March 31, 2020: China Smith
Founding Executive Director, Ballet Afrique
China Smith, Founding Executive Director of Ballet Afrique, felt there was a void in East Austin’s arts community. Being an East Austin native, she wanted to give back to her community, expose children to the arts, and give students the tools they need to succeed in life. Working against stereotypes and misconceptions of African-American culture, the concept of Ballet Afrique was born to offer East Austin youth an opportunity to experience the richness of their own culture through the arts alongside other beautiful cultures represented in Austin. From that vision grew the Ballet Afrique Cultural Arts Center, which includes a dance academy, a professional dance company, a youth dance ensemble, and community dance classes.
Working against stereotypes and misconceptions of African-American culture, Ballet Afrique uses dance to build understanding, inspiration, and appreciation for the cultures and experiences of the African Diaspora. The company employs a synthesis of traditional African movement, modern dance, and ballet to express the energy and grace inherent in black people.
Since its inception, the quality of Ballet Afrique Academy has received national and international attention and recognition, including being recognized by O, the Oprah Magazine in 2012 as a local hero changing the face of ballet. Ballet Afrique was the subject of a one-hour documentary titled, A Reason to Dance, produced by KLRU for the program Arts in Context, which remains available online, on the PBS app, and the station’s website. This documentary reached an international audience when it aired February 2015 on the World Channel. In 2014, Ballet Afrique was honored by The Women's Community Center of Central Texas through inclusion in its showcase film series, which highlighted the work of 12 women making ‘HERstory’ in Austin. The series began as a social media campaign titled "Women of the Week Wednesdays." Most recently, China Smith has been recognized as an expert in her field by The University of Texas at Austin’s Dance and Performing Arts Department and Texas State University’s entrepreneurship program.
China's entire career has been based in Austin and has thrived with the support of her community. The next phase for the dance "proactivist" is the creation of Woke Families, a program dedicated to bringing attention to the effects of implicit bias to black communities and offering solutions for how it can be resolved.