In 1983, Beth Burns, a sister at the time with the order of St. Joseph of Orange, founded our organization under the name Saint Joseph Ballet as a summer pilot dance program for at-risk youth. The program was an immediate success, which prompted Burns to extend its duration past the summer months, moving shortly thereafter to the basement of the Episcopal Church of the Messiah in Santa Ana. Dance Free Weeks, a community engagement effort, followed in 1985 to bring our organization’s dance education curriculum into surrounding public schools each fall. By 1989, our organization was receiving national recognition and serving 150 students in a donated 4,000-square-foot space with one studio in downtown Santa Ana.
Throughout our second decade, as our student population and services grew, we added additional creative learning opportunities and an individualized tutoring program to aid students on their paths to college. The effort paid off when, in 1998, the College Scholarship Program was established for the growing number of graduates enrolling in higher education. The following year, our organization grew to its current 21,000-square-foot campus at 19th and Main Streets, which was funded by a large cross section of supporters who raised a total of $6.8 million for the construction and a new endowment fund.
By the early 2000s, we grew again to serve 375 students with expanding services, which include academic assistance, college preparatory guidance, crisis intervention, and intensive dance immersion with leading dance choreographers from around the country. After over 20 years at the helm of our organization, founder Beth Burns retired in 2005, recommending contemporary dance choreographer and Fulbright Scholar Melanie Ríos Glaser as her successor, who served as Artistic Director and Co-CEO until 2016. 2005 also marked the first year that 100% of our graduates enrolled in college, a feat that has continued to this day. In 2009, our organization changed its name to The Wooden Floor, with the tag line From here, you can step anywhere, to reflect the profound connection and solid foundation provided by our organization to each student.
2010 to Present
The Wooden Floor’s Board of Directors and staff set an ambitious 10-year Strategic Vision 2010-2020: to advance our current model, grow local impact, and increase visibility and advocacy. Dawn S. Reese, Chief Executive Officer spearheaded the intensive initiative which has led to significant organizational gains in all areas including plans for expanding The Wooden Floor’s impact both locally, and nationally. Locally, The Wooden Floor will serve an additional 100 students and their families by the end of 2017 at a new annex location within the Depot at Santiago workforce housing complex. Nationally, we have licensed our model to a nonprofit in Washington, DC, with the goal of transforming more youth in low-income communities across the country through the power of dance and access to higher education.