Ava and Sophia Paley of the Upper West Side are "tapping it forward" to donate gently-used dance gear to those who need it most
Dance-loving sisters Ava and Sophia Paley of New York City both spent a lot of time tapping and pirouetting their way through life since starting lessons at 5 years old. But after spending much of their early childhood years dancing, Ava, now 14, and Sophia, 12, realized they had too much gear they no longer needed (or fit into).
“Our closets were filled with costumes and dance shoes that we had grown out of or were not using anymore,” Sophia tells PEOPLE. “We thought there had to be a better place to put all these items than in our closets collecting dust.” Adds Ava, “We wanted to put these items to better use and send them to dancers not as fortunate as we were.”
After researching the options for dance donations and not finding something close enough to home, they decided to take matters into their own hands. They set up a donation bin in their Upper West Side dance studio, Shuffles NYC, in March 2018 with the goal of collecting gently-worn costumes, dance-wear and dance shoes to donate to dancers in need and dancers with special needs.
They called it Donate2Dance, then sent an email to their Shuffles NYC community urging them for donations. Within a week, the bin was “overflowing,” says Sophia. “We thought, ‘Wow, maybe we are really onto something here.’”
Now, Donate2Dance has eight bins throughout the New York, New Jersey and Long Island area, as well as corporate sponsors like LeSportsac and Terez that donate new items. As of this month, they have collected 1,052 pairs of shoes and 635 costumes.
In turn, Donate2Dance has donated to 36 dance schools in need around the country, including the San Pedro Boys and Girls Club in California, the place where trailblazing ballerina Misty Copeland honed her skills, and Rosie O’Donnell’s Rosie’s Theater Kids program in New York City.
So far, Ava and Sophia are overjoyed by the response. “Our apartment is filled with boxes and bags of donations,” says Sophia, who adds that they filter donations in between homework on the weekdays and then make the shipments on the weekends.
The schools and programs on the receiving end are equally thrilled.
One highlight for the sisters was raising enough funds to ship a box of donated leotards, tutus, ballet slippers, tap shoes and toe shoes to the School of Performing Arts in Puerto Rico, which was affected by Hurricane Maria. “It was an incredible feeling knowing we could give back to dancers who were passionate about dancing but lost everything,” says Ava.
They also donated to Agape Dance Ministry in Marianna, Fla., which had been hit by Hurricane Michael. “Their dance school was ruined,” says Sophia. “We sent them boxes of dancewear, toe shoes, ballet slippers, leotards as well as a gigantic box of sweatpants and sweatshirts that were donated to us from the tween brand Justice. Then they sent a video dancing in the donations!”
Another was when they found out about Ayita Wheelchair Dance in Texas, which teaches dance to students in wheelchairs after first learning about the studio from NBC Nightly News. “We searched them out and sent a gigantic box of tutus, costumes and hair accessories,” says Sophia. “Then they sent us a thank-you video opening the box screaming with joy and excitement. It was such an emotional moment.”
And the sisters are just getting started.
“I want to see Donate2Dance keep growing,” says Sophia, who dreams of having a donation bin at a dance studio in every state. “I’d also like to raise more money to continue to ship donations across the country and see famous performers, like Sarah Jessica Parker, Kristin Chenoweth or Maddie Ziegler help us spread the word.” (Luckily, they have mom Meredith, who is the Vice President of Public Relations for Talbots, to turn to for expert advice on getting their message to the masses.)
Ava, meanwhile, wants to focus on growing their partnerships. “I would love for us to consistently receive donations of new items from established dancewear companies,” she says. “This would mean that we would be able to donate brand new items to dancers in need.”
Ultimately, the sisters simply want to make a difference.
“Every child deserves the chance to dance,” says Ava. “This is all about dancers helping dancers.”
Learn more and find out how to get involved as a volunteer, get a donation bin in your studio or receive donations at donate2dance.org.