Founder of Austin's Ballet Afrique featured in Oprah Magazine

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by ASHLEY GOUDEAU / KVUE NEWS and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Bio | Email | Follow: @AshleyG_KVUE

kvue.com

Posted on December 19, 2012 at 7:25 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 19 at 11:25 PM

AUSTIN -- Each month Oprah Winfrey's magazine recognizes a local hero, and this month, an Austin woman took the title.

Tucked upstairs in Highland Mall is Ballet Afrique, China Smith's contemporary dance academy.

"I've been teaching dance in East Austin for at least 15 years, and I just found limited access to African American Art," said Smith. "One day it occurred to me, 'Well instead of waiting for Alvin Ailey to come around once a year, why not start this company?'"

Ballet Afrique teaches all genres of dance to predominately black students in East Austin.

"There's so many different schools in Austin, beautiful companies, Ballet Austin, Tapestry Dance, but those companies are not located in neighborhoods where children who really want to dance get the opportunity," explained Smith. 

Smith teaches 115 students. More than half of them are on a scholarship and those that do pay are charged rates 40 percent less than the average dance academy.

Smith's vision makes her more than a dance instructor, small business owner and lover of the arts, to the editors at The Oprah Magazine; it makes her a local hero -- a title she's still not used to.

"I just think of myself as a regular person who grew up here and has a passion to teach where I grew up," Smith said. 

But Smith and her company are facing some new challenges. Highland Mall is now under new management, and she's not sure how much longer she'll be able to stay there.

"We are currently on a mission to build our own space. Lots of advantages come from having your own space," said Smith. 

Since being founded in 2008, Smith has moved Ballet Afrique three times. Her goal is to stay in East Austin, accessible to children who aren't exposed to the arts, but finding an affordable piece of property in a redeveloping area isn't easy. Smith is hoping to raise $25,000. 

"It is a big dream, however, even starting this company was a big dream. I was told many times this wouldn't work," Smith added. 

Ballet Afrique is working, and Smith says with the help of her community, it will continue to thrive.

Click here for more information on Ballet Afrique's fundraiser.

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