By LOU PONSI     9/21/2023

Mater Dei High School junior Ava Biagiotti, a member of the school’s honors level Dance Conservatory, spent part of her summer sharing her passion for dancing and providing instruction to youngsters from underserved communities, where access there is often limited.


Biagiotti developed a program titled “Dancing for Difference.” In the spring, she received a $5,000 fellowship grant from the Dragon Kim Foundation to fund the program.

This summer she taught dance to a group of 20 youngsters, ages 8 to 11, mostly from underserved local communities.

The free, two-day workshop consisted of six lessons spread across two days, where emphasis was placed on character-building traits such as confidence, teamwork and empowerment intertwined with choreography and performing.

Biagiotti taught a workshop at the Shalimar Learning Center in Costa Mesa in June and a second workshop at Orange County Educational Arts Academy in July.

“It’s a really great way to find yourself and a great like outlet,” she said. “Dance is a really expensive activity. I feel like I wanted to make sure everyone has the opportunity. It is a great way to find yourself and a great outlet.”

The Dragon Kim Foundation was established by Daniel and Grace Kim, to honor the legacy of their son, Dragon, who was 14 when he was killed along with his friend in a camping accident at Yosemite on Aug. 14, 2015.

At the time of his death, Dragon had finished his freshman year at Orange County School of the Arts, where he and some friends were designing a program which would provide musical instrument instruction to underserved members of the community.

As a member of Mater Dei’s honors-level dance conservatory, Biagiotti showcases her skills in concerts, dance festivals, school events and events in the community.

With the application process for the Dragon Kim Foundation grant being highly competitive, Biagiotti acknowledged being a bit surprised when discovering she was among 80 students leading 47 projects throughout, California, Nevada and Arizona selected from a field of several dozen applicants.

Applicants are required to submit a recommendation letter, provide an overview of the project, produce a video and be interviewed before the final selections are made.

“They obviously made it clear that they are not accepting everyone,” Biagiotti said. “It’s very hard to get into, but I was just really just excited to start my project and get it going.”

Once selected, each fellowship recipient is assigned a business mentor, who will check in weekly for a progress report.

The fellowship starts with a leadership weekend, which consists of emotional intelligence training and leadership training.

“One of the first things we really wanted to establish is her drive for her project,” said Maliyah Mason, an administrative assistant with the Dragon Kim Foundation, who served as Biagiotti’s mentor. “What is her motivation? What is the unique spark within her that’s pushing her to create the project? And so, I was really curious to not only get to know Ava as an individual, but to know her as a leader and an entrepreneur and what her project meant to her.”

The inclusivity component of dance instruction was among the factors driving Biagiotti to create the Dancing for Difference curriculum, Mason said.

Biagiotti wanted to ensure her students didn’t see dance as a rigorous activity involving self-judgement but just a way to express themselves and have fun, to be self-loving and gentle and progress at their own pace, she said.

“She told me about other programs and things she’s done as a dancer and other ways that she’s helped (serve) communities in the past,” Mason said. “So, this was something that was already in her, something she was already personally invested in, but now it was on her to do the more regimented side of launching it and things like that.”

Biagiotti also wrote a book titled “Dance for Difference, where Rhythm Meets Radical Acceptance,” which is for sale on Amazon.

She continues holding her Dancing for Difference workshops during after school programs in Santa Ana and Costa Mesa and plans to continue collaborating with other Dragon Kim groups to help other underserved communities.

Biagiotti has also participated in outreach projects with her Dance Conservatory at Mater Dei.

One project involved teaching dance workshops for children at the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton.

The Dance Conservatory also performs annually at the HALO Dance for Autism show, which promotes awareness and funding for families affected by autism and at the Festival of Children at South Coast Plaza, which promotes organizations that serve children.

“I didn’t come from a low-income area, but I grew up in the Christian faith and I go to Catholic High School, so I always feel the need to give back and help others,” Biagiotti said. “I definitely feel like dance has just been a big part of my life and I wanted to really use my passion and use what I’m good at to help other people.”