MELROSE DANCE ACADEMY owner Amanda Bruno is shown with a group of costumed dancers from her studio. (Courtesy Photo)

Published in the August 19, 2016 edition


MELROSE — There’s an old saying worth repeating. “Find a need and fill it.”

Apparently, Rockwood Street resident Cali Lapenta has heard that old saying, and not only did she hear it, she took it to heart.

Lapenta has studied dance since age 2 at Melrose Dance Academy and currently studies under Amanda Bruno, owner of the Academy for the past four years.

Lapenta is also organizer of the “Dream to Dance Foundation,” an arm of the Academy dedicated to raising scholarship funds for deserving children who otherwise would not be able to afford lessons due to their family’s financial and personal struggles.

So passionate is Lapenta about dancing that she wanted to share her love of the art form with children a generation below her. A graduate of Saint Mary Elementary and Junior High School, Lapenta will begin her senior year in September at Saint Joseph Preparatory High School in Brighton. It was while she was at Saint Mary that it was instilled in her to give back to the community, said her mother, Lori Lapenta.

“From a young age she was taught to give back to others through community service,” said her mother. “Cali wanted to fulfill her community service for high school in a personal way, through something that was meaningful to her.”

Lori Lapenta also studied dance as a child and saw the gift in her daughter at a young age. “Because I danced as a child into my young adult life, I thought she would enjoy it, never imagining she would dance until age 18 — and certainly not imagining that she would reach out to children in need.”

Bruno has known Cali Lapenta for the past six years, and wanted to support her when she first talked about helping children in need.

“Cali said she wanted to do something with the studio,” said Bruno. “She wanted to help someone who couldn’t afford dance lessons. There are people in Melrose who struggle financially so the place to begin was right here.”

Lapenta began the process in July 2015 by developing an application form that she distributed to businesses throughout Melrose. She then set up a page and sought donations through the Melrose Community Group’s Facebook page.

Over $1,300 was raised in the span of two months, enough not only to offset expenses associated with dance lessons for one child, but two children from the same family. They are Grace Woodman, 7, and her younger sister Emily Woodman, age 2. Grace and Emily are the children of Lauren Fitzpatrick of Melrose. Grace signed up for a hip-hop class while Emily took a ballet and jazz combo class.

In addition to lessons, the children also receive dance shoes, leotards and tights, two dance costumes, one recital T-shirt and two recital tickets.

“The children chosen were just adorable,” said Cali. “They were so excited for the opportunity.”

Bruno said about Cali Lapenta, “She’s a great kid, a hard worker. She puts her all into everything she does.”

Fitzpatrick said she has nothing but admiration for Cali. “Grace has told me that dance has given her confidence and she’s had the opportunity to make new friends,” she said. “The bonus is that she has developed a love for dance.”

In response, Lapenta said, “Dance has always been a positive, fulfilling experience for me and I wanted to give that same opportunity to another child who could not afford it.”

This summer Cali Lapenta has been raising even more money and hopes to give at least one additional child a scholarship to the Academy.

“Currently, I have seven families who’ve requested applications not only in Melrose, but in Malden, Medford and Stoneham,” she said. “I’m still trying to raise money by canning and private donations through social media exposure.”

Applications are due by Thursday, Sept. 1 and the children selected will be notified by Monday, Sept. 5.

“Most families at the Academy give generous donations to the fund,” Cali said. She added that there also are many private donors.

The young dancer also is thinking about her own future. She plans to apply for college this fall so she can begin her coursework that will earn her a degree in aerospace engineering. Some schools she is applying to are MIT, Rensselaer, Worcester Polytechnic Institute and Boston University.

There’s another old saying about karma worth repeating — “What goes around comes around.” If there’s any truth to these words, then it should come as no surprise to anyone if one day Cali Lapenta receives a scholarship of her own.

For more information about the Dream to Dance Foundation, visit or