At the heart of Historic Black Wall Street in downtown Durham resides Empower Dance Studio.
The black female-owned dance studio not only teaches the art of dance, but it uses dance as a tool to instill the value of self-love and self-confidence into its dancers.
Empower Dance Studio’s co-founder and director Nicole Oxendine opened the studio in June 2015, along with her former assistant and current co-founder and studio director Jessica Burroughs.
Oxendine is no stranger to the world of dance. She graduated with her bachelor’s degree in psychology and dance and received her master’s degree in dance/movement therapy.
“I stepped out on faith,” Oxendine said in regards to her starting the studio. “From there, everything took off exponentially.”
Oxendine, who is a Durham native and Hillside High School graduate, wanted to give back the Durham community and uplift the next generation of dancers.
“We are a family and a culture of support for each other,” Oxendine said. “It’s all about everyone feeling and being empowered.”
Oxendine also emphasized the importance of brown-girl dancers having dancewear that matches their skin tone such as tights, tutus, and ballet shoes.
“A lot of the time it’s telling them that they’re beautiful,” Oxendine said in regards to having dancewear that matches the skin tones of the young dancers “It’s the little things that no one gets until it happens to them,” Oxendine said.
Oxendine added that securing dancewear that matches the skin tone of the dancers communicates a valuable lesson to them that relates to the overall mission of the studio.
“It’s communicating that they’re beautiful and that they don’t have to fit something else,” Oxendine explained in regards to the importance of having dancewear that makes the skin tone of the dancers. “They can be [themselves] in this safe space.”
Within Empower Dance Studio, dancers, both children and adults, have the opportunity to participate in classed focusing around genres of dance consisting of tap, modern, jazz, ballet, and others.
Oxendine said that the classes encourage both the children and adults to connect with new people.
According to Oxendine, the studio primarily serves a clientele of African Americans and the upper-middle-class but emphasized that the studio still serves a diverse demographic.
“We’re a black studio, but we‘re not just exclusive,” Oxendine said.“I think that our representation matters.”
Oxendine shared that the dancers in the Empower Dance Academy, the studio’s application-based dance program, is one of the studio’s most popular dance program.
Oxendine said that within The Academy, dancers are required to audition, but there is no audition process for standard weekly dance classes for both youth and adults.
In addition to The Academy’s weekly practices, the dancers for the season hold a fall and summer show and informal shows throughout the season, some of which include performing for local nonprofits and organizations.
According to Oxendine, Empower collaborates with various local nonprofits and organizations such as the Boys & Girls Club of America, African American Heritage Commission, Durham County Schools, N.C. Museum of Art, and many others.
“It’s really been good with getting the word out while being connected and a part of the community,” Oxendine said in regards to the studio’s community work. “I feel like I’m blessed to have this space to showcase what the dancers have been doing.”
Along with emphasizing that she felt blessed to have Empower, Oxendine stressed the benefits that the directors, instructors, and dancers receive while being a part of the studio’s movement of empowerment.
“It’s more than just dance,” Oxendine emphasized. “It’s all of those things and benefits that come with it.”
Burroughs, who is also a Hillside High School graduate, understood that the benefits of dance were lifelong sentiments As a result of more than 10 years of dance experience.
“I’ve never [grown] up in a studio, I’ve always been a school taught dancer,” Burroughs said. “Being be to provide a quality learning environment for young brown girls and to set an example is literally what Empower is.”
In regards to her experience, while being a part of Empower, Burroughs described it as a “rollercoaster.”
“It has been a rollercoaster and sometimes [I] can feel overwhelmed, but I am learning how to balance my work life,” Burroughs said. “It has been a learning and growing experience and I’ve had to grow as a professional and communicator.”
Burroughs added that although she does not have children of her own, Empower allows her to leave a legacy that will impact the younger dancers within the studio well into the future.
“This allows me to leave some type of legacy without necessarily having to give birth in a sense,” Burroughs said. “I feel like these girls come in and grow up with us and it shows the seeds that you have sewn.”
According to Burroughs, prior to starting her dance career, many people in her life told her that her career choice would not generate many benefits. Burroughs ultimately proved the naysayers wrong.
“I know when I was speaking about wanting to do dance, a lot of people said to do that as a hobby,” Burroughs said. “I kind of doubted myself, but I told myself to keep going.”
Burroughs also emphasized how she had to keep going and “stay steadfast” when proposing one’s purpose and goals.
“Prove people wrong and stay steadfast,” Burroughs advised. “When you know what your purpose is, you just have to be driven.”
With the studio’s tagline being faith empowers movement, both Oxendine, Burroughs, and the rest of Empower’s staff uphold that belief through their lifelong lessons through every tap and step on the dance floor.
“We are strong on technique, but we are also strong [in] creating a nurturing space,” Oxendine concluded. “We create truly that sisterhood and connection between other students and at a young age.”