Marquice Harris remembers a time when he stayed inside and watched hours of television. That was in his old neighborhood. Then his family moved to the Caritas Village community in Binghampton, and life became more stimulating. He found new friends and soon was playing chess and exploring art at the cultural center across the street.
“Once we moved over here, we started to get into everything,” he says with a grin.
When the directors of Collage dance Collective, a studio training African Americans in ballet, invited neighborhood kids to participate in a ballet class, Marquice was intrigued. “I was very interested in ballet because I like the performing arts,” he says.
Initially, he lacked flexibility. Three years later, he bends at the barre with ease, diligently honing a natural talent.
“Marquice has all the makings of a star,” says Marcellus Harper, Collage’s managing director. “He’s one of the top dancers locally for his age.”
The 12-year-old has already performed The Nutcracker at The Orpheum and danced at other venues around the city, too. “His natural gifts include strong upper body carriage and alignment. He also has musicality, that keen ear that dancers need,” says ballet teacher, Brandye Lee.
Collage’s studio, located on Broad Avenue, is just blocks from his home. Before class, Marquice joins two other boys who stretch on the floor before joining in a rigorous, 90-minute lesson. The dancers drill on the frappe step, striking the floor with the balls of their feet. “Use the language of dance and say it like you mean it,” urges Lee.
“It’s challenging to engage boys in ballet,” admits Harper, “but there are so many positive benefits to ballet for young men.” Marquice likes to jump and leap. Now that he’s studying men’s technique, he’s moving on to more demanding jumps.
The seventh-grader has an opportunity to practice ballet during the school day at KIPP Memphis Collegiate School. Between school and studio, he practices nine hours a week. At one point, his grades slipped due to all the rehersal. His mom pulled him out of evening classes until his grades improved. Now he knows school comes first, and he’s making A’s and B’s. Excelling in math, Marquice hopes to become an architect as well as a professional dancer.
Following their brother’s lead, 14-year-old Eldred and 8-year-old Deslin also take ballet. Marquice enjoys performing Christian praise dance with his siblings and other Collage dancers. “If they’re not dancing at school, they’re dancing for the Lord,” says mom, Shalonda.
Their dad, Melvin, works at Royal Furniture’s warehouse and Shalonda is a stay-at-home mom to six children. “There are a lot of nationalities here,” says Melvin, “and we all work together and get along. I love what Caritas stands for, what they do for the community.”