California Dance Institute (CDI) is an in-school and after-school non-profit arts education program that teaches life and learning skills through dance and music. CDI’s mission is to motivate children to develop a personal standard of excellence by instilling confidence, discipline and focus through the rigor and joy of dance.


Founder and Director Carole Valleskey, formerly a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet, started CDI in 2001.

CDI is the California associate of the National Dance Institute (NDI), founded in 1976 by New York City Ballet’s Jacques d’Amboise. The program is unique in the arts education world because its focus is not on achieving mastery of a particular dance form, but rather on recognizing and striving for excellence.  The athletic, high-energy dance style appeals to boys and girls alike, and studies have shown that participation in the program improves students’ academic performance and self-confidence.

The Children We Serve

In the schools CDI serves, 80% of children are on the free lunch program (indicating an income of $33,000 or less for a family of four), 75% are Hispanic, 8% are African American, 7% are Caucasian, 3% are Filipino, and 4% are Asian; 53% are of Limited English Proficiency and 2% are Special Education students.


Highly Trained Teaching Artists

CDI employs only professional dancers and musicians.  Each class is taught by a Lead Teacher, an Assistant Teacher and a Musical Accompanist, all of whom have been trained in the rigorous NDI teaching methodology.  CDI is one of the only dance programs in Los Angeles to employ live musical accompaniment in dance classes taught in public schools.

In the News

See how CDI is inspiring students of Los Angeles with Inside California Education presented by KVIE and Public Broadcasting Service.

Dance Beat, the newsletter of the Trudl Zipper Dance Institute and Colburn Dance Council, recently featured an article by CDI's Founder and a CDI Alumn, Paulo Hernandez.

“CDI is inexpensive. Operating on a financial shoestring -- a frayed shoestring -- CDI is a gift to a few of this city's public schools. It makes one marvel at what educational improvements could be achieved with small sums in the service of something much scarcer than money -- imagination.”

Valleskey teaches while participating, stomping, shaking, clapping and kicking right along with the kids, and falling to the floor in mock anguish when something goes wrong, adding laughter to the demands of doing it right and having fun at the same time.

“Anglos, Asians, African Americans and Latinos shared the rehearsal floor as a pianist banged away and as the kids threw themselves into the dance with the unrestricted abandon of magical creatures whirling in the wind.  When I asked some of the children — Lupe, Ali, Elizabeth, Juan, Frances and Alonna — why they were there, all had a variety of reasons, but it took Frances to simplify it. ‘Dancing,’ she said, ‘makes me happy.’ Total and utter bliss is a rare human condition, too often limited to moments in childhood that begin to fade when the world beyond dancing opens to a growing up fraught with peril.”

At Eagle Rock Elementary the children’s attention is riveted on Carole. For many of them, Carole’s is their “funnest” class. But don’t be fooled by the fun. The California Dance Institute’s techniques are highly structured. Carole will often use children to teach children. Today she singles out Elisha Marquez who demonstrates the box step. ‘Sometimes it’s scary,’ says Elisha, ‘but it builds confidence in us and it really helps us in experience.’

Teachers say they can see the impact of dance on their students’ performance in the classroom. Children are more focused, attentive and expressive. Laurel Hitchcock is a fourth grade teacher at Eagle Rock Elementary. ‘I’m seeing tremendous increases in writing skills. They leave dance and they’re energized and they’re freer. All of that is such a wonderful academic gift.’

Angela Lansbury, prolific actress and philanthropist, is a staunch supporter of  CDI. Here’s a look back in time at one of the many ways she has helped us.

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