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Confidence, sisterhood, power: Durham studio promotes self-love through dance

July 4, 2018

Durham business owner and dance teacher Nicole Oxendine has a dream for the next generation of women: to never lose the strength and confidence of childhood.

“They’re these little ‘baby bosses,’” she said. “When they’re 6 and 7 and 8, they’re just fabulous, and then what happens to that confidence?”

She recalls teaching a dance class to a group of 3-year-old girls. An intruder came into the classroom off the street, and she told him to leave.

“I turned around and my 3-year-old babies were like ‘Get out! No!’ and not at all afraid to speak their minds and tell this man to get out,” she said.

She feels girls too often learn to constantly apologize as they enter womanhood.

Empower Dance Studio teaches dance with a mission to instill self-confidence and reinforce positive images of dancers from all backgrounds. This video contains language some may find offensive. Video contributed by: Nicole Oxendine, Empower Dance Studio / Produced by: Laura Hunter Creative

“I want them to keep that strong (spirit),” she said. “We’ve seen it with the #MeToo movement and women being very firm and affirmative and being able to say ‘No.’ That’s what I want to see in the next generation.

“I hope that they maintain the confidence and energy.”

Themes of power and sisterhood are the foundation of Empower Dance Studio in downtown Durham.

Founded in 2015 by Oxendine and her former student Jessica Burroughs, the studio teaches with a mission some dance organizations lack: to instill self-confidence, celebrate natural beauty and reinforce positive images of dancers from all backgrounds.

In addition to classes for dancers ages 2 through adult, Oxendine operates the more disciplined Empower Dance Academy for dancers of all levels.

The Academy combines more than four hours of classes per week, performance opportunities, with an “empowered spirit individual growth plan” for young girls and teens.

“It comes back to that confidence piece and not only telling them they’re beautiful but showing them,” she said.

The studio’s mission stems from both the positive and negative experiences she encountered during her decades of dance training.

After studying dance and psychology at Hollins University and earning a master’s in dance therapy and counseling, Oxendine spent years teaching dance in the Durham Public Schools.

She began to recognize the connection between movement and confidence.

“I asked myself, ‘How can we make this change younger, especially when it comes to self-esteem, body issues and acceptance?’” she said.

While the studio welcomes dancers of all races, as a black dancer in a predominately white industry, Oxendine said she’s thrilled to have developed a dance environment that celebrates the beauty of black women.

“We want to create a space that is safe for dancers of color, but really for any dancer to feel safe in a space,” she said.

Oxendine said the key to her fast growth and success has been the local community.

“I’m overwhelmed by the community support,” she said. “Durham has really gotten behind (us).”

As far as what’s to come, Oxendine hopes to expand from the current 75 dancers and potentially open a second studio.

“I want to fund more dancers who can’t afford tuition and fees,” Oxendine said. “We’re really being pushed for a Raleigh location because I have a lot coming from that area.”

Oxendine is also interested in developing a business model so that others can successfully open empowering studios in other cities.

She would love to see more communities embrace the studio’s manifesto: “I nurture, I uplift, I empower, I help my sisters.”

“We end every class with the empower circle. We stand in first position, core engaged and shoulders back, extend our foot forward and say ‘empower,’” she explained. “It’s the little things that show that we are all together.”