Gray spends time at School of American Ballet


Luc Menard

Photo Credit: Luc Menard Libiya Gray (10) and her dance studio, Collage Dance Collective, visits New York City to dance and study with the American School of Ballet

Blisters, sweat and fame are commonly found at the School of American Ballet. Libiya Gray (10) got to experience all three when her dance studio, Collage Dance Collective, was the first studio to have the chance to study with the School of American Ballet.

Gray first started dancing with her church’s praise dance team at four years old but switched to ballet after her mother suggested it. At first she despised it, but over time it grew on her.

“It was extra effort you had to put in—it was hard work. I liked the challenge of it, the emotion you had to put into it, and touching an audience was really fun to do.” Gray said.

At nine years old, Gray began to dance competitively and joined the Collage Dance Collective, a relatively small and new dance studio. The studio had the opportunity to study with the American School of Ballet because the instructor, Kevin Thomas, studied at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and personally knew the directors of the American Dance studio.

Gray got to meet and observe broadway dancer Sascha Radetsky teach a dance lesson to other professional dancers. She also learned more about the history of ballet, tips to improve her dancing and a more classical dance style.

“I liked the change. It was fun to try something different. Trying a new style is never bad for you, it’s good to learn how to adapt,” Gray said.

However, it was sometimes hard to enjoy the experience because Gray felt the stifling pressure to succeed. “We wanted to represent Collage well because we are a new conservatory. We want to represent Memphis well—not the stereotypical ‘laid back.’We can work hard as well,” Gray said.

Gray also noticed significant contrasts between her studio and the one she was visiting.

“One thing that was very different was that at my studio there’s a lot of diversity and color. At the American School of Ballet there was more white, tall, skinny—the typical ballet dancer you would see,” Gray said.

The experience at the American School of Ballet was just a stepping stone in Gray’s future. She plans to continue dancing in the modern and jazz style that she’s learning and one day perform in New York and international theaters.

“I wouldn’t mind not coming back [to The American School of Ballet] because I like to keep going in the direction I’m going, ” Gray said. “It’s going to take a lot of hard work and dedication, which I’m willing to do, and go farther than that because New York is not the only place—I want to be international.”