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By Maggie Sharpe
The Contra Costa Times
June 03, 2015


Jedidiah Harwood, left, and Olivia Miller dance the Pas de Trois in the Conservatory of Classical Ballet's production of Swan Lake (Kerri Hamilton)[Oakland, California, USA] – A gifted young dancer is heading to Chicago this summer for a five-week intensive study with the prestigious Joffrey Ballet — followed by another three weeks of training with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) in Los Angeles.

“My mother said I was pirouetting across the room when I was 2 years old,” said 13-year-old Jedidiah Harwood, who lives in Montclair with his parents, five siblings and maternal grandfather. “As soon as I started taking ballet lessons four years ago, it just felt like home. Ballet is my life — I just love it so much.”

Harwood was selected for the summer intensives out of thousands of applicants who auditioned. Not only did he land the spot, he received a full scholarship for tuition from Joffrey and 50-percent paid tuition from ABT.

However, with just a week to go before he boards the plane for Chicago, Harwood still needs to raise money for other expenses, such as room and board, airfare for himself and his mother — who will drop him off and pick him up in Chicago and Los Angeles — as well as hotel bills and special attire required by each ballet company.

“In January, we created a fundraising web page at GoFundMe ( with the goal of raising $10,000,” said Harwood’s mother Tamara Saunders. “We are now over $8,000, but the expenses keep mounting up — we just paid $617 for dance clothes he has to have for ABT — and we haven’t even bought his luggage yet.”

Saunders said she is deeply grateful for everyone’s generosity. “Ballet is Jed’s entire life, so we are willing to do whatever is necessary for him.

Jedidiah Harwood YAGP 2014 (VAM)“He works harder than anyone I know,” said Saunders, who supports her family of nine by giving private piano lessons, while her husband Kenneth Harwood, an engineer by trade, home-schools all six children — Jedidiah and his twin sister Leah, both of whom just graduated eighth-grade, and younger brothers Isaiah, 11, Judah, 10, Rocky, 9, and Misha, 7. “Kenneth juggles six levels of math, science and literature. He is completely dedicated to the children’s education.”

Harwood, who takes six or seven classes a week at the Conservatory of Classical Ballet in San Leandro, is one of the youngest students attending this year’s summer intensives at Joffrey and ABT.

“I’m both excited and nervous; it will be a whole new experience,” Harwood said. “I’m sad to leave my family because they’re always there for me, so it will be weird not having them around all the time.”

However, he looks forward to the opportunity of immersing himself in what he loves — he will be taking classes eight hours a day, five days a week in everything from technique to character interpretation.

“I just love how dance expresses music through motion; ballet is so fluid, all the steps just link together,” said Harwood, who is in rehearsal for the 2 p.m. June 6 performance of “Coppelia” at the San Leandro Performing Arts Center. (For tickets, visit under Events).

Ann Fisher is owner of the Conservatory of Classical Ballet and has been Harwood’s teacher for the past four years.

“Jed is extremely dedicated and would rather be dancing than doing anything else,” said Fisher, adding he has made tremendous strides since he started. “He has an inner sweetness that sets him apart and gives a romantic quality to his movements. He loves to act and did a wonderful character interpretation in our production of ‘The Nutcracker.’ A dance career is not easy, but I think he will go far — I think he has a big career ahead of him.”

   Jedidiah Harwood YAGP 2014-03 (VAM)  Jedidiah Harwood YAGP 2014-04 (VAM)  Jedidiah Harwood YAGP 2014-02 (VAM)


Saunders is thrilled for her son’s success and bright future, but says she’s “a wreck” because he’ll be gone all summer. “I didn’t expect to let go so soon,” she said. “Thankfully, I have five other children to keep me busy, but I will miss him terribly. We are such a tight-knit family, which makes his departure even more challenging. However, not many people get to live their lives in the arts in this way, so I’m very excited for him.”


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