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Utopian Academy For The Arts| Georgia Approved Charter Middle School » Elite Dance Team Celebrates First Place Win

Elite Dance Team Celebrates First Place Win



The Utopian Academy for the Arts dance squad recently won first place in a majorette tournament that featured some of Georgia’s top competitors. The Elite Elegance Dance Team received a perfect score of 10 in every category for their technique, costumes, and musicality and the complexity of their choreography. The team’s trophy is on display in the front office at Utopian. They practiced for nearly three months to prepare for the tournament. “The girls really worked hard,” said Shakira Ballantyne, dance instructor at Utopian. “They did an excellent job at the tournament. The judges really liked that our dance routine told a story and used props.”

The Elite Elegance Dance Team tackled the issue of bullying among teen girls in middle school. The girls used their acting talents and hip hop dance background to portray the tension between feuding factions in the hallways. In the dance, the “mean girls” were focused on their appearance and the “brainiacs” were more focused on grades than fashion. Jordan Tanks, 13, the team captain of Elite Elegance, said she played a “nerd” in the routine. “This is only my second year dancing,” said the veteran competition cheerleader.“Dancing expresses how I feel. With cheering, it’s more about stunting and being excited all of the time.”

Tanks said she was “shocked” when her team won the competition. “There were a lot of good dance teams there,” she said.Ballantyne said her team had a routine that was choreographed to be a crowd pleaser. They danced through three songs. “The competition was asking for creativity, so I took that to heart especially with us being a fine arts school,” she said. “I made sure there was a storyline. I knew that it would set us apart from the rest. That is exactly what happened.”

Elite Elegance’s dance routine started with students standing near lockers. Tanks said she was pushed to the ground by a mean girl. By the end of the dance, the bullies and brianiacs began to respect each other.“My favorite part was when we battled against each other,” said Brianna Peterson, a seventh grader who played a mean girl. “At the end, we all became friends.” Elite Elegance’s performance received thunderous applause. “We had a lot of people stand up for us,” Tanks said. “It felt great.”

The win at the LukeSports tournament comes on the heels of dance team tryouts for the 2016-17 school year. Nine girls recently tried out for the Utopian dance team. The group performs in parades, school programs, and entertains crowds during basketball games.A panel of independent judges – Mary Lott, Lauren Henry, and Crystal Dozier – chose the new team. Henry, a high school dance coach, said she knows what it takes to be a good dancer. Her team appeared on the reality dance competition show “Bring It.”

“They have to be able to keep going when they mess up,” Dozier. “They have to have confidence and charisma.”The girls were selected based on their stage presence, versatility and technical abilities. The members of the 2016-17 Elite Elegance Dance Team are:  Elite Dance Veterans: Jordan Tanks, Da’Ryah Peoples, and Brianna Peterson. New members: Chadai Jones, Shanelle Barham, Nahiah Wilson and Danielle Clark.

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August 31, 2015August 31, 2015
RIVERDALE - When 300 students at Utopian Academy for the Arts reported to classes last week, there was no sign on the lawn letting them know that they had reached the right place. The name of the school had been removed by order of the City of Riverdale.This week the sign is still bare.The City of Riverdale has prohibited Utopian from using its school sign to welcome visitors or identify the building until administrators secure a business license. School officials, however, maintain that Utopian is a public school so a business license is not necessary. The debate has caused the school to accrue fines in the hundreds of dollars for violating city code. Administrators say the fees and threats are just another attempt to “bully” Utopian into pulling out of Riverdale.“They don’t want people to know that a school exists at 6630 Camp Street,” said Artesius Miller, executive director of Utopian. “They have stripped us naked and said basically ‘You all will not have anything so that people will know that you are even here’.”Similar tactics last year resulted in delaying the opening of school for more than a week. A Clayton County fire marshal denied administrators, teachers, and students the right to access the building saying that Utopian needed a last minute inspection among other things to occupy the premises. Utopian lost 80 students after its delayed opening.Utopian’s rocky start inspired legislation to protect state-approved public charter schools from similar stall tactics. The "Utopian Academy for the Arts Act," which went into effect in July, prohibits local governments from requiring public charter schools approved and inspected by officials with the state Department of Education to be forced to obtain any other licenses from local government entities to operate their school.The law does not protect a charter school’s signage, however.In the weeks before classes began this school year, a City of Riverdale code enforcement officer left a violation notice on Utopian’s door warning administrators to take action immediately: “Remove banner until permit is issued and apply for a business license.” Miller said that a member of the Clayton County School board advised him that other county schools in Riverdale are not required to have a sign permit or a business license. “Every time that we have attempted to have some type of signage, we were told that we needed a permit or we were being fined because we are not affiliated with the Board of Education in Clayton County,” he said. [columns] [column half][pullquote left]

Where Is Utopian Academy for the Arts? City Prohibits School From Using Sign[/pullquote][/column] [column half]

“It got really nasty,” Miller said of a recent surprise visit from code enforcement before school began."

Miller said that he has received calls and notes from the city warning that Utopian has accrued fees in the hundreds of dollars for violating city business license and sign codes. “It got really nasty,” Miller said of a recent surprise visit from code enforcement before school began. “The guy came and tossed the [fee list] in the face” of a school supporter.Miller took video footage of the visit that shows a code enforcement officer telling him and a school supporter that an inspection of the school’s signage was necessary because “the Georgia Department of Education does not look for stuff like this on buildings.”For the second year in a row, Miller turned to the State Charter Schools Commission for reinforcement. Miller got a letter explaining to the city that schools authorized by the commission are indeed public schools, not businesses.“Utopian Academy for the Arts is a public charter school authorized by the SCSC- a state level authorizing entity under the authority of the state Board of Education,” wrote Gregg Stevens, general counsel for the commission.“Accordingly, Utopian Academy for the Arts should at all times be treated like a public school with the privileges, rights, and obligations afforded thereto …” Utopian opened in August 2014. It was denied the right to exist by the Clayton County School board in 2011, 2012, and 2013 when the district rejected its charter application. The local denial was over-ruled by the state in October 2013. The state Charter Schools Commission granted Utopian Academy the authority to serve kids for five years as a state charter school. It was the first charter school to win approval from the new commission.[/column] [/columns] State Rep. Valencia Stovall, who supported the opening of Utopian in Clayton and co-sponsored the new law protecting charter schools from harassment, said it was “disheartening” to learn that Utopian is still having trouble with local government.“They should be treated as any other public school opening in the city,” Stovall said. “Instead, they have been hit from both sides from the City of Riverdale and the Clayton County School Board.” Stovall said that in addition to racking up fines from the city, Clayton Schools is exercising its right to charge Utopian much higher rent than the building’s earlier tenant. Utopian pays $3,000 a month to use the building compared to the Riverdale Development Authority, which had a lease allowing it to pay $1 annually for 20 years.School leaders say they refused to be forced out of Riverdale by local leaders who see them as competition. “Being in this fight for so long has been a tedious journey for me not only as a board member, but also a parent,” said Sharon Daniel, who chairs Utopian’s governing board. “We will not give up. We will educate the City of Riverdale.Utopian is a public school. We have a right to be here.” CLICK HERE FOR THIS RELEASE IN A DOWNLOADABLE FORMAT