Dancer who defied expectations to attend Juilliard pays it forward back home

CHICAGO — Growing up in Chatham, Amari Frazier was discouraged from even trying to pursue dance, not to mention applying to the Chicago Academy for the Arts.

The world of dance is so competitive few ever make it on stage with such big companies. Not many people believed Amari would ever be good enough to join them. But Chicago Academy for the Arts Dance Chair Randy Duncan saw something others didn't.

"He just has this spirit in his soul that reaches an audience," Duncan said.

Taking Frazier under his wing, Duncan lined him up with dancers who had been perfecting their craft for years.

"It was scary," recalls Frazier. "I was so new to it, but it did push me more."

Fast forward four years later, Frazier is at the top of his class and the recipient of a full scholarship to Juilliard.

"It's really crazy knowing that it happened for me," Frazier said. "Even though it was my dream for so long... I didn't know it was actually possible."

That could have been the storybook ending in itself, but Amari isn't finished. He knew he had to pay it forward, starting in the neighborhood he was raised in.

Along with three friends, Amari decided to bring dance to people who normally couldn't afford it. Calling themselves "Step into Joy," the group performs in church basements, domestic violence shelters and neighborhood halls.

Frazier said the group, "decided to do this to bring a smile to someone's face and just give them joy."

Amari will also be performing with other dance students from the Chicago Academy for the Arts during their annual gala at the Palmer House Hotel on Saturday, May 18.

Notice: you are using an outdated browser. Microsoft does not recommend using IE as your default browser. Some features on this website, like video and images, might not work properly. For the best experience, please upgrade your browser.