Sisters Sophia (9) and Ava Paley help dancers in need

Katya Tolunsky and Connor Dwin

In February of 2018, Sophia Paley (9) and her older sister Ava Paley realized that their closet was overflowing with old costumes, dancewear, and dance shoes from past recitals. The sisters realized that dancers around the world likely have a similar problem with their surplus of gently worn dancewear. As a result, the Paleys decided to create Donate2Dance.

Donate2Dance is a nonprofit organization that aims to collect new or gently used dancewear, costumes, shoes, and donations and then distributes that equipment to dancers and dance schools in need. The organization has donated to over 150 programs all over the world, including 65 dance programs that serve inner-city children, Title I schools, and those with special needs, Ava said.

The Paleys’ first action was simple: they left a bin in their dance studio for people to place old dancewear, Sophia said. “We came back the next week, and it was overflowing.” The pair then created a website and a GoFundMe page for money to ship the boxes to other dance studios. Donate2Dance now receives new dancewear as well as donations from companies nationwide, including Capezio, Dancewear, Terez, LeSportSac and Norwegian Cruise Line, Ava said.

In only three years, Donate2Dance has helped dancers from New York, Minnesota, Tennessee, Costa Rica, London, and Ghana. Currently, they have connections in over 25 states. Eventually, Sophia hopes the charity will have a dance bin in every state, she said. “The more dance connections made from a wide variety of places, the easier it is to connect people together and spread the word and continue to grow.”

Donate2Dance receives several emails a day from people who found their website and are willing to donate dancewear, Sophia said. From there, the Paleys research the dance programs or companies closest to the individuals who want to donate. They then call or email the programs to ask whether they are in need of dance equipment. If the program says yes, either the person or company donating dancewear ships it to the Paleys, who then send the shipments to the dance school, or the donor makes the shipment directly.

“To be able to see how kids go from dancing in their socks and then we give them costumes and dance shoes and make a real difference is amazing,” Sophia said. Receiving photos and videos of dancers receiving their dancewear or dancing in it brightens the Paleys’ days, she said. “We believe that every child deserves the chance to dance,” Ava said. 

Since Donate2Dance can be a large time commitment, Sophia is grateful that her parents and a handful of volunteers also contribute their help to the organization. “It’s obviously very difficult for two teenagers to be able to run something like this by themselves, so [my parents] help a lot with keeping track of emails and shipping boxes,” she said. The charity also has ambassadors in several states that help collect and donate dancewear, Sophia said. 

The pandemic has not affected any of the logistics of the organization, Sophia said. “We have actually received more emails from people during COVID because so many people are cleaning out their closets and finding old dancewear.”

The Paleys’ work in the dance community has received coverage from some major news networks. Approximately a year ago, the Paleys were interviewed on the Today Show and New York One about Donate2Dance. “Those have been such great moments because we’ve been able to spread our message even more,” she said. “Realizing how just a little idea was able to become such a big thing and make such a difference was awesome.”

Since they feel a special connection to New York City, the Paleys have shipped and hand delivered donations to over 40 NYC dance programs, Ava said. Around a year ago, the Paleys went to visit a dance studio in the city called PS 157 to drop off donations. “What was really memorable was that when they came over to us, they were all screaming ‘oh my god, it’s Sophia and Ava,’ and we had no idea they knew who we were or even idolized us,” Sophia said. “It was just such a surprise and it made us so happy to meet all the girls.” The dancers thought the Paley’s were famous for having been on television a week prior, Sophia said. 

Sophia and Ava’s work in the dance community extends beyond donating dance supplies. In August, the pair started teaching tap classes over Zoom with girls from Ghana at a dance company called Ballet Ghana, a studio to which they had frequently been donating dancewear, Sophia said. “At first it was just a few girls on Zoom, and then word spread from family to family and more people started showing up,” she said. “We always receive videos and pictures of them opening the boxes we send when they arrive, but to be able to see them dance on Zoom and teach them is amazing.”