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Out of Grief, a Gift of Hope Rises and Endures

A group of girls performs at a party as part of Everybody Dance, a program created by Liza Bercovici in memory of her 13-year-old daughter, Gabriella.
(GARY FRIEDMAN / Los Angeles Times)
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Since Liza Bercovici started her inventive dance program for children from low-income families (“A Legacy in Motion,” June 27), everything and nothing has changed.

What hasn’t changed is the grief, she says. It began on July 24, 1999--the day her daughter Gabriella, 13, was struck and killed by a driver while riding her bicycle--and it has not abated. Neither the charitable foundation she started in her daughter’s name nor the packed dance classes she offers in her daughter’s spirit (Gabriella loved to dance) can alter that fundamental agony.

But almost everything else in Bercovici’s life is different now. The Studio City woman stopped practicing law and established the “Everybody Dance” program in a housing project near downtown Los Angeles. In the last six months, the number of students in the low-fee program has more than doubled to 700.

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In August, she opened a second facility in a storefront church in MacArthur Park, one of the poorest areas in L.A. Four hundred students, ages 4 to 14, are enrolled there--and there are waiting lists at both branches, Bercovici says. Even with 72 classes a week, there is not enough time or space to accommodate all the children whose parents would like to give them lessons.

Many of Bercovici’s students have never been out of their own neighborhoods, she says, but now a group of them has started to perform at such places as USC and the L.A. County Museum of Art. The American Ballet Theatre invited students to its performance of “The Nutcracker” at the Hollywood & Highland complex.

Her vision, to offer serious dance lessons and other arts adventures to children in East Los Angeles, has expanded. She hopes to begin teaching dance in satellite studios, and for the small percentage of students who have exceptional talent, she plans a school for advanced studies. “We have the caliber of teachers who can teach those kids. We started our first advanced ballet class three weeks ago.”

What Bercovici needs more of is money, in grants and individual donations. “We have a much bigger budget than last year. Our teachers’ payroll has leapt to $4,500 a week, which doesn’t include rent or insurance.” What she has no lack of is inspiration. “When I see these kids start to dance, when I see what they can accomplish, when I see how much the music and movement means in their lives--the only thing I can possibly do is keep pushing forward.”

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