When you hear Kim Black talk about her teaching career, there is no doubt she's found her life's purpose: Sparking the imaginations of preschool dancers while building their confidence.
"I do what I do best, and that's empowering little ones," she says. Better known as "Miss Kim" in the Burlington, North Carolina, community where she has been a dance educator for more than 30 years, the bubbly dynamo has developed quite a loyal following, as former students often enroll their children in her classes.
"When I'm around children, they fuel me because I see their faces and how they're engaged and enjoying themselves," she says. "When it's time for them to leave, they don't want to go, and that's the biggest compliment I could get."
After spending 25 years teaching at Centre of Performing Arts (formerly Eloise Glass Dance Studio), Black moved to Burlington Dance Center in 2011 when she was offered the opportunity to build a preschool program from the ground up. "The owner knew I was the 'baby guru,' and she gave me the artistic freedom to build what I wanted to build," Black says.
Photo courtesy Black
Seeing the success of that program, this year Black realized she was ready to take the next step in her career: opening her own studio. But the day she signed the lease for Miss Kim's Children's Dance and Arts was the day North Carolinians learned most businesses were required to close due to the pandemic. "COVID is a terrible thing, but it was a gift to have the time to plan and prepare," says Black.
She used the time to get her acrobatic arts acro dance certification; finalize her LLC business structure, insurance and music-licensing paperwork; hire a construction company to complete her four rooms; and have window decals installed. "I am determined and have a community supporting me and my mission," she says.
Miss Kim's officially opened for a socially distanced princess camp at the start of June with 16 campers, and there were wait lists for all of its other summer camps. Keeping children six feet apart can be a challenge, but Black says it helped they were already familiar with her and that they were in a new place where new rules could be established. "I placed children and toys strategically, so they could play together but still be six feet apart," she says."COVID has made me push myself creatively like I never thought possible."
As of press time, she hopes to have a regular 2020–21 school year, with about 175 students ages 18 months to 9 years old ready to sign up for classes. Black will teach the preschoolers, as well as ballet, tap and jazz up to age 9, and she has six additional teachers on staff. "I'm honing in on what I do well so that I can knock it out of the park," she says.
One of the reasons Black is so successful is she helps her dancers discover their strengths. "Not every child is going to grow up to become a dancer, but give me a child and I will find something that will make them feel like Superman," she says. "They walk a little taller when they're in my classroom."
It is this interest in nurturing children's self-esteem that has helped Black discover her newest passion as an educator: In 2019, she started A Time to Shine, an integrative dance program for children ages 3–12, after one of her dancers was diagnosed with autism. She started her program with two students, and she has continued teaching those classes via Zoom. She now has 14 students in her program.
"It just ignited something in me to do more," says Black, who hopes A Time to Shine will someday become a nonprofit arm of Miss Kim's and a community hub for meetings and events. "I wanted a place for those parents and children. It has pushed me to learn more and do more, and I've found the parents needed each other just as much as those kids needed that class."