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Culture

New Dance Show 'Step It Up' Features Miami Dance School

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Lifetime
Young Contemporary Dance Theater, a Miami dance school, will be featured in a Lifetime docuseries called "Step It Up."

The Young Contemporary Dance Theater sits just on the edge of Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood.

Traci Young-Byron, the studio’s owner, said inside this former warehouse turned dance studio, she’s training black dancers like herself to reach for greatness.

“I’m just trying to use my platform as big or small as it may be to push African-American dancers,” she said.

A national audience will get to see Young-Byron and her dancers at work.

Young-Byron and her company will star in “Step It Up” a Lifetime docuseries where each week the YCDT dancers compete against each other to earn a spot to perform.

Young-Byron captured the attention of Lifetime executives after her troupe competed against the Dancing Dolls on “Bring It,” a dance competition show on Lifetime.

“We noticed that in every episode that Traci was in on ‘Bring It,’ not only did the ratings pop  but the social media response by our very engaged fans popped as well,” said Mary Donahue, Lifetime’s senior vice president for nonfiction.

Young-Byron with her purple high-top fade hairstyle and candy-colored outfits stood out, and so did her Miami dancers.

“I am a crazy dance teacher. I am very much in your face,” said Young-Byron. “ I’m very stern in how I teach, but I also have a soft side and I love my students.”

For 14 years, long before the TV cameras would shadow her, Young-Byron has been training dancers mostly from Miami’s inner city neighborhoods.

The former Miami Heat dance captain said this is her way of keeping the arts alive in her hometown of Liberty City, a neighborhood often described with preceding adjectives like “crime-ridden” or “impoverished.”

She's also a dance teacher  at the neighborhood high school, Miami Northwestern Senior High, where she leads the school's dance line and performing arts dance magnet. Young-Byron is a graduate of Northwestern.

"The arts are important," she said. "Yes, I’m building great dancers , but for me it’s more important [that]I’m building great character and students who are going to be great people."

On a recent afternoon about 100 teens dressed in all black dance attire attended modern dance class with Young-Byron at the YCDT studio.

“Come in and close the door,” she yelled. 

A few of the students came running in  full speed at the last minute. They know Mrs. Young-Byron does not tolerate tardiness.

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Credit Lifetime
Traci Young-Byron has been teaching dance in Liberty City for 14 years. Her dance company is the subject of a new docuseries on Lifetime.

She started with a simple warm up exercise.

“Please pull up and engage your abdominals,”  Young-Byron told the dancers. "Y'all understand what that means?”

Many of the dancers are at the beginner or intermediate level.

Young-Byron said black dancers, especially those from poorer neighborhoods, tend to get a later start in the dance world compared to their more well-to do peers.

“They come to me at 15, 16 or even 13;  for a dancer starting off, that’s late,” she said

Clinton Harris is one of those late starters. He started training professionally with Young-Byron two years ago when he was 15.

“She really changed my life. At one point a lot of people really doubted that I could do anything besides street dancing,” he said.  “I really like contemporary and jazz."

Young-Byron tells her dancers a late start doesn't mean they can’t make it as professional dancers. They just have to work a lot harder.

The students in the modern dance class are going over a Lester Horton exercise, flatbacks.

Feet parallel and hip distance apart. Then, the torso hinges forward, resembling an upside down L.

Young-Byron immediately notices some of her students'  backs are not so flat.

“Y'all,  that’s your homework,” she said. “The next time y'all go to the grocery store and you have to bend down to get that mayonnaise,  be like one, two,” she said demonstrating a flat back.

The dancers laugh.

Young-Byron said she’s not joking.

She’s wearing a t-shirt emblazoned with her nickname in bold colorful letters: “Supa Black Girl.”

She said she wants her students to always channel their inner “supa black girl” or “supa black boy.”

“I don’t want them to feel like just because I don’t have perfect turnout or I don’t have perfect feet I can't make it as a dancer, “ she said. “I want to help my dancers be great!”

Step It Up debuts  Sept. 25 on Lifetime at 10 p.m. Friday, Oct. 2 the series will move to its regular time slot with new episodes airing at 9 p.mhttp://www.mylifetime.com/shows/step-it-up