Binghampton ballet company aims to show community new possibilities

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Memphis is stacked with so much talent. From the music scene to creative dance styles like ‘Memphis Jookin’ and even classical ballet.

Collage Dance Collective is known for their beautiful dancers with amazing technique.

Now the dancers have an equally beautiful and amazing new facility to perfect their craft in.

Welcome to the new and improved Collage Dance Collective right in the heart of Binghampton.

The geometrical, eclectic building can be seen on the corner of Tillman and Sam Cooper.

Even though it’s not completely finished, Phase One is open and available for students of all ages.

The beauty on the outside is nothing compared to what’s on the inside.

TRENDING: Memphis Musicians create ‘soundscaping’ at park

Phase One is equipped with multiple studios with brand new specialty flooring and ballet barres.

Marcellus Harper and Kevin Thomas are the cofounders of Collage Dance Collective.

For Harper and Thomas, the new building is more than just a new building. This is something they’ve worked towards for 14 years since the company first opened in New York.

“We knew that although what we thought we were doing was unique in New York, we also knew that there was lots of great art in New York and lots of great training,” said Harper. “And so access to both were not as much of a barrier as we thought it would be in a city like Memphis.”

Collage transitioned to Memphis and opened its doors to the community.

“Our kids are already getting somewhere with what they’ve gotten in the old space,” Thomas explained. “But now this space allows me to do a whole lot more.”

Once both phases are finished, Collage will have two studios that are both bigger than their old dance facility.

“We hope that we double our enrollment, that we serve more kids right away,” Harper said. “That we’re able to serve more kids in the under-resourced communities, that we’re able to offer more scholarships to kids whose families can’t afford ballet training. That we’re able to grow our professional company and really become ambassadors for Memphis.”

TRENDING: Early Childhood Academy coming to Orange Mound

The bigger building will allow for more community events once the impact of COVID-19 is lessened. But even in the current COVID environment, dancers can come and perfect their craft.

“Collage is a community organization,” Harper stated. “So all of the dancers that come through this building, the dancers families that come through this building understand their responsibility in keeping this community safe. Because a lot of what keeps us safe here is what happens on the other side of that door. And so this is a privilege you know to be able to have a space like this and to be able to train. And so anyone who wants to do that in person I think has to make sacrifices.”

The professional dancers with the company must get tested for COVID-19 every week.

Studios also have blue tape on the floor so dancers can properly practice social distancing.

Harper and Thomas also created a new membership program that gives supporters the ability to watch all of Collage’s live concerts in their 11th season.

Collage’s founders made a commitment to not only keep ballet accessible but also inclusive.

“So I auditioned for one of the main schools in Canada called the National Ballet of Canada,” Thomas said. It was during that time, I think I must have been 11 or 12, that I found out about racism in ballet and that I wasn’t supposed to be doing this. And that was the beginning of my hard work."

Since that moment, Thomas worked to create a studio where African American boys and girls could find a place where they belong equally as incredible athletes.

TRENDING: Program helps Shelby County adults earn high school diploma

“We also hope with this new space that more people in our community are comfortable with engaging with the art form,” Harper stated.

The space Harper and Thomas create paved the way for dancers like Leonard Perez.

Perez has been a dancer since he was 15. He’s been a part of a few different companies that weren’t like Collage Dance Collective.

“It wasn’t always about “we want to hire you because you’re talented and you can do the work,”” Perez said. “But a lot of times it felt like we’re going to hire you because we can to make our company look more diverse.”

Perez said those companies felt more like a job instead of being valued but that’s different at Collage.

“We believe in being a community, a collective like the name says,” Perez said.

The same passion that they put in dance, is the very passion that they plan to put into Binghampton.

To learn more about Collage Dance Collective, visit their website.