 in food relief for 1,000 people in the communities it serves through innovative grassroots, person-to-person projects. It is gearing up for more food aid in the next few weeks as an increasing number of families go hungry.

“Our Rwandan food recipients went home with food and a big hope that there is still a future for them, and this is where their strength, courage, and perseverance will come from,” said Justin Bisengimana, World Dance’s Rwanda program director. “Hunger is the biggest concern for our families; they know it is a terrible way to die.

“I will never cease to extend my appreciation to everyone who graciously contributed to this food relief. Your generosity will lead our communities into a bright future.”

World Dance for Humanity is active in the Santa Barbara community, reaching out to seniors and to adults with developmental disabilities, providing a consistent team of volunteers at the Westside Boys & Girls Club, and stepping up for social justice.

Zoom class funds are enabling World Dance to make generous donations to the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County to help people who are having trouble making ends meet during the COVID-19 confinement.
“Hunger is at an all-time high here at home due to the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis,” said Judith Smith-Meyer of Foodbank of Santa Barbara County.

“The Foodbank is distributing nearly 90,000 pounds of healthy food every day, and has provided community members with more than 4 million pounds through our Covid response. This work would not be possible without generous support from a host of community organizations like World Dance for Humanity,” she said.

Participants in the WD4H Zoom classes say dancing has helped get them cope in trying times.

“Moving into teaching at home was a big undertaking that came with a lot of stress,” said Loriann Mastromarino, a Santa Barbara school teacher. “Knowing I could dance each day and escape the stress for a while helped me to get through those days of having to create a new way of teaching.

“I have so enjoyed being able to move my body, participate in a bit of beauty, listen to great music, and be a part of a live community of dancers.”

Karen Behrndt, also a Santa Barbara teacher, has been joining the online dance classes from Burundi, where she is currently working.

“Thank you for offering the Zoom dance classes,” she said. “It brings me such joy to know that we’re in this together, no matter where we are. Thank you WD4H for giving me the opportunity to help Santa Barbara and our communities in Rwanda and to be a part of their lives. We’re truly changing lives, one step at a time.”

Patricia Bragg of the Patricia and Paul Bragg Foundation, which has donated to the WD4H food supply effort, said, “What an honor to be able to support World Dance for Humanity. Their organization brings so much joy and hope to underserved communities in the developing world. It is such a blessing that we were able to help WD4H supply food to this incredible cause.”

“World Dance has an amazing ability to inspire giving in so many, and translate those resources effectively into life-saving hunger relief. Few others would have had the wherewithal and stamina,” said Peter Haslund, past WD4H Board chair.

— Janet Reineck is the founder and executive director of World Dance for Humanity.