At the impressionable age of 11 was when Quanisha Davidson began exploring her passion for dance, as she took a movement class at West Englewood United Methodist Church from instructor Ayesha Jaco, the soon-to-be founder of the After School Matters dance and life skills development program, Move Me Soul.
Four years later, the 5’1″ girl who “was too short to play basketball,” had transitioned into being a developing dancer. And, as such, the freshman in high school got a callback from her former dance instructor, inviting Davidson to audition and become one of the first members of the new after school dance ensemble Jaco was forming at Austin High school in Chicago.
“When I first came to Move Me Soul (MMS), there wasn’t a lot of people in the program, and they didn’t expect you to know anything, because they just wanted to teach youth, and that is why I decided to stay,” says Davidson, now age 20, and a third year student at Harold Washington College in Chicago. “We do this out of our own free time, and for the love of dance.”
Davidson, with nine other alumnae, also are what Jaco calls “First Company,” her top-tier touring dance troupe that represents MMS, with perfomrances throughout Chicago and across the Sate of Illinois. The private shows, says Jaco, help raise funds in support of program extras: field trips to experience professional dance companies, college tours, and study abroad.
“I have seen people change their lifestyle by being in this program. They could have been in the streets, but instead they have come here. They now had goals, and knew they wanted something in life. These (current) instructors, they are getting old,” she jokes, “so we are going to have to be the ones who keep the MMS legacy going.”
On track to do that is high school senior Mary Thomas, who says after four years of being in the MMS program, she is willing “to do whatever it takes to become a dance superstar,” adding that she likes ballet, but loves hip hop.
“Move Me Soul’s objective, from my perspective, is to turn the Austin community from a no to a yes, because it grabs youth from all over Chicago, and we put them in places where they are encouraged to not only succeed in dance, but in life, ” says Davidson, who herself is aiming to operate a dance studio in a neighborhood such as this one in the future.
Protégé, Bryonna Young is a lanky 14 year old high school freshman who “hates all the violence, drugs and stuff, so I started dancing last Spring because I wanted to be like the kids in MMS.”
Seeing Young dance, bubbles up memories for Jaco regarding her beginnings as a participant in the After School Matters dance program, Gallery 37.
“It was at age 14, when I found the arts and my life changed,” says Jaco. “How I look at their high school diplomas, and the fact that so many of our alumnae have gone on to college, that it is my [Mercedes] Benz. That is how I define Move Me Soul’s success.”