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China Smith is changing dance in Austin with Ballet Afrique

Staff Writer
Austin 360
Dancers from Ballet Afrique perform during “Taking Flight,” the school’s annual recital, at the AISD Performing Arts Center in May 26. ANA RAMIREZ / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Growing up in East Austin, China Smith was a stellar athlete and inquisitive child who frequently attended cultural and arts events with her dad.

“He would take me to (concert venue) Liberty Lunch, and I would be the little kid there, just dancing,” Smith said. “That’s what my family did. We would dance.”

Despite her love of movement and the many performances she took in, she said traditional dance instruction simply wasn’t something that was available to her or her African-American friends.

“Dance was not a choice for me,” she said. “When I got to high school and could join the dance program, I didn’t want to be in there with those girls who had been dancing since they were 5. I felt like I didn’t belong because I didn’t have any education.”

It’s now been 10 years since Smith created Ballet Afrique, a contemporary dance company that’s gained a reputation for showing African-American girls and anyone who doesn’t feel included in traditional dance and arts communities that they too have a place in Austin.

Read more and watch a video about Smith, her school and her students in a a story on our premium website.