The nonprofit encourages creativity, industriousness and teamwork in children.

Monica Kridler was a teenager when she realized she would never be a ballerina. The Akron native began studying dance at age 3, but an injury at 14 stopped her in her tracks. “I loved ballet,” Kridler says. “I was hopeful that I would have a career in ballet. … But then my back gave out, and my hopes of a career came to a crashing halt.”

Although she no longer performed pirouettes, Kridler did found an organization that keeps central Ohio children on the move. In 2003, Kridler established the earliest iteration of the nonprofit Momentum. By offering dance instruction in area schools, the organization reinforces virtues—such as creativity, industriousness and teamwork—that serve students whether they pursue performing arts or not.

“Because of the discipline that dance takes, children really are developing their working memory, which is one of those executive functions that you just absolutely have to have in life,” says Kridler, Momentum's founding artistic director.

Every year, the educational program concludes with a show-stopping performance featuring some 400 children at the Riffe Center's Davidson Theatre. The concerts—slated for May 9 and 11 this year—give students (most of whom come from disadvantaged neighborhoods) a goal to work towards throughout the school year.

Momentum traces its origins to the similar National Dance Institute, an organization launched in 1976 by New York City Ballet star Jacques d'Amboise. In 2001, Kridler was contacted by the National Dance Institute's Lori Klinger—the daughter of Kridler's former dance teacher, Nan Klinger—about starting a similar program in Columbus. “She said, ‘Monica, you have to do what we're doing in New York in Columbus. I'm offering a training in Akron for two weeks, and you must be there,' ” says Kridler, who made the trek to Akron one day a week for an entire school year to learn about the program.

Until about four years ago, Momentum operated under the arm of BalletMet. “I promised them that I would always end in the black, and I would never be a financial hardship for them, and I was able to make good on that promise,” she says. “The time came that Momentum was ready to move out on its own.”

Funder Nancy Kramer, global chief evangelist at IBM iX, is not surprised that Momentum has taken off. “The program is high-quality,” Kramer says. “[Schools] have seen that the students who participate in the program have some significantly positive outcomes and, as a result of that, it's expanded.”

Momentum gained its own nonprofit status in 2014; according to Kridler, 80 percent of its budget comes from fundraising. The group occupies donated office space at 500 S. Front St., but its real work is done in school gymnasiums throughout Columbus.

Every week during the school year, Momentum's team of 10 dance instructors and five pianists—each of whom received specialized training—fan out to the 13 schools (and 35 classrooms) participating in Momentum's core program.

Educators praise the skills the program nurtures—and the fun way in which they are delivered. “I watched them manage students and talk about discipline and talk about dependability … and talk about what they needed to succeed,” says Jaime Spreen, principal of East Columbus Elementary School. “It wasn't just about life. It was related to dance, and that's something that a lot of our kids were interested in whereas academics isn't something they were necessarily interested in.”

Last year, Momentum expanded to include a special-needs program, Chance to Dance, which has been implemented at Bridgeway Academy Secondary School and Therapy Center, for students with autism; Colerain Elementary School, for students with physical disabilities; and at the Ohio State School for the Blind. “I always knew that all children could dance,” Kridler says. “Sometimes a child in a wheelchair can only move their eyebrows—but that's dancing.”

This year's concerts take as their theme the Solar System; COSI chief scientist Paul Sutter helped with the show. “He has worked with us to put the scientific facts to our story about Little Comet, who travels through the universe, first going through our solar system and then beyond, trying to discover where it belongs,” Kridler says.

But the point of the program is not so much the final show but the journey to prepare for it. “We believe that we're rehearsing all year for this year-end performance,” Kridler says, “but we're really rehearsing for life.”

Peter Tonguette is a freelance writer.