Black-owned Durham dance studio nurtures the next generation of dancers

In the heart of historic Black Wall Street in downtown Durham is Empower Dance Studio.

The black woman-owned dance studio not only teaches the art of dance, but uses dance as a tool to instill the value of self-esteem and self-confidence in its dancers.

Empower Dance Studio co-founder and director Nicole Oxendine opened the studio in June 2015, along with her former assistant and current co-founder and studio director Jessica Burroughs.

Oxendine is no stranger to the world of dance. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology and dance and obtained her master’s degree in dance and movement therapy.

“I came out of faith,” Oxendine said of her studio start. “From there, everything took off exponentially. “

Oxendine, a native of Durham and a graduate of Hillside High School, wanted to give back to the community of Durham and raise the next generation of dancers.

“We are a family and a culture of mutual support,” Oxendine said. “For everyone, it’s about feeling and being empowered. “

Oxendine also stressed the importance for brunette dancers to have dance clothes that match their skin tone, such as tights, tutus, and ballet shoes.

“Most of the time that tells them they’re beautiful,” Oxendine said of having dance clothes that match the skin tones of young dancers. “These are the little things that no one gets up to. for that to happen to them, ”Oxendine said.

Oxendine added that getting dancewear to match the dancers’ skin tone gives them a valuable lesson that relates to the studio’s overall mission.

“It’s communicating that they are beautiful and that they don’t need to adapt to anything else,” Oxendine explained regarding the importance of having dance clothes that match the complexion of women. dancers. “They can be [themselves] in this secure space.

Within Empower Dance Studio, dancers, children and adults alike, have the opportunity to participate in classes focused on dance genres including tap, modernity, jazz, ballet and more.

Oxendine said the classes encourage both children and adults to connect with new people.

According to Oxendine, the studio primarily serves a clientele of African Americans and upper middle class, but stressed that the studio still serves a diverse population.

“We’re a black studio, but we’re not just exclusive,” Oxendine said. “I think our representation matters.”

Oxendine explained that the dancers at Empower Dance Academy, the studio’s app-based dance program, is one of the studio’s most popular dance programs.

Oxendine said that within the Academy, dancers are required to audition, but there is no audition process for the standard weekly dance lessons for young people and adults.

In addition to the Academy’s weekly practices, the season dancers host a fall and summer show and informal shows throughout the season, some of which include performances for nonprofits and organizations. local organizations.

According to Oxendine, Empower works with various nonprofits and local organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of America, the African American Heritage Commission, County Durham Schools, the NC Museum of Art and many more. .

“It’s really good to get the word out while being connected and being part of the community,” Oxendine said of the studio’s community work. “I feel like I’m lucky to have this space to show what the dancers have done. “

In addition to pointing out that she felt blessed to have Empower, Oxendine highlighted the benefits that directors, instructors and dancers receive while being part of the studio’s empowerment movement.

“It’s more than dancing,” Oxendine said. “It’s all of those things and all the benefits that come with it. “

Burroughs, who also graduated from Hillside High School, understood that the benefits of dancing were lifelong feelings.

“I have never [grown] in a studio, I’ve always been a school-taught dancer, ”Burroughs said. “Being meant to provide a quality learning environment for young brunette girls and to lead by example is literally what Empower is. “

Regarding her experience, while being a part of Empower, Burroughs described it as a “roller coaster”.

“It’s been a roller coaster ride and sometimes [I] may feel overwhelmed, but i’m learning to balance my work life, ”said Burroughs. “It was a learning and growth experience and I had to grow as a professional and a communicator. “

Burroughs added that although she has no children, Empower allows her to leave a legacy that will impact the young dancers at the studio in the future.

“It allows me to leave a certain type of legacy without necessarily having to give birth one way,” Burroughs said. “I feel like these girls come in and grow up with us and it shows the seeds you sowed.”

According to Burroughs, before starting her dancing career, many people in her life told her that her career choice would not generate many benefits. Burroughs finally proved the naysayers wrong.

“I know when I was talking about wanting to dance, a lot of people said it was a hobby,” Burroughs said. “I doubted myself a bit, but I told myself to continue. “

Burroughs also stressed that she needs to keep going and “stand firm” when coming up with her purpose and goals.

“Prove the people wrong and stand firm,” Burroughs advised. “When you know what your goal is, you just need to be motivated. “

With the studio slogan being Faith That Enables Movement, Oxendine, Burroughs and the rest of the Empower staff support this belief through their lifelong lessons with every tap and not on the dance floor.

“We are strong on technique, but we are also strong [in] create a nurturing space, ”concluded Oxendine. “We really create that fellowship and connection among other students and at a young age. “

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