Aaron Atkins is originally from Lancaster, South Carolina. He gained notoriety in dance at an early age, ranking number one in the state of South Carolina before receiving his primary pre-professional training in Greenville at South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. During this time, Atkins was accepted into many notable summer intensives and internships including programs at S.T.A.R.T.S., Alvin Ailey, and University of South Carolina, Columbia.
Professionally, Atkins debuted at the young age of 17 with Classical Contemporary Ballet Theatre and Ballet Savannah as a principal dancer in 2007. Atkins also performed with South Carolina’s Columbia City Ballet and York County Ballet. He worked as a choreographer, co-director, and make-up artist for the Lancaster Community Playhouse, as well as choreographed for many solo artists and singing and dancing troupes in the Carolinas. Atkins founded his own non-profit organization called Prestige Dance Foundation, which brought the art of dance to inner city youth from 2009-2010.
Atkins relocated to New York in 2010 continuing his artistic and performance endeavors. He worked with Ballet Hispanico and was a founding company member of BH Dos — the second company of Ballet Hispanico. In 2012, he started his own company, Ballet Inc. Ballet Inc.’s mission is to impact the world through dance while exploring the extremities of contemporary ballet. He continuously strives to enrich the dance community and world through performance.
We wanted to know more about Aaron and his journey:
Aaron: “Dance has always been in my life from the early age of 4. Everyone in my family has danced or has been involved in the Arts. Although, my family didn’t grow up with tons of money, they tried to keep me as culturally diverse as possible. My family has been huge supporters in all of my endeavors including my mission with Ballet Inc. My intensive training started when I met my Mentor Sandra Neels at S.T.A.R.T.S summer intensive when I was 13. At that time she was a faculty member of South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She advised me that I should take more ballet classes and she informed me that she would help me get to where I needed in order to be a professional artist. Next thing you know, I was invited to audition for The South Carolina Governor’s School, where I attended for 2 years, under the training of Stanislav Issaev and Irina Ushakova.
Aaron: “During my time at Governor’s School, I started having this growing urge to choreograph. However, I was scared to express this. After class, I would go in the studio, play music, close my eyes, imagine steps and try to shape them with my body. I think the freedom I felt in that studio, I try to keep when working with my dancers. When I danced with Classical Contemporary Ballet Theater under the direction of James Atkinson, I was allowed to set work on students of his as well as set work on a ballet studio at Ballet South (during the company’s short collaboration with Ballet Savannah in Savannah, GA). Choreography is a means of communication. At times when it is difficult for me to explain myself artistically or verbally in both professional and personal experiences; Ballet Inc. is my voice.”
Aaron: “Ballet Inc. was founded through the inspiration of two individuals: Chloe Slade (pictured above) and Edgar L. Peterson III, and my need to express artistically. Chloe told me it was hard because of her body type. I had a moment of clarity and realized how much discrimination exists in the dance community and the public at large. This became a focal point in the company’s mission. Since the beginning of my career in New York as a dancer, Edgar has been supportive. When he took the position of Executive Director of Ballet Inc., he has been a huge driving force in the financial management and stability. He also has a huge influence on my decisions artistically.”
Aaron: “The Goals of Ballet Inc. is to create a new generation of dance and cultivate artists that are a direct representation of the world we live in today: diverse. Bringing forth these goals, of a world where dancers are only seen as talented performers based on the work and dedication they bring to the stage, to inspire and to create impactful diverse works for the world to enjoy.”
Aaron: “I start with music and then I allow for the movement to come. Sometimes, I get images in my head prior to rehearsals. I have tried to be more pragmatic about the “Process”. However, I find it stifling. I like for the movement to flow freely. I also feel my dancers inspire me in my work. I look to their talents and see how I can choreography something specific to their uniqueness.”
Aaron: “Immerse yourself in other things besides danceVersatility of dance styles should be a must in your dancingLearn to roll with the punchesStay true to yourself”