Sarah Shelton had no idea that she'd turn a hobby giving ballet lessons into a school with a full-time staff and 14 instructors.
- by Lisa Monti
- photos courtesy DSFA
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Sarah Shelton moved to Diamondhead from Birmingham so her young son, Michael, could play golf. And, of course, the city itself was inviting. “It was a cute, quiet community for him to grow up in,” she said.
Not long after they settled into their new home the Covid pandemic hit, and Sarah said she came to the realization that at 33 years old, her life experiences had led her to be of service to her community.
“I landed in Diamondhead for my son to play golf, but I had no idea I was going to be in the position I am today,” she said. “Covid was my time in life to start a nonprofit equal opportunity, all inclusive school like none other here on the Gulf Coast.”
In just 18 months, the Diamondhead School of Fine Arts grew from a single ballet class to some 600 students from Gulfport to Slidell enrolled in eight departments. The mission of the 501(c)(3) organization is “to provide quality education, exposure to the fine arts, and appreciation of the fine arts to our community and beyond.”
Sarah knows from experience the value of an arts-based education. She attended the Alabama School of the Arts from seventh to tenth grade until she lost both of her parents in a short period of time. Having to leave the creative team of her fellow students was another loss for the then 16 year old. “I had been conditioned to the idea of teamwork and what cool things could be accomplished when we work together,” she said.
Sarah still emphasizes teamwork at the Diamondhead school, which she kicked off with one adult ballet class that she taught on Monday nights. “Then I started looking around at my friends and at the resources around me here. I had no idea from that first ballet class that I would have a school 18 months later.”
Classes in dance, art, voice, yoga, piano and other areas are taught in the Diamondhead Community Center, and productions are held at local venues. “We’ve held three theater productions and an art show,” she said. DSFA is supported by ticket sales as well as sponsorships and fundraisers.
Sarah stresses the equal opportunity nature of the school, which she says accepts all cultures and doesn’t require students to buy expensive dance outfits. “We keep religion and politics outside,” she said. “It’s all about true creativity, resume building and serving the community.”
The school now has a staff of 14 teachers and three full-time employees. Sarah said the school’s marketing efforts and staffing will continue to grow. “Our next venture will be Zoom education, and we’re just getting started. I can hire local teachers who can tutor worldwide in whatever their specialty is.”
The next theater production will be The Nutcracker Nov. 4-6 at the Randolph Center in Pass Christian. “Our lead actor is deaf, and he will be speaking and signing his part,” she said. “For the Nov. 6 performance we will have sign language interpreters.”
Sarah plans two theater productions a year and in September 2023, the school will host an arts competition “unlike anything seen on the Gulf Coast so far.” It will include all of the arts including creative writing and dance.
“We have scheduled programs for all ages. Those interested can sign up for the DSFA newsletter to get all the details,” Sarah said.
Diamondhead School of Fine Arts
Diamondhead Community Center
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