For her trip to Tanzania next weekend, 17-year-old Holly Perkins is packing her suitcases with all the essential items needed for her visit to the African nation — including ballet slippers, leotards and tights.

Perkins, a senior at Merriconeag Waldorf High School in New Gloucester, volunteers with her family at an orphanage in Tanzania. And for her second trip to the orphanage, she plans to teach the children the basics of ballet, including scenes from “The Nutcracker.”

“I’m excited to bring something to these children that they’ve never experienced before. It is such an opportunity. I know they will be so thankful and so supportive,” said Perkins, who dances at Maine State Ballet in Falmouth and is the daughter of David and Heidi Perkins of North Yarmouth.

She leaves on March 23 with her father for the three-week trip.

The United Republic of Tanzania is located in East Africa and is home to Kilimanjaro, the highest mountain on the continent. Perkins first went there two years ago with her family to volunteer at the Rift Valley Children’s Village orphanage in the Karatu region.

Her educational mission work is part of a senior project at Merriconeag Waldorf High. She has danced since age 3, and began teaching ballet to younger students at Merriconeag earlier this year.

This project resulted from a seed of an idea planted by John Saccone, movement education teacher at Merriconeag.

“I had heard that Holly was thinking about teaching yoga, and I said, ‘Yoga? Why yoga?’ She should be teaching what she is good at, which is ballet,” Saccone said. “So I got a bunch of kids in grades 3 to 5 to take her class, and I taped her. She started realizing that she could do the same thing with the orphanage.”

Perkins’ work dovetails with a basic tenet at the independent school that suggests people do best in life when they do what they love, Saccone said.

“When she started this, we talked about showing the children who you are and what you are about. What is your passion?” he said. “With our students here, she brought herself into the teaching process, and her kindness came through. It began right here at home, and now she is taking it on the road. It’s really quite lovely.

“She is bringing her passion to children who otherwise would never have the chance to experience something like this.”

After the orphanage approved her idea, Perkins put the word out at Maine State Ballet that she wanted to collect as many dance clothes as possible. The Falmouth-based ballet school was flooded with donations, including some from as far as California, said Linda Miele, Maine State’s artistic director.

“It became a very large project,” Miele said. “Holly had no idea the outpouring of support she would get for what she assumed would be a little school project. It’s really been quite remarkable. Those students in Tanzania are going to be stunned when they get these dance clothes and shoes and costumes.”

The project meshes perfectly with Perkins’ outgoing and gracious personality, Miele added.

“If you were to ask anybody who the nicest person is at Maine State Ballet, they would say, Holly Perkins. No contest. There would be no contest. Hands down, Holly Perkins,” Miele said. “She has this sort of magnetic personality that is just truly good. You see it in her face. She radiates this goodness about her.”

Perkins plans to teach two classes each day during her time in Tanzania. She expects 10 to 15 students per class from the 100 or so who are at the orphanage.

She won’t have enough time to do much more than teach the basics, but she plans to introduce them to “The Nutcracker,” in which she has danced many times with Maine State Ballet over the years.

The Rift Valley Children’s Village is supported largely through the nonprofit Tanzania Children’s Fund. Its founder, India Howell, is a former Portland resident, and the orphanage has close ties to the Portland community.

Perkins said her family had talked for many years about going to Tanzania to volunteer, and they finally went two years ago when she was a sophomore. Perkins fell in love with the village, and has wanted to go back ever since that first visit.

The family is paying for this trip themselves. In addition to collecting dance clothes, Holly also raised money that she will donate to the orphanage when she arrives in Tanzania.

“I love ballet so much, I love Africa so much, and I love Maine State Ballet so much. It seemed perfectly natural to do this collaboration and involve all of these areas of my life,” she said.

“I feel very lucky that I am able to do what I love, and I want to share my joy with these children.”

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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