HILLSBOROUGH, NJ - The Rainbow Kids Dance Troupe and their performance of "Over the Rainbow: The Rock Ballet." has morphed from an off-Broadway production of a film classic into a virtual performance filmed in the backyards and front lawns of their homes for viewers online.

What had begun as a season of dance buoyed by success and the promise of a road tour has been sidetracked by the COVID-19 pandemic and more recently, the protests, demonstrations, rioting and looting that has ripped apart the country since the death of George Floyd on May 25 while in police custody in Minneapolis.

Floyd, a black man, was handcuffed and in police custody with a white Minneapolis police officer kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes until he suffocated. The entire incident was captured in an IPhone video taken by a bystander. Floyd is heard begging several times, "I can't breathe."

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The four police officers involved in the incident were immediately fired and face murder and aiding and abetting charges.

Floyd's death has also energized debate and a national conversation about racism, bigotry, hate and social justice in neighborhoods, on social media platforms and radio and television shows. Hundreds of protests and demonstrations have been held in New Jersey, including Hillsborough and Somerville.

Closer to home, the incident has brought up ugly encounters experienced by members of the dance troupe.that they shared in a two-hour Zoom conference call recorded by township resident Pat Kolaras, whose daughter is one of the performers; her.call was triggered by concerns for the young performers, many of whom are minorities and whose parents are of different races, according to Kolaras.

But in the tried and true spirit of the arts and entertainment, the show must go on - and it has.

Determined to continue performing, the dancers adapted, with each cast member - most live in central New Jersey - performing solo at home, with their parents filming videos on their IPhones. Each performance was blended into a video for distribution under Marlowe Scott's direction.

Scott, a producer and choreographer, is the visionary behind the production, according to Kolaras; he is also one of her clients.

Here's a link to the Rainbow Kids virtual performance of Oz:

https://www.dropbox.com/s/65azjnd7wb1qmf6/OTR%20Full%20Virtual%20Message.mp4?dl=0

The Facebook link is; www.facebook.com/overtherainbow2016.

The Rainbow Kids continue to dance for a cause, asking viewers to contribute to charities; their first cause was Save the Children, but recent events have shifted their thinking and philanthropy from the pandemic to social justice causes.

Until a few weeks ago, it was all about dancing, according to Kolaras, a Hillsborough attorney who works closely with the troupe. Her daughter Bailey was cast as Dorothy in the production.

Along with Scott, she and the cast transformed the classic favorite into a modern day version, telling their story through dance true to their charitable mission that dance transforms all, uniting in the fight for justice while addressing the impact it has on everyone, according to Kolaras.

Prior to executive orders from New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy that require social distancing and impose limits on indoor gatherings, most of the students devoted 8-25 hours per week practicing at the Center Stage Dance & Theatre School in East Brunswick, according to Kolaras.

The Over The Rainbow Kids have also received training at Broadway Dance Center, The American Ballet Theater, The Ailey School, and Joffrey Ballet. Marlowe Scott Productions, Inc., a NJ Non-Profit in association with The PLK Law Group, a NJ branding law firm, works collectively with the young dancers for the advancement of the arts.

 While transitioning to online school, adjusting to social distancing guidelines and coping with the changing times, the performers remain committed to helping by raising donations in support of The George Floyd Memorial Fund and other causes seeking social justice, Kolaras said.

"The Over The Rainbow Kids are confronted with overcoming obstacles and challenges - they just turn to the arts for courage, purpose and balance," Kolaras said. "From diverse backgrounds, they all connect through the love of dance, and are now joining forces to provide social commentary to bring about necessary change," she added.

They dance with all their hearts, but those hearts have been torn apart as they watch what continues to unfold. The Zoom conversation left no doubt for Kolaras that the troupe has suffered emotionally. What came through in their first-hand accounts was raw, emotional disillusionment, real pain, fear and suffering.

"The mom in me kicked in," Kolaras said. "Mindful of what's been happening and knowing the diverse, mixed race of these children, I had an obligation to be everybody's mom on that call," she added. "I wanted to give everyone an opportunity to say what was on their mind.

"As each kid finished, I offered words of encouragement and at the same time I'm wiping tears from my face," Kolaras said.

These are some reflections and first-hand experiences transcribed by Kolaras from cast members:

Bailey Kolaras (17 years old) - Dorothy: "The world today is in turmoil, and I don't see relief in sight. I remember when I was in middle school playing chess with friends. A white boy made a comment comparing the white knight to himself and pointing to a black pawn saying in an extremely derogatory tone, 'that's black and so are you.' I felt offended and became very uncomfortable in realizing I was surrounded in a predominately white school, and was the only black in sight. At that moment, I began to question who I was and how best to handle my white surroundings, which was everywhere. And now to see what's happening today with George Floyd's death further enforces that the same thoughts from the boy in middle school still exists today and it's gotten 100 times worse. It seems as if no one really understands what it's like being black in America nor do they care. And frankly, I'm fed up with racism and disapprove of those who stand by and watch it happen. To stand in silence is just as bad - see something do something."

Arianna Mubanda (18 years old) - Lion: "My dark skin is not a weapon and I'm tired of having to prove my worth - I'm tired of having to prove that my life matter.s I'm the only black in my class and feel like others around me live in a bubble. I remember when I was in the fourth grade a white boy told me that I should still be a slave - I went to the principal. It remains that white people see me as being less than them. Today, with George Floyd's death, I lost my so-called best friend who has not reached out to say one word. The white kids that I knew have all refused to see the injustice that's going on. It's disheartening to see that the world is fighting over George Floyd's death because if black lives really mattered, there would be no need for the fighting that's going on. "
 
Gregory Williams (17 years old) - Oz: We are all human beings and should be treated equally, just let us live. I just don't get it, I don't understand why black people are treated like we are. Black people have been fighting for decades just to be treated like humans. I'm tired of walking around with a target on my back. I hate that my dad is confronted with racial issues at work. I hate to leave the house for fear of the hands of a cop that I may not return alive. I just don't understand how another can hate an entire race, I don't understand that kind of mindset."
 
Ty Burton (18 years old) - Henchman: "I really don't like that George Floyd's death has turned political. I see what's happening in the world and it's a reflection of how people really are because when it matters people sit back and remain silent. I live in a white town and it was an eye-opener seeing how those who I thought were my friends were not. They were more concerned with how many followers they would lose if they stood up for what is right - if they stood for black lives. Even my mom is more concerned than ever with me leaving the house at night out of fear for my life."
 
Ryann-Simone Jefferson (11 years old) - Munchkin: "I just wish that everyone was treated equally, but we're not. Even kids are not treated nice. When I was at school sitting at the lunch table, white kids would not be nice to me and would refer to me as funny faced characters, but not the white kids. They treated me this way because my skin color was different from theirs." 
 
Myles Manning (11 years old) - Munchkin: "I feel like kids are forgotten, and I feel like we don't have a chance to speak out. I feel like black people are seen only as criminals. When I was in school one day, an Asian boy said to me that Martin Luther King, Jr. was dead and that I should be hung. My principal got involved, but it was still bad for me. People may not realize that kids are racially profiled just like adults. I remember I would say 'hi' to white kids and their parents would pull them away to prevent them from speaking back to me. I would wish that I was white to stop others from making fun of me. When I walk to school, I am always looking behind and all around me for kids who think I'm a criminal just because of my skin color. I'm scared to walk to school alone because I'm paranoid and afraid of what could happen to me. I'm also afraid for my family. I don't understand, the Constitution says that we all should be treated equal, but we're not. 
 
Courtney Saffold (16 years old) - Lead Emerald: "I'm very frustrated and angry with the world, our government and the justice system. As a mixed-raced girl, my mom is Filipino and my dad is black and I'm seen by whites as being a threat to my mom. One day, my mom and I were leaving the grocery store and a white woman asked her if I was bothering her just because she saw me as a dark-skinned person. So when I think about today and the protesting and people's reactions to the protests, it's an eye-opener for me to see how the world is reacting to black people exercising their right. Enough is enough and I'm tired of being treated badly. I'm tired of my non-black friends staying silent and not stepping up. Silence speaks volumes and I see them for what they have shown me."
 
Aryan Patel (13 years old) - Henchman: "I think it's crazy how people of color are still fighting for fair and equal treatment when 300 years ago the same thing was happening.  You would think this sort of conduct would have ended, but unfortunately it hasn't. We're all humans and should be treated like humans."
 
The designated charity for their COVID-19 agenda is Save The Children: www.savethechildren.org and for George Floyd, donations can be made through the Official George Floyd Fund created by Floyd's sister:
 
 
The troupe is also suggesting alternative charities:
 
Black Visions Collective

"As in the classic story of the Wizard of Oz, aligned with the core message adored by many that whatever a person desires can be found within, these kids through their dance expression, seeks to convey the same belief to the world. In this one of a kind virtual message, these kids through commentary are inspiring and educating the world to always look “over the rainbow” and take these times “step by step,” even when it seems like you’re spinning like a “bobble head” making it “harder to breathe.” Through it all, they want to encourage resiliency and give “thanks for being a fighter” against injustices and its effort to “rule the world.” In the end, these kids are advocating that we all will persevere and “wash away the pain from yesterday,” soon to rejoice like “crescent dolls” and return “home” to safer and peaceful times. Dancing to today’s tunes like these, this cast of talented kids united to make a difference by delivering this novel expression of the arts, as a virtual message necessary for our times." - Pat Kolaras & Marlowe Scott

For more information, email Kolaras at patricia@plklawgroup.com