Amiya Alexander, 11, has glided and pirouetted across dance floors since she was 2, but the sixth-grader in Southfield, Mich. (pop. 78,296), took her grandest leap last year by opening her own dance studioin a bright pink school bus. Shes been promoting fitness, inspiring others and earning money for college ever since.
Feet together in first position, Amiya tells her students, ages 3 to 6, as they line up behind her like leotard-clad ducklings in Amiyas Mobile Dance Academy, parked for a lesson at Oak Park High School in Oak Park, Mich. (pop. 29,793). The ballerinas grab the barre along one wall of the bus and follow Miss Amiya as she directs their feet.
Point toe to side and back . . . and bend . . . and straighten, instructs Amiya, calling out steps in rhythm with the music. Dancers check their footwork in a mirror on the opposite wall.
A few minutes into class, Renata Langlas, who recently turned 3, announces, I want a birthday sticker.
Amiya laughs and says that shell give out stickers at the end of class. Renata happily returns to her ballet lesson.
I love teaching the little kids. Theyre adorable, Amiya says.
Bringing affordable dance lessons to kids, especially poor inner-city kids, is what Amiya had in mind when she envisioned her pink dance bus, which travels to schools, childcare centers, summer camps, churches and private parties in Detroit and its suburbs. Each week, she teaches dozens of students ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop and salsa.
Dancing is a fun way to exercise, Amiya says. I want to fight the obesity epidemic.
Her mother, Teberah Alexander, 30, a registered nurse who owns a home health care company, is her biggest supporter, though she wasnt overjoyed when she first heard Amiyas plan.
It was 1 a.m., Teberah recalls, and Amiya said, Mommy, wake up. Im going to need a pink bus. I was like, Can you go back to bed? She said, I have a business plan. I want to help you as a single mom, and I want to help kids stay healthy.
Amiya is motivated by her desire to attend Harvard Medical School and to become a doctor. For Christmas 2008, Teberah surprised her daughter with a 1998 school bus, painted pink and transformed into a mini dance studio based on Amiyas sketches.
The young entrepreneur sent letters to schools and childcare centers advertising Amiyas Mobile Dance Academy and began enrolling students, including a dozen girls, ages 5 to 11, at Detroit Enterprise Academy.
Oh, they loved it, especially hip-hop, says teacher Felicia Morgan, who directs the charter schools after-school program. Amiya is really professional. She talks to the girls about how to stay healthy, stay active and get proper rest. I was really impressed.
With business on a roll, Amiya has hired two other dance instructors to teach while shes in school and to assist with birthday parties. Her great-uncle Sundiata Mateen, 58, drives the bus.
Dance lessons cost $11.50 each, which appeals to Geoffrey Cullum, 31, whose daughter Haleigh, 6, takes ballet and tap on Saturdays. Its very affordable, Cullum says. A dance school would be at least twice that.
Last October, Amiya founded the nonprofit Rising Stars Dance With Me Program to fund scholarships for children who cant afford lessons. Some day, she hopes to open a performing arts center in Detroit.
There are so many people who have a good idea, but dont carry it out, says Dr. Tiffany Langlas, 39, mother of dancer Renata. Amiya got this idea at 10 and had the wherewithal to go for her dream. Shes a fabulous role model for my little girl.