Diablo Ballet teaches students coping skills through dance –

PEEK Principal Rosselyn Ramirez demonstrates dancing with a student.

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (June 11, 2024) — When people think of a professional ballet company, they often imagine lean, muscular dancers whose incredible strength translates into beautiful movements.

While this is certainly the case with Diablo Ballet, there is another side to the 30-year-old company – one in which young, enthusiastic students find new ways to express emotions and cope with challenges.

“I have always wanted to be part of the community, and arts education has always been very important to me. When we started the ballet company, I knew I also wanted to do something more educational,” said Diablo Ballet co-founder Lauren Jonas.

Just a year after Diablo Ballet’s first performance, Jonas founded the PEEK news program. Since 1995, it has reached more than 75,000 underserved children and at-risk adolescents in juvenile justice facilities.

Increasing self-esteem

PEEK, a one-of-a-kind arts education program offered by a Bay Area professional dance company, provides the school’s creative, social and emotional curriculum designed to help students express their feelings through movement and teamwork. Young people learn to use dance, body language and facial expressions to help themselves in difficult situations, as well as to improve their mental, emotional and physical well-being.

According to Jonas, the program helps students develop self-esteem by expressing their emotions and experiences through original movements, and also encourages teamwork when students work in a group to present a story.

“We usually start by having second- and third-grade students talk about something in a circle, and then ask them to show a movement that reflects what they just talked about. Then we’ll ask them to imitate each other and memorize the movements before we put them to music,” Jonas said. “It also helps with learning because we are working on how to remember things.”

The PEEK curriculum is based on the California Visual and Performing Arts Standards and the National Core Standards. In addition to dancing, the program includes a Bolivian guitarist who talks to students about rhythm, claps complex rhythms and shows them how to improvise.

“Our program director, Rosselyn Ramirez, and the dancers she brings in have built trust and connection with the students,” Jonas said. “During the academic year, we attend nine schools every month as well as Mt. McKinley Court School located in Juvenile Hall. The great thing is that students don’t feel like it’s a different class. They have fun and learn in different ways.”

Make a call

Diablo Ballet founder Lauren Jonas encourages three students in the company’s PEEK program to express emotions through movement.

The program came to Mt McKinley in 2015, after then-Principal Lynn Mackey (now Contra Costa Schools Principal) asked Jonas to introduce arts education to the school.

“These children in juvenile detention centers are often left to their own devices. Their parents and siblings may be in prison, so they have no one to rely on. We show up week after week and consistency is very important to them,” Jonas said. “We talk a lot about self-image and how they see themselves in the world. Many students are not very verbal, but they can connect with physical movements.”

Jonas found the PEEK program even more valuable during and after Covid-19 when it addresses students’ mental health issues that developed during lockdown.

“We had many social and emotional conversations with students as they shared their feelings and concerns as they began to resume in-person learning,” Jonas said.

Going beyond yourself

Not content with just running a professional dance company and bringing arts education to schools, Jonas went further. Diablo Ballet members are now bringing dance to Parkinson’s disease patients in two different locations.

“They say dancing for older people is the best thing for the brain and mobility – better than crosswords or golf. This is especially true for patients with Parkinson’s disease,” Jonas explained. “One woman in our class had trouble walking, even with a walker. But with the waltz rhythm repeated over and over again, she was able to use a walker and progress to canes.”

Jonas also enjoys showing off his professional dancers to young students and seniors through the PEEK program, especially younger dancers.

“I think it’s important for an artist to give back because art itself is self-centered in a way. You give something to the audience, but to achieve it you give your all, which is self-centered, so it’s good to involve them in the students’ activities,” Jonas said.

For more information about PEEK and Diablo Ballet, visit

Sally Hogarty

Sally Hogarty is well known throughout the Bay Area as a columnist, theater critic and working actress. She is the editor of the Orinda News. Send comments to [email protected]