April 20, 2014 at 1:00 am

Donna's Detroit

Two MSU grads turn dance program in Brightmoor into community affair

D.A.N.C.E., Inc.
D.A.N.C.E., Inc.: A studio in one of Detroit's most blighted neighborhoods is turning out winners at regional and national competitions.

Viva, Brightmoor. The once forgotten neighborhood so full of abandonment and decay that people called it “Blightmoor” is finally getting the attention it deserves.

The city and non-profits are targeting vacant homes and illegally dumped trash. Community groups are turning vacant lots into urban farms. Meanwhile, two young women have been quietly volunteering their time to plant a different kind of seed in hearts of the area’s youth.

They’ve started a dance school.

It's not in a fancy studio with sprung wood floors and mirrors on every wall. It's not supported by going-rate tuition. But it's taking hold in the recreation room of the Brightmoor Community Center and its roots are spreading.

In its first three years, without fanfare, D.A.N.C.E. Inc., has grown from 10 students to 80, moved from a small church room to the community center, and pretty soon it will need more space for its varied menu of courses that include ballet, tap, jazz, hip hop, tumbling, liturgical, lyrical and modern dance. It’s dancers are consistent winners at regional and national competitions.

D.A.N.C.E. Inc. is an acronym for Developing and Nurturing Community Empowerment. What a mouthful. The kids just call it "Dance Inc."

It's about more than dance

Roslyn English, 26, and Lauren Law, 24, met as students at Michigan State University. They'd grown up dancing, but weren't planning on making dance their professions. English got a degree in economics and Law studied human biology.

English and two other friends founded D.A.N.C.E. Inc. in 2007 in East Lansing, where they were going to school, to provide quality dance training to children who couldn't otherwise afford it. Three years ago English and Law started the Detroit program, where Law is director. And they still have a program in Lansing as well.

Ninety percent of the students, who range in age from 2½ to 18, live in the city. Most are in the recreational dance program, but the elite dancers put in a minimum of 14 hours a week to dance on teams that compete on the local and national level. At present the dancers that English and Law have dubbed S.T.A.R.S. are all girls, but boys are very welcome.

The non-profit school wants to create well-rounded young people, providing homework help and academic mentoring. As a result, "95 percent are honor roll students," said English. They also insist on community involvement, taking the kids to volunteer at homeless shelters, food banks and community gardens.

It's no surprise they require their dancers to volunteer in the community, because the two Detroit program founders are the original volunteers of the organization. They each give hundreds of hours a year to make this work – while working full-time day jobs.

They're also the biggest financial supporters of the organization, according to English. As a non-profit, "We don't always have the money to do the things we want to do," said Law. "So Roslyn and I make it happen when it's necessary."

English said D.A.N.C.E. Inc. is about so much more than dancing. It teaches teamwork, self discipline, and builds confidence. “I used to be really shy,” said Kourtney Siller, who has become a competition team dancer and junior staff member.“Learning to dance helped me come out of my shell. Now I dance all over the place, wherever I’m at.”

Siller’s mother Shereida Radney, of Famington Hills, said the mentoring and pre-competition sleep-overs make the girls feel part of something. “What I love about D.A.N.C.E., Inc. is you come in as John and Mary and Sue off the street, and they embrace you,” she said. “You become family.”

It's about more than money

Tuition ranges from $350 to $950 a year (their two-month summer program is $75 to $90) and includes dance wear, costumes and competition fees, unusual for a dance program. "Our $950 program, which is our Super S.T.A.R.S. level, is comparable to a program that would cost $250 a month for tuition alone at other local dance schools," English said. The reality is that most families pay on a sliding fee basis.

"We don't want anybody to feel they can't sign their kid up for financial reasons,” said English.

"Our goal is – without the financial barriers – to be able to provide them with top quality training so that they can go on to Alvin Ailey if they so desire, (or) if they want to go to Julliard." English said. They've even sent dancers to train with Complexions Contemporary Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem. They've had students work with choreographers and dancers from TV's “Dancing With the Stars.”

"I know some suburban schools have more resources, and I know tuition is even higher," said Radney. "But I've seen D.A.N.C.E. Inc. perform at a better level than some of those schools."

That claim is not hard to verify. At their last regional dance competition, D.A.N.C.E. Inc. placed at the top of every category in which they competed, bringing home 15 trophies and taking Best of Show. The competition teams also go to one national competition each year. So far they've traveled to Disney World, Chicago, Virginia, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

"And to take kids that have no opportunity to leave the city of Detroit for a vacation, let alone for a dance competition or performance … I love being able to provide that for the kids," English said.

"Most of the dancers we have, I'd say, never even dreamed of dancing at this level." she added. “Most kids come in and say I just want to take class once a week, or I just want to do hip hop. But I always tell the parents from the beginning, they may say they just want to do hip hop now, but give us a little bit [of time] with them and, for sure, we will make classical dancers out of them."

From left: TaNeeyah Edwards, 12, of Belleville, Tarriel Cannon, 14, of Canton, Kyla seale, 13, Detroit of D.A.N.C.E. Inc. / Donna Terek / The Detroit News
Roslyn English works one-on-one with five-year-old Brianna Abdul- ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
Roslyn English poses with some of the dozen trophies D.A.N.C.E. Inc. ... (Donna Terek / The Detroit News)
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