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Michelle Obama honors L.A. inner-city program Everybody Dance

Michelle Obama honors L.A. inner-city program Everybody Dance
Jovahna Solalindez, 12, represents the L.A. inner-city youth program Everybody Dance in the East Room of the White House during the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award celebration. (Liza Bercovici)

An after-school dance program serving 2,400 inner-city students in Los Angeles has been selected as one of 12 recipients of the 2014 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.

The program, Everybody Dance, was founded in 2000 by Liza Bercovici in memory of her daughter, Gabriella Axelrad, who died in a bicycling accident at age 13. Gabriella loved to dance, and Bercovici started Everybody Dance in an affordable housing project near downtown L.A. to reach as many disadvantaged children as possible, from preschool to high school.

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"This award is the culmination of a 15-year journey occasioned by the loss of my 13-year-old daughter," said Bercovici on Monday from Washington, D.C., where she is participating in awards festivities chaired by First Lady Michelle Obama. Everybody Dance student representative Jovahna Solalindez, 12, and artistic director Carol Zee also are present.

"I have never been more proud of what we have achieved in Gabri's memory," Bercovici said.

The people behind Everybody Dance found out that they had been selected in late June.

"Our families are elated beyond words by the recognition, as is the staff," Bercovici said, adding that she wants to expand the program with the mandate to "transform the lives of underserved youth in Los Angeles through high quality dance instruction."

More than 350 programs were up for the award. The 12 winners use the arts to increase academic achievement, graduation rates and college enrollment, as well as to improve literacy, communication and performance skills.

According to Bercovici, 94% of her program's high school graduates enrolled in college.

"Benjamin Millepied said we were the best after-school dance program he had ever seen," Bercovici said, referring to the noted choreographer. "We just have very high expectations and a lot of rigor in our dance program."

Follow me on Twitter @jessicagelt

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