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Urban Ballet

There are some things you expect to see in the warm-up exercises of a ballet school.
But here at the New Ballet Ensemble of Memphis among the slippers and sophistication are some things not so typical… like a street dancing young man named Charles Riley dressed in street style doing a handstand on the ballet bar.

“It’s kind of supernatural. His musicality is the magic ingredient-  that he can anticipate what the music is going to do even if he’s never heard it. It’s almost as if it goes in his ears and comes out of his fingertips.” – Katie Smythe, New Ballet director

One mission of this remarkable school is to take two seemingly at-odds dance styles – ballet, and an urban subculture dance called ‘Memphis Jukin’ – and blend them so they work together instead of against each other. The result is life changing. Charles has gone from student to paid trainee..

“I heard what people said that about me before, but you know a close minded person would be like, ‘man he right.’ I ain’t no punk but I’m open to anything that has to so with dance period so I can expand my horizons.” – Charles Riley, dancer

Charles’s influence leads the way for another inner city dancer, Gene Seals, and for younger children going to a school in a neighborhood racked by violence. When they see a street dancer blur the line between his moves and ballet, all of a sudden doors are opened, and the definition of what is ‘cool’ gets broadened. Want to find out more? Visit

Value Plus Schools

“When you walk into a classroom here, I hope that sometimes you don’t know if you’re walking into a music lesson, or art lesson, or math lesson, or reading lesson, or social studies lesson, or science lesson, or dance lesson.” – Roy Miller, Principal, Mooreland Heights Elementary

Not to be confusing, but blending the arts with core subjects is the point of a Tennessee initiative called Value Plus Schools. A Value Plus school is a school that is arts integrated. In this program, the arts are the centerpiece of the school’s curriculum, and also the environment of the school. Arts are not only taught, but are the avenue by which children become more engaged in learning math, reading, science and social studies.

“So much of what we do in our world is related to drama, dance, visual arts, music, literature. We’re trying to figure out a way through art, through visual arts and music, to hook the academics with it, so that the majority of their day is meaningful.” – Brandi Self, 5th grade teacher

With the introduction of the Value Plus schools program, pilot schools see children improving, see them becoming more motivated. Teachers who were at first intimidated by their own lack of an arts background, now say there is no way they can go back and teach the way they did before. The Value Plus program demonstrates not just a transformation in a student’s grades, but in the child’s self-confidence and enthusiasm.

Drawn to Faces

On weekdays, attorney Nathan Evans appears in the corridors and courtrooms of the Hamilton County Courthouse in Chattanooga, focused on the fight found in lawsuits, litigations, depositions, and legalities too complicated for TV courtroom dramas. But lawyers are human after all – and this one looks forward to moving from conflict in the courtroom to contentment at the canvas. That’s where Nathan does what he loves to do… illustrate the faces of jazz music’s greatest artists.

“ I love jazz music, there’s no question… but I never felt like it was that simple: ‘Oh I like jazz music. I’m going to paint jazz musicians.’ I love their faces. I love to paint faces.” – Nathan Evans, painter

Long before Nathan had heard even his first note of jazz music, he was already exploring his gifts as an artist. From the time he could hold a crayon, Nathan was drawing. Drawing people, caricatures, and movie characters on any available piece of paper, even on the walls of his bedroom. Over the years, Nathan started to paint. And his favorite subject began to emerge.

“ I once read an artist writing about what he described as the geography of the human face. And there are certain musicians, I feel like - not just musicians - people you can really see their life in their faces.” – Nathan Evans

In a distinctive style where the faces of jazz greats like Dizzy Gillespie and Theolonious Monk are framed off center against solid color backgrounds, Nathan develops a look all his own as he works to capture a person’s lifetime in a single facial expression. And he struggles as he works at a career that pays the bills, but doesn’t bring him the joy he finds with painting the faces of iconic figures from the past.

“If I knew I could feed my family and pay back all my law student loans… if I could do that, I would paint in a heartbeat.” – Nathan Evans