Dance instructor Traci Young-Byron takes her personal accomplishments and turns them into community triumphs.
After 22 years of teaching dance, she continues to serve as artistic director at Young Contemporary Dance Theatre, a company she founded in Miami nearly two decades ago, and as the dance teacher at Miami Northwestern Senior High School.
“My biggest accomplishments in the past few years have been helping my students become professional dancers,” Young-Byron said.
Her alumni have performed for the Miami Heat, the Miami Dolphins and the vaunted Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and have performed on stage in the famed play “Hamilton.”
Young-Byron herself had already starred in the docuseries “Step It Up” when The Miami Times profiled her as a member of its 2016 “New Generation of Dreamers,” saying she “steps it up to guide students.” Since then she’s built her brand through her Instagram page, where she posts videos of herself dancing and offers support and inspiration to more than 435,000 followers.
Her dance company went international this past December when its members flew to Barcelona to perform for a major fashion house.
“I think what pushed [my dancers] to the next level is just being able to market myself in a way and pushing myself on social media so that I can showcase their talents,” Young-Byron said.
Another project is a new docuseries on her life and the lives of her dancers.
“I can’t really say the network right now because it’s actually in the making,” she coyly commented.
Miami-Dade County recognized Young-Byron with a proclamation in 2019 and she received the African American Achievers Award for Arts & Culture in 2020. She’s continued her focus on bringing people together after the country’s recent hardships even more so.
“I think socially things have changed,” Young-Byron said. “It’s not necessarily the dream that [Martin Luther King Jr.] envisioned for us, but I’m optimistic that as a people we’re still going to get to where we need to be.”
She uses her passion for dance as a vehicle to teach her students: “That’s the only way I know how to communicate that to my dancers.”
Young-Byron said uses not only analogies and metaphors to relate to her students, but also music. Many times, she chooses songs that her students typically don’t listen to in order to elicit conversation and discussion. Her team dissects the lyrics, pulls from their own experiences and applies the lessons to their daily lives.
She emphasizes that discipline and structure are the most important things for a dancer to learn.
“You understand how to follow rules and fall in line and still be yourself,” she said.
However, Young-Byron believes that sometimes it’s OK to bend the rules a bit and make mistakes – but only if you learn from them and don’t beat yourself up.
She often reflects on how honored and blessed she feels, sometimes asking herself, “Why me?”
“But then I have to remind myself, ‘Why not me?’” she continued. “You know, I work really hard, and I think the work that you do will speak for itself.”
Nicole Ardila Miami Times Contributor | This profile is a collaboration between The Miami Times and the Lee Caplin School of Journalism & Media at Florida International University.