By Tammy Scileppi
Alisha Johnson, who won a Queens Impact Award last year, recently nominated her friend and colleague Sonia Goode-LeMelle for the 2016 award, citing her hard work and giving spirit.
As founder and artistic director of the Elite Performing Arts Academy of Queens for the past 10 years, Goode-LeMelle has been making a big difference in her southeast Queens community and beyond by providing opportunities for many children and young adults.
Goode-LeMelle said she is proud of everything the academy has achieved. The school’s philosophy is based on her belief that every child has an inner artist waiting to be nurtured and that with the proper training that inner artist can shine through.
Goode-LeMelle’s culturally inspired, humanitarian goals are reflected in the mission of her academy: To share the arts with youngsters who come from underserved communities in and around the borough. Most but not all of those children hail from southeast Queens.
“Their talents are carefully nourished and the word ‘can’t’ is never used. It’s a safe place and a home away from home,” said Goode-LeMelle. Elite serves children from ages 3 through 18. When most performers turn 18, they stay on as assistant teachers, choreographers, vocal coaches and acting coaches.
Dancing and performing can provide a healthy outlet, especially for adolescents and teens, who often struggle with various challenges.
Goode-LeMelle said dancing also builds self-esteem in girls. In some ways, her workshops are geared toward encouraging them to feel confident and independent.
“Every original member of the Elite Little Ladies is in college, a feat that I’m extremely proud of,” she noted. Her contributions have also brought about positive social change within the communities she loves and serves.
The Queens native, who grew up in Springfield Gardens, has also taught performing arts to children at the Police Athletic League and Southern Queens Park Association, leading both groups to win many competitions, including McDonald’s Gospelfest, which took place at New York City Center in 2008 and 2010.
“It was one of my proudest moments as a teacher,” she said. “It was amazing! I had so many great experiences working for those programs.”
On her Facebook page, she wrote, “I’m extremely optimistic. It’s so much easier to keep an open mind instead of being negative and pessimistic. I love hard; I try not to hold grudges… I fall down but I get up!”
And this is her favorite quote: “Dancing is like dreaming with your feet.”