Art has such a way of imitating life for Valencia Roman that she wants to share her passion for dance with African American girls in her community.

Roman, a classically trained dancer in multiple disciplines, recently celebrated her 28th birthday with the opening of her own dance studio in the heart of the Austin neighborhood — Annie’s Little Angels Dance Company, located at 4544 W. Washington Ave., where she will serve as the primary instructor of a range of dance styles, including ballet, modern dance, praise dance and hip-hop dance, among others, for girls ages 4 to 14.

She said she wants to establish ALADC as a nonprofit with the intention of maintaining affordable prices for classes. As part of the celebration, raffle tickets were sold to sponsor dance classes for low-income families who would also be given payment options as necessary. 

The studio’s name originates from Roman’s late aunt and grandmother who both had the name Annie. She said it was her grandmother who encouraged her to start dancing when she was six years old.

“I feel like I have two Annie’s angels watching over me,” said Roman.

As a youth growing up on Chicago’s West Side, Roman did not find viable dance options available to her in her neighborhood, she said. She ultimately learned ballet at Boitsov Classical Ballet School’s downtown location and later through an After School Matters program at Gallery 37.

“The environment [downtown] wasn’t as equal and it was hard but I got through it,” said Roman. “Right now, I’m giving those girls who have the dream the push to keep going.”

Roman kept pursuing her dance dreams throughout college until she landed a position with the Joe Hall Dance Company, where she said she learned the skills she needed to be successful. She called the Joe Hall staff “mentors” and credited them for helping her start ALADC. However, ALADC isn’t the only thing on Roman’s plate.

She also works as a daycare teacher, a job that, along with her dance schedule, entails a work week of around 80 years. Yet, despite the rigorous hours, she encourages youth and adults alike to pursue dance if that’s their passion.

“A career in dance has its ups and downs, but most of all it’s about the passion in your heart; so matter what, when you get on that stage everything is gone, it’s like there’s no one else there. Dance like no one is looking,” said Roman.

Currently, ALADC is renting space at a community center until a brick and mortar location is established. Roman’s business partner, Marseil Jackson, said an application with the Chicago Neighborhood Opportunity Fund is in the works, with the goal of creating a community center for ALADC and other activities.

Khaleta Magee, whose daughter Jurnee Williams, 12, has learned under Roman for roughly three years, called Roman’s efforts “inspirational”.

Malcolm Crawford, president of the Austin African American Business Networking Association (AAABNA), praised the opening of ALADC.

“To have a place where people can learn African, modern, hip-hop, and the like — I don’t know if there’s anything of the like in our community,” said Crawford. “If the kids can dance even remotely like [Valencia] can then they’ll be great.”

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