Finding A Voice Through Dance

Ballet Memphis’ Nikki Lewis is bringing artistic movement to Memphis Schools.

What began as a scholarship opportunity to the Ballet Memphis School at age eight quickly transitioned into Nikki Lewis’ lifelong passion. Around town, Nikki is known as Ballet Memphis’ community dance manager, curriculum developer and teaching artist, guiding nearly 300 students in a given week. Her mission is to instill confidence and creativity into young Memphians, introducing them to the art form - many for the first time.

On a typical day, you’ll find Nikki in a Downtown, Midtown or South Memphis School, leading dance classes for varying ages. Through partnerships with Knowledge Quest and Compass Community Schools, she is providing access to creative outlets such as ballet, African dance, hip-hop, and jazz, all of which have a direct impact on development at home and in the classroom.

“For Ballet Memphis, everybody matters,” Nikki says. “Being a part of Ballet Memphis School as a child, I was able to see the ins and outs as a student, and now as an adult, being able to facilitate how students are learning in the community is very big and very important to me.”

Nikki Lewis
For Ballet Memphis, everybody matters.

Ballet Memphis’ community programs serve students in more ways than movement, exploring far beyond the subject of dance. Her classes educate children on problem-solving, choreography, the origins of dance tradition, verbal and non-verbal communication, and functions of the body through technique. No matter the skill set, Nikki is working hard to equip girls and boys with the tools needed to succeed.

The inclusive nature of the Ballet Memphis school program means Nikki’s doors are always open. “If a student wants to listen to the music, I welcome them in,” she says. “I feel like the music can inspire them to get up and dance. Even when students age out of the program, I still encourage them to come back. There is a lot that goes on in this world, and I want to be sure they have a safe place to go where they can express themselves as much as they want and have fun doing it.”

Later this week, Nikki will watch students from her community program dance on the grand stage of the Orpheum Theatre as she once did. “I don’t think it gets better than that,” says Nikki. “Dancing alongside a professional ballerina then years later saying, ‘this is where I started, and look where I am now’ is something all of my students aspire to.”

Due to generous support from patrons, Ballet Memphis has provided scholarships to more than nine students this semester. This funding covers the cost of Ballet Memphis School tuition for families that do not have the means to do so. Nikki adds that offering students scholarships to the Ballet Memphis School has been one of the biggest rewards she can give to children in the community.

Individuals like Nikki allow Ballet Memphis to continue enhancing students’ educational experiences, increase their confidence levels and provide them with leadership skills to ensure a successful future. “I’m thankful to have had the opportunity as a child to pursue my dreams” Nikki comments, “and then later help other children pursue theirs.”