China Smith: Shake Your Groove Thang

September 23 - On The Dot
It’s a great day to be a woman! Melinda Garvey here as your voice, with the mission to give women everywhere a place to be heard and tell their stories. We’d love to hear from you!

FIRST THOUGHT: Dancing to Your Own Tune

Have you heard the saying “Dance like no one’s watching”? It’s a popular sentiment because it’s applicable to so many facets of life. When we’re alone, we allow ourselves to be more free, more ourselves. Maybe we finally stop sucking in our stomachs, unabashedly shake our booties to a favorite song or allow ourselves to indulge in guilty-pleasure TV shows.

Today, be your true, authentic self. Dance to your own tune. Let your freak flag fly a little. After all, you only live once!


Ballerina Misty Copeland is nothing short of magnificent. Graceful and powerful, Misty has built quite the fan base in her dancing career. Time Magazine honored Misty on its cover and named her one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People. She’s been featured on 60 Minutes, starred in music videos, gathered tons of accolades and made countless TV show appearances.

But there was one achievement she had yet to accomplish—until last year. She made history in 2015 when she became the first African-American woman to be named the principal dancer in the 75-year history of the American Ballet Theatre.

I’m happy they’re finally recognizing true talent rather than skin tone.

WOMAN TO WATCH: China Smith, Founder and Artistic Director of Ballet Afrique

When it comes to the dancing profession, there’s more to it than great dancers. An appropriate space has to be provided. A choreographer has to arrange the shows. A designer has to create costumes that fit the themes, and so on. It takes a whole lot of talent, dedication and zeal to helm such a venture. And China Smith is one renaissance woman making all that magic happen. China is the founder and artistic director of Ballet Afrique, a professional contemporary dance company that uses dance to build appreciation for African cultures and experiences.

Though she’s led Ballet Afrique for nearly a decade, China has been making a powerful impression on the dance world for most of her life. As a child, she choreographed entire musicals for her family, and continued to show her athletic prowess in high school and college.

In the early 2000s, China spent years working as the director of performing arts at the Texas Empowerment Academy, a job that included developing curriculum for the performing-arts program, teaching dance to fifth through ninth graders and establishing a youth-performance company. China continues to produce dance productions at the academy, meaning she does everything from promoting, choreographing and directing shows to designing the costumes and sets.

China founded Ballet Afrique in 2008 to embolden African-American girls to learn more about their culture. Ballet Afrique’s Dance Academy offers fine-arts training to students 2 to 18 years old, with the goal to prepare students to pursue performing-arts careers or advanced performing-arts education through college. And regardless of language differences, financial constraints, or mental or physical barriers, all children are welcomed into the Ballet Afrique family.

Part of teaching dance to young people involves instilling a healthy body image. China doesn’t instruct girls on how to shed weight or attain nearly impossible ballerina-body standards. Instead, she instills a sense of individuality and self-acceptance that’s critical for girls.

China has a caring entrepreneurial spirit, and though her students often claim she’s their hero, she says, in fact, they are her heroes.


I’ll leave you today with one of China Smith’s favorite Namibian proverbs about the power of learning. It states:

“Learning expands great souls.”

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