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Baltimore-based dance group inspires on ‘America’s Got Talent’ to advance local mission

In bright yellow tops and tutus, Baltimore dance group Ballet After Dark sashayed their way into the hearts of “America’s Got Talent” judges and viewers around the world in a performance aired on NBC in late July.

“We meet the most incredible people on this show, who luckily trust the show, to share their message, which you’ve done today, in a very, very, very powerful way,” said judge Simon Cowell.

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The message is resilience, joy and freedom — even when rooted in pain.

“We have curated a space here, that is dedicated and committed to making sure that Black youth and women, impacted by various levels of violence and trauma, know that happiness is right around the corner, joy is right around the corner, healing is right around the corner, and being able to turn your trauma into triumph is a very real thing,” said Tyde-Courtney Edwards, founding director of Ballet After Dark.

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After beginning dance therapy workshops in 2014, Edwards founded the group two years later. Though the show’s judges were enlivened immediately by her mission, it wasn’t always easy to pursue her passion or provide opportunities for others, she said.

“What Baltimore has contributed to, as far as my personal artistry and growth, is that it has given me the grit and determination and ambition level necessary when you get out in the world and start hearing ‘no,’” Edwards said. “That’s what I dealt with for the last eight years, prior to us receiving this ‘America’s Got Talent’ opportunity.”

As a girl from Baltimore, Edwards said people she knew didn’t always identify with ballet as interesting art or a source of healing.

Who: Tyde-Courtney Edwards, 31, Midtown Baltimore resident, Ballet After Dark ballet fitness company owner
What she wore: Black mesh dress, skinny jeans, gold chain and hoop earrings from Forever 21; Calvin Klein black bra and Converse sneakers from Marshalls; and Sandy Lisa quilted black backpack from nordstrom.com.
She wears things to promote good energy: "I wanted something that would breathe, and I could move around a lot. I like breathable things that can also be used as dance costumes. I have two looks: sexy or sweaty."

“It was incredibly difficult trying to repurpose a classical discipline to be a joyful healing modality for a community of people that ballet was never created for to begin with,” said Edwards, who lives in Baltimore.

Her organization now offers 70 dance therapy classes, mental health and financial literacy resources, free self-defense workshops, social events and advocacy training. Ballet After Dark also offers a somatic intervention curriculum, which it defines as “reconnecting and regaining control of our mind and body through movement, various trauma-informed practices, classes.”

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Edwards, 35, said as a longtime performer, auditioning on “America’s Got Talent” had less to do with the limelight than with advancing the opportunities for Ballet After Dark and Baltimore. She said the show’s judges were shocked to hear the organization was based in a city “famously known for ‘The Wire’ and Freddie Gray,” referencing the HBO series and the death of Gray in 2015 as a result of injuries sustained in Baltimore City police custody.

“It was a very great opportunity for us to not just show the judges, but show the world — the world’s largest talent show — not just the talent that we have, but the dedication to our community and healing,” she said. “This is about making sure that the mission of the Ballet After Dark organization is visible and amplified. We are here for our people.”

Ballet After Dark Founder and Artistic Director Tyde-Courtney Edwards instructs a class inside of her home in Baltimore on Saturday, Aug. 5, 2017. The aim of the program is to use ballet as a healing mechanism for women who have been victims of trauma. Other program events offered are "healing lock-ins", where participants and survivors gather for self-care focusing on healing mentally, physically and emotionally.

With three yesses to advance to the next phase from judges, including Cowell, Heidi Klum and Sofia Vergara, Edwards said the ballet troupe is waiting to hear from the TV show about its next steps.

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In the meantime, she said, people can sign up for a dance class or volunteer or donate to the organization.

Edwards said she hopes that others around the world will see Ballet After Dark and be inspired and empowered to begin their healing journeys.

“There comes a time where all of us have to stand in our truth, and you are smarter than you think and you’re stronger than you know,” she said. “So when you’re ready to start the journey just take the leap.”

636 N. Gilmor St., Baltimore. 410-941-9731. balletafterdark.com


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