He may be best known for guiding Kim Kardashian, Kristi Yamaguchi, Bristol Palin and other celebrities across the ballroom.
But recently Mark Ballas of ''Dancing With the Stars'' has stepped beyond the dance floor, sharing his songs and experiences with students across the country.
Mark Ballas of ‘‘Dancing with the Stars,’’ right, demonstrates a dance move with 14-year-old Alana Chester, an eighth grader at Howland Middle School, during a special assembly at the school on Wednesday. Ballas said his intent was to lift the spirits of students.
Photo by Virginia Shank
Ballas, who acts as a spokesperson for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, said he had originally intended to talk to students at Howland Middle School about the reality of suicide on Wednesday.
''But I just didn't want to go there after all," he explained. Instead he felt it was better to "lift the kids up rather than bring them down.''
Ballas, along with bandmates Chris Frampton, on guitar, and Harry Sullivan, on percussion, both of London, England, performed songs for some 750 students, in grades 6 through 8, at the middle school during a special assembly arranged by Ana Chester, owner of All About Ballroom Dance Studio in Niles.
Chester, whose daughter, Alana, 14, is an eighth-grader at Howland and nationally recognized dancer, explained the goal in bringing Ballas to Howland was to provide students with an uplifting experience. Chester became more familiar with Ballas when he and his mother, Shirley, a dance coach for the show, visited her dance studio, inspiring her to establish the Howland Ballroom Dance Club at the school this past fall.
"Mark really has a lot to say to encourage and inspire young people," she said. "He has a lot of energy and is so positive. This was about inspiring kids and making an impact. I think he did that."
Along with demonstrating his dance skills briefly, Ballas, 24, of Los Angeles, played guitar and sang some of the songs from his first solo, full-length CD, "Hurt LoveBox." Ballas, who admits to having his "ups and downs," said he hopes to encourage young people across America and beyond "to live their lives to the fullest, to be happy with who they are" and accept themselves as they are.
His visit to Howland was one of several stops along his current tour to promote his new CD and raise suicide awareness.
Ballas lost an uncle to suicide about seven years ago. He said in the right circumstance he tries his best to discourage young people from choosing suicide as a way of dealing with their problems. Much of his focus is on raising awareness of depression. But once he started engaging the students at Howland, he decided it would better serve them to focus more on the positive.
"I really believe suicide stems from depression and negative energy," he said. "I like to be around upbeat people and positive energy. I think that's important and I think it's important to encourage kids to look for that, to want to be around that. I think it can really make a difference."
''For these kids it was about encouraging them to be who they are, pursuing their dreams. When you do that, you're less likely to fall into that place where you feel hopeless and think suicide is the only way out. I'm hoping kids can see how great it is just to have fun and enjoy their lives and who they are and that it's OK to try something new. Even if you fall down it's OK as long as you try."