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5 Thriving Dance Directors Share the Challenges of Being a Black Business Owner

Jenaé Elizabeth, founder of Dance Dynamix, with students. Photo courtesy of Elizabeth

No doubt turning the dream of owning a dance company into a fully operational business is a tough feat. From finding studio space, marketing, securing funding and more, it can all be very daunting. The challenge of taking a dance-related business to new heights can be even greater if you are a person of color. However, it's not impossible. According to the 2012 census, there are 27.6 million businesses in the United States, and only 2.6 million are Black-owned. In honor of Black History Month, DT spoke with several Black-owned dance studios and companies and asked them to reflect on the significance race has had on their efforts to run the dance company of their dreams.


Tiffany Rea-Fisher, Artistic Director, Elisa Monte Dance, Harlem, New York

Photo courtesy of Rea-Fisher

"I love being a Black woman, but being a double minority in a position of power comes with its problems. People can be dismissive and downright cruel. They tend to assume I am the secretary or assistant to those I am with. I feel no shame letting those people know who I am and what my title is. I take my responsibility as a role model for the next generation of dancemakers seriously, so I cannot let others dull my shine. There are lots of assumptions about Black-run companies, and I intentionally live in an unapologetic uncategorizable space. People are constantly trying to put my work in boxes and label it as not Black enough. However, I believe that those who came before me marched so that I could be a fully realized human being, and not have to limit myself to others' definitions of who I am or what I can be or do."

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Teaching Tips
A 2019 Dancewave training. Photo by Effy Grey, courtesy Dancewave

By now, most dance educators hopefully understand that they have a responsibility to address racism in the studio. But knowing that you need to be actively cultivating racial equity isn't the same thing as knowing how to do so.

Of course, there's no easy answer, and no perfect approach. As social justice advocate David King emphasized at a recent interactive webinar, "Cultivating Racial Equity in the Classroom," this work is never-ending. The event, hosted by Dancewave (which just launched a new racial-equity curriculum) was a good starting point, though, and offered some helpful takeaways for dance educators committed to racial justice.

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According to onstageblog.com, out of the 30 top-ranked college dance programs in the U.S., tap dance is offered at 19 of them, but only one school requires majors to take more than a beginner course—Oklahoma City University. Many prestigious dance programs, like the ones at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and SUNY Purchase, don't offer a single course in tap dance.

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After months of lockdowns and virtual learning, many studios across the country are opening their doors and returning to in-person classes. Teachers and students alike have likely been chomping at the bit in anticipation of the return of dance-class normalcy that doesn't require a reliable internet connection or converting your living room into a dance space.

But along with the back-to-school excitement, dancers might be feeling rusty from being away from the studio for so long. A loss of flexibility, strength and stamina is to be expected, not to mention emotional fatigue from all of the uncertainty and reacclimating to social activities.

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