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The story and mission behind this dance company’s viral photo in advance of Spring to Dance Festival

This photo went viral earlier this year and features five Collage Dance Collective ballerinas. From left to right: Brandye Lee, Daphne Lee, Kimberly Ho-Tsai, Nikki Taylor and Luisa Cardoso
Photo provided by Kevin Thomas | Credit: Andrew J. Breig
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This photo went viral earlier this year and features five Collage Dance Collective ballerinas. From left to right: Brandye Lee, Daphne Lee, Kimberly Ho-Tsai, Nikki Taylor and Luisa Cardoso

The 10th annual Spring to Dance Festival gets underway Friday night at the Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Featured among the 30 professional dance companies is Collage Dance Collective, a Memphis-based company.

Kevin Thomas, the company’s artistic director, explained to St. Louis on the Air contributor Steve Potter on Friday that Collage Dance Collective is a contemporary ballet company.

“We are classically trained … but we bend it a bit so that’s why it’s contemporary,” Thomas said. “That kind of choreography, I feel, also helps bring in people, a new audience to dance, who are not really familiar with ballet.”

Collage Dance Collective stands out among other dance companies as it specifically seeks to attract the interest of African-Americans and advocates for social justice.

“Our mission is to inspire the growth of ballet and we realized if we really wanted to be true to our mission, then being in Memphis would make sense,” Thomas said of the company’s move from New York City in 2007. “I really wanted to spread the word of ballet to African-American communities … making ballet more accessible and that’s what we’ve been doing in Memphis.”

The essence of Collage Dance Collective is captured in Thomas’ own experiences.

“The reason Collage is what it is definitely comes through my own experiences,” Thomas said. “When I first started dancing, I was the only one of color. I definitely went through lots of situations where there was lots of discrimination against me because of the color of my skin.”

“I want to change that,” Thomas said. “I want to make sure that’s no longer an issue.”

A Viral Photo

This year, a photo posted to the company’s Instagram page went viral after it was shared by Taji Magazine.

Seen above, the photo features five female dancers of color.

“A picture is like a thousand words, so getting the right image and putting it out to our social media, we were able to capture what Collage is about, send it out to our audience and have them appreciate what we’re putting out there,” Thomas said.

"That picture that went viral, we were thinking of playing on the colors of our tones: the dark tones, the light tones, and just featuring our ballerinas, our five ballerinas, who are all very beautiful,” Thomas continued. “That just really resonated with social media.”

Collage Dance Collective performs at 6 p.m., Friday, in the Lee Theater.

The group will perform a neoclassical piece that Thomas described as “riveting.”

“The dancers look very lyrical in their movements. When you get to the last movement of the piece, you’ll see how the dancers come together and it looks like a tour de force,” he said.

 

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Kelly Moffitt give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region. 

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Alex is the executive producer of "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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