Two dancers perform a work that was featured in Saturday's AIDS Outreach Benefit Concert. (Photo courtesy of Madi Grace Thompson)
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Dancers from TCU’s School of Classical & Contemporary Dance and the surrounding areas in Fort Worth came together to raise money and awareness for the AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County (AOC).

The concert took place this past Saturday, Feb. 19, in Erma Lowe Hall on TCU’s campus. With a $5 donation, TCU students attended the concert and watched their fellow Horned Frogs and other performers dance in support of the AOC.

Breaking the stigma

Photo of a man at an AIDS Outreach Center outreach event. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Allen Gray)

AIDS has affected the global community since the early 1980s. According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, there are more than 1.2 million people in the United States living with HIV and more than 700,000 HIV-related deaths. In 2019, there were 5,184 people living with HIV in Tarrant County, according to AIDSVu.com

“When the AIDS outbreak began, everyone only considered it a gay, white man’s disease,” said Kelly Allen Gray, executive director of the AOC. “But this disease affects every population: children, men, women, teens – there is not a face to HIV.”

Photo of senior benefit concert choreographer, Stephanie Montes de Oca Frias, rehearsing her own work with first-year, Allyson Sledge, that will be performed in the benefit concert. (Izzy Acheson/TCU 360)

The AOC is currently utilizing the hashtag #LetsTalkAboutIt on social media to shine a light on the disease and break the stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS. With the help of TCU dance, the AOC reinforces that fighting HIV/AIDS is a community effort.  

“It is no secret that AIDS has affected the arts community in deep, profound ways,” said Stephanie Montes de Oca Frias, the benefit concert choreographer and performer. “It’s extremely right that we would get behind this concert as artists because our colleagues have been affected by AIDS.”

The AIDS Outreach Center Benefit Concert is a reminder that serving a worthy cause can be achieved through showcasing unique, individual talents.

“Using my knowledge and dance skills in a way that extends beyond myself and beyond my institution is really important,” said Montes de Oca Frias. “This dance is about so much more than me and the TCU community, it’s bringing everyone together.

Serving the community continues to be one of the pillars of Chi Tau Epsilon, the school of dance’s honor society. It drives the dancers to do what they do.

“It’s about one word: service,” said Keith Saunders, an assistant professor of professional practice in the dance school. “Serving the community is what it’s about for every member of Chi Tau Epsilon.”

1993 to present day

In 1993, Andrew Parkhurst, former President of Chi Tau Epsilon, organized the first AIDS Outreach Center Benefit Concert to honor the memory of late accompanist Lee Fincher, who lost his battle to HIV/AIDS.

“Chi Tau Epsilon is the school of dance’s honor society. The AIDS Outreach Center is our philanthropy because the disease hits so close to home; dancers hold their accompanists close to their hearts,” said Madi Grace Thompson, the current community engagement co-director for Chi Tau Epsilon.

Photo of two dancers from the TCU School for Classical & Contemporary Dance performing a work that will be featured in this year’s AIDS Outreach Benefit Concert. (Photo courtesy of Madi Grace Thompson)

After its 17th year, the benefit concert has evolved into an annual fundraiser and features works from students, faculty and guest artists from the Fort Worth community. But the concert’s core still remains the same: to bring artists together to support the AOC of Tarrant County and to break the stigma of HIV/AIDS.

“There is real commitment that Chi Tau and TCU dancers bring to this effort,” said Saunders. “This concert is months and months of work: coordinating with professional companies, our own department and, this year, we have a high school dance company coming in.”

This was the first concert since 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop Chi Tau members from continuing to raise funds for the AOC.

“Chi Tau members stepped up and created new ways to benefit the AIDS Outreach Center,” said Saunders

Chi Tau Epsilon members utilized an online auction for the past two years.

All of the proceeds from the concert went directly to the AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County.

“This year we are doing both a concert and the auction — the auction raised about $1,000,” said Saunders.

The AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County

The AOC of Tarrant County is the only 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Fort Worth that provides vital HIV/AIDS services, education, prevention and outreach programs to the people of Tarrant County.

The AOC started in 1986 as a community-based organization in the Fort Worth Counseling Center. Members and volunteers from the gay and lesbian community founded the agency to provide health and legal support for those suffering from HIV/AIDS.

“AIDS used to hit hard and hit fast, I can’t tell you how many friends I lost personally,” said Larry Ellis, the director of administrative services of the AOC. “You would see people out one weekend and then see their obituary the next, that’s how quick it was.”

Photo of a free HIV community testing site provided by the AIDS Outreach Center of Tarrant County. (Photo courtesy of Kelly Allen Gray)

The advancement of medicine and critical care has significantly decreased the transmission of HIV/AIDS. Now, the AOC is helping people live normal lives, and it is the most utilized non-medical referral destination for more than 2,000 people per year living with HIV/AIDS in Tarrant County and Fort Worth.

“We are a one-stop-shop for the community,” said Gray. “We have community testing events, free HIV and STI testing, a dental clinic, a nutrition center, a trans wellness center and a pharmacy and medical clinic right next door.”

To find out more about the AOC of Fort Worth, visit its website.

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