LaTisha Perry, 31, Danceprenuer
When LaTisha Perry showed up in Greensboro as a 17-year-old, she was taking a chance that her high school dance team skills were good enough to secure her a coveted spot on NC A&T’s Golden Delight.
Today, dance is her life’s work – and her business.
Perry grew up taking dance classes in Atlanta. She became serious about it when she joined her high school marching band dance team, the Druid Hills High School Dazzling Divas. She did flag, baton, and dance. They performed at football games and shows throughout the year.
“I really enjoyed the stage. I enjoyed just being able to perform. I liked the challenge that it put on my body, mentally to push through something when it hurt, when it was tough,” she says.
The comradery of the team was important, too, be it during training or while fundraising or making costumes. “I enjoyed the bonds I made with other girls.”
When it came time for college, Perry decided to study psychology – and she wanted to do it at a place she could continue to dance. A friend, who was already attending NC A&T, introduced her to Golden Delight.
“I was like, ‘Oh my God, I love them.’”
The auditions conflicted with her senior prom. But the team offered her a chance to audition right as Golden Delight’s summer training began. She showed up at NC A&T with all her belongs – because if she made it, her college career would start right away.
She made it.
It was a whole new world. New home, new friends, new routines. A much harder regimen of rehearsals mixed with school work, with small breaks in between. It took a while to figure out how to balance school success and her dance life.
“I’ve never done so much to my body,” she says.
Still, Tisha calls them the best years of her life. Performing in stadiums, at NASCAR rallies, the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Making life-long friends.
After graduation, she earned a Master’s in adult education at NC A&T. She worked with exceptional students at Andrews High School and then as an academic advisor at GTCC.
But she was still “trying to find herself.” She was considering what role dance would play in her life when an acquaintance who was a professional dancer gave her some advice.
“She was explaining to me, ‘If you want to do dance, if you want to be in the industry, you need to come to Atlanta now.’ I got offended – as if the only thing I could possibly be good at is dancing,” Tisha says.
That’s when she decided to open up her dance studio — EducateDancer. “I am not just a dancer. I am educated as well. I can open a dance studio and I can work at Guilford Technical Community College. I can do so many things. Don’t box me in.”
She rented a 400-square-foot space on South Elm Street. She started teaching just six kids. Every month, the rent check came right out of the paycheck from her full-time job.
The studio offers a full range of dance classes to children and adults. Her favorite class is called Dance Girl Moves. It’s designed to teach girls age-appropriate versions of HBCU dance team styles, mixing jazz, ballet, and hip hop.
She manages the studio like a school, where dancers get quarterly progress reports and there are parent observation weeks. Her students are grouped by age in categories – freshman, sophomore, junior and seniors. She focuses on the whole development of the child.
“I am concerned about who you will be as a person. Who you will grow up to be, having good character integrity, being an asset to the community,” Tisha says. Character is key. Students clap for each other. They cheer on their competition.
Last year, she started teaching dance at the Bluford-Peeler STEAM Academy, while continuing to grow her studio. She teaches 400 public school Kindergarten through fifth graders.
She deals with issues like the stigma that dance is only for girls. She loves introducing students to things outside their culture or Black dance icons like Debbie Allen, who starred in and choreographed the television series Fame. She teaches her students one of her favorite numbers from Fame.
Her studio and classroom lessons had to take a break in spring 2020, due to the pandemic. The forced break gave Tisha a chance to take a master class on studio ownership with Anekia Boatwright-McGhee, founder of the group Dance Studio Owners of Color.
Over the summer, Tisha opened a new studio space and had been implementing all the tricks of the trade she’s learned. Everyone is adhering to pandemic rules – smaller classes, masks, no parents in the lobby, medical grade air purifiers, some students practicing remotely.
And the studio is bigger than it has ever been with a record number of dancers.