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Area Dance Instructors on Why They’re Passionate and What Inspires Them


By Lucy Morris / Photography by Emily Long



Stacey Perkinson, Scenic City Dance teacher


Stacey Perkinson, Scenic City Dance


CS: Tell us a bit about your dance background.

SP: At a young age, I was dancing at Richmond Ballet, a ballet conservatory in Virginia. After attending a Governor’s School for Dance in high school, I went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Dance Performance from George Mason University. I then went to live in New York City and danced professionally before moving to Chattanooga and starting Scenic City Dance in 2011.    


CS: Why are you passionate about dance?

SP: It’s been part of my life since I was 18 months old. I took my first dance class, and it has been part of my life since. Over the years, I’ve seen how lessons from dance have carried over to other aspects of my life and provided me tools to be successful. Dance can provide so much more than physical movement, and that is exactly what I want to give back to our students in the community and why I am still passionate about dance today.


CS: What about contemporary dance speaks to you?

SP: Contemporary gives you freedom. So many dance forms have techniques with precise boundaries and rules, but the contemporary technique blurs the lines and allows dancers to go beyond that. It’s a very interpretive dance technique, providing a lot of creative freedom, which I love.


CS: Who inspires you?

SP: I love Alvin Ailey Dance Company, primarily because of their athleticism. They are such strong, technical dancers in both ballet and the modern/contemporary world. It’s such a beautiful fusion, and it’s really inspiring to watch them dance. At the same time, I love Pilobolus, which is more acrobatic contemporary. They create amazing shapes with their bodies and are constantly trying to create things people have never seen. They’re very inventive.


CS: What are your goals for the future?

SP: I would love to grow into a space that is inclusive of many art forms including more dance opportunities as well as adding more variety such as music and other artistic outreach programs. Aside from that, we just started a non-profit called House of Yellow Butterflies, which provides dance in underprivileged communities for free. My goal is to grow statewide and beyond. I would love to provide every child an opportunity to experience dance.



Casey Haywood, dance tonight chattanooga ballroom dance instructor



Casey Haywood, Dance Tonight Chattanooga


CS: Tell us a bit about your dance background.

CH: I didn’t get into dancing until I was 19. It started off as a social and fun activity with friends in college and grew from there. There was this Latin dance showcase that a Vanderbilt student organization put on, and I saw it my freshman year and wanted to get involved. They would divide you up into different student-led dance groups that would perform. My last two years I was a co-chair for the showcase. 


CS: What about ballroom dance speaks to you?

CH: Ballroom is all about two people dancing together as one to music. There are two different styles – American and International, which can be broken down even further. For me, I’m not really one that has the desire to go up on stage and do something solo. Being able to dance with others and communicate and really work with the music – that is ballroom. The whole focus is communication with your partner, which sets it apart from some other types of dance.


CS: Tell us a bit about the studio.

CH: We teach American-style ballroom, which includes smooth dances that feature longer steps and slower music and rhythm dances that have smaller, more compact steps and faster music. So, you could learn anything from swing dancing to Latin club dances like Salsa. Most of our students are adults, but we have a handful of younger students as well.


CS: What is your favorite thing about teaching dance to others?

CH: My favorite thing is helping people get to that point where they feel like they can do it. It may happen early on, like in the first lesson, or it may take longer, but by continuing, they can see that they can get better. Sometimes people have low expectations of what they’ll be able to do, so helping them feel capable is special.


CS: What are your goals for the future?

CH: I co-own Dance Tonight with Kyle Barels, and we have a plan for a video series that we’re solidifying now. We also have an option for folks with some dance experience to take classes virtually. We have a new instructor coming, too. We don’t know what the future holds, but we’re trying to push through and reach as many people as possible.



Devante Williams, D. Williams Dance academy hip-hop teacher



Devante Williams, D. Williams Dance Academy


CS: Tell us a bit about your dance background.

DW: I started dancing when I was 13. I was infatuated with music videos and seeing artists perform and dancers in the background making the videos really come to life. I started taking hip-hop in Atlanta because at the time, we didn’t have anything like that in Chattanooga. Traveling back and forth eventually became too much, so I tried to focus on what was available locally, which was ballroom. It was completely different but so much fun. That’s where I got my first technical training and my first working dance gig, which gave me the means to travel more and take other classes. So, I took ballet, jazz – everything. I did summer intensives in New York. I started a hip-hop majorette team with a group of people, and my choreography got recognized by Sunjai Williams from Lifetime’s “Bring It!” I got to go on tour with them. From there, I took even more classes in Chicago and Memphis, where I got deeper into hip hop.


CS: Why are you passionate about dance?

DW: Dance has allowed me to really express parts of me that I didn’t know how to articulate in words. I knew that if I could do that, I could help others tell their story. I love how it makes me feel and how it makes others feel.


CS: How would you describe hip-hop?

DW: Out of all the genres, it’s the most freeing. It’s freestyle. Hip-hop is the most energetic style of dance. You have to come with energy, attitude, and swag. It’s the life of the dance floor.


CS: What’s your philosophy for teaching dance?

DW: The biggest thing for my students is to come in and give their all. Don’t come in and half do it. Release your inhibitions and just be you and do you. Don’t worry about what others are thinking or say. It’s all about what you’re thinking and feeling. Just let the music take over. Our motto is, “Once you hit the dance floor, greatness begins.”


CS: Who inspires you?

DW: From an entertainer standpoint, Usher and Will Smith. Usher is from here and has left, but he comes back and gives back to the community. Will Smith is a great speaker and motivator, and he’s humble about where he is now and where he came from. On a personal level, my mom. She worked two, sometimes three, jobs to provide for me and my brother and put us through private school. Her drive to continue to give us the best opportunities by herself instilled a drive in me to be successful. I don’t let anyone or anything stop me.



brian mcsween, chattanooga ballet instructor



Brian McSween, Chattanooga Ballet


CS: Tell us a bit about your dance background.

BM: I grew up in Charlotte, North Carolina, and started out doing tap and jazz, and then I added ballet at age 12. I continued to do all three forms of dance through high school and then went to New York City, where I studied at Joffrey Ballet School. I received a contract with Aspen Ballet Company and then Complexions Dance. Most of my career was spent with Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, where I was a dancer for 10 years. From there, I went into teaching and spent time in New York as the Associate Artistic Director of Joffrey Concert Group, then Ballet Master for Ballet Memphis. I took over as Artistic Director of Chattanooga Ballet in August 2019.


CS: Why are you passionate about dance?

BM: Growing up, dance was the only place where I felt confident enough to excel. It was the only place where I felt like I was truly gifted. It became an expression of every emotion. There were, of course, times that were hard and times that I wanted to quit, but everything that was demanded of me over the years has been given back tenfold. Today, I’m passionate about seeing other dancers achieve their full potential, whether that’s as students or professionals. Seeing an audience leave a performance with a shifted paradigm – with a worldview that is brightened or challenged or encouraged – and seeing the possibilities of what art can do to the soul of an individual, that’s inspiring.


CS: What’s your philosophy for teaching ballet?

BM: At Chattanooga Ballet, we train every student to their highest potential, and we let their potential dictate their futures. If they choose to go into dance as a profession, then we want them trained to be able to pursue that. If they look at it as a hobby or something recreational, then we still want to afford them the benefits of reaching their full potential. As far as personal philosophy, I try to structure technique in such a way that it works for everyone’s body.


CS: What inspires you?

BM: First would be my faith. It’s been the primary influencer in my view of my place in this profession, and in this building, and in the lives of those around me. Second would be my family. My wife is a dancer – much more talented than I ever was – and she walked away to become the mother that she always wanted to be, and I admire that so much. The dancers I get to work with also inspire me. Seeing them explore not only what they’re doing physically and technically, but how that can achieve something for someone emotionally and affect others, it’s a joy to watch.



Christine Mashburn-Paul, Chattanooga Dance Theatre teacher



Christine Mashburn-Paul, Chattanooga Dance Theatre


CS: Tell us a bit about your dance background.

CM: I grew up in Atlanta and studied at the Royal Academy of Dance, which features a syllabus out of England. There are yearly dance exams and vocational exams, which are designed to prepare you for a professional career. I have a minor in dance from the University of Georgia, and I taught at a local studio throughout college. I came to Chattanooga to dance for Chattanooga Ballet for four years before deciding to pursue an opportunity with my dad’s whitewater rafting company. But I felt that something was missing from my life and felt like the dance world was calling me back. So, I decided to open a studio in 2014, which is how Chattanooga Dance Theatre came to be.


CS: What’s your philosophy for teaching dance?

CM: My philosophy is encouragement. To let students know where they are, how they’ve accomplished their goals, and let them know what their next set of goals is. I really try to encourage the student, no matter what level they’re on.


CS: What about modern dance speaks to you?

CM: Modern is such a free form of dance that can incorporate so many different things. It’s a style that was created in the 1920s, and most people credit Martha Graham as the founder. I think with modern, it can be so free that you can really do anything with it. We teach our students to pick a theme and recognize all the different elements that can create a dance. Whether that be shapes or levels or speeds, or whether it’s dancing big or small, modern explores it all.


CS: What is your favorite thing about teaching dance to others?

CM: Dance can be very therapeutic in a lot of ways in that you can come into the studio and focus on your dance and not the other things that are going on outside of just your dance. So, it’s really great to see students improve and to see how dance affects their lives and the quality of life for them.


CS: What are your goals for the future?

CM: I hope to continue to grow CDT by offering more classes and more varieties of classes. I also hope to continue to grow our ‘Nooga Nutcracker with more audiences and production elements and continue to access more and more people through dance! CS

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