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Liberty City Teenager Finds A Role Model In Alvin Ailey Dance Company

Nadege Green
Diaunte Jenkins sits in his dance class at Miami Northwesterh High.

Diaunte Jenkins’ introduction to dance was at family gatherings and barbecues.

When the beat dropped, he was the kid delighting the crowd with the latest hip-hop moves.

“From that point on I realized this is my gift because I would be doing it really everywhere I go,” he said.

In church, he was more subdued. That’s where he picked up worship and liturgical dances.

And by the time he figured out he wanted to pursue dance formally, he knew his neighborhood school in Liberty City, Miami Northwestern High , had a performing arts magnet program.

It’s the same program where Alvin Ailey dance company director Robert Battle got his start in dance at the Performing and Visual Arts Center,  better known as PAVAC.

“It just shocks me that someone as great as him kind of have the same background as I do,” says Diaunte, a junior at Northwestern.

On a recent morning, Traci Young-Byron, the dance teacher at the school, quizzes her students about the dance company.

“Who is the current artistic director of the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and which schools did he attend?”

Every hand in the dance studio shoots up.

Battle attended Miami Northwestern and then New World School of the Arts for high school.

He grew up in Liberty City and his rise in the dance world is a story that inspires, especially for young dancers like Diaunte,  who dreams of pursing the craft professionally.

Diaunte is an alumnus of AileyCamp Miami, a summer dance and self-esteem building program.

And last year he took a master class with Battle at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. When the class was over, Diaunte and the other students  formed a cluster around Battle and asked him questions.

“What type of dancers do you look for that kind of fit the dancers that you like?” Diaunte asked.

“What am I looking for?  You’re looking for somebody that’s actually speaking through the movement, not just doing the movement. That’s boring,” Battle told him. "Stand in the truth of what you’re doing. You’re not too young for that.”

The message stuck with Diaunte and it’s why he says he’s even more serious about becoming a stronger dancer.

“I’ll be down and say, ‘I can’t do that,’ but then I change that ‘can’t’ to 'I can and I will do',” he says.

Credit Nadege Green / WLRN
Diaunte Jenkins rehearses with one of his dance classmates at Miami Northwestern High.

Battle has talked openly about being bullied as a young dancer,  and  Diaunte says he’s had his share of bullies too.

“You have to deal with other people saying you’re gay because you dance. You’re this. You’re that. I don’t care what people have to say about me because this is my dream.

And it also helps that his dad is his biggest fan,  who shows up for every performance and invites all of their neighbors to come too.

“My dad actually promoted for people to see his son dance,” Diaunte says.

In college he wants to pursue dance or musical theater with a minor in business.

“I’ll be able to open up performing art studios,  especially in areas like Liberty City,” he says, “for those young people who actually have a love for the arts.”

Listen to the first part of this two-part series: A Conversation with Robert Battle and His Mom