Dance instructor provides space to bring people together in Florence

May 6, 2019

FLORENCE, S.C. – Dance is the thing that brings everyone together in one space, Adalia Ellis said . And ultimately, it creates connections where friendship can happen.

Ellis is the owner and lead dance instructor at Aroha Arts Collective in Florence. She teaches salsa, bachata and kizomba classes.

Ellis said she has loved dancing since she was a child, but a lot of her dance experience has been unorthodox.

When she was a child, Ellis said there was not as much access for children of color when it came to dance classes. Children of color were not prohibited from classes, but Ellis said being the only brown or bronze-skinned person in a class, she would notice when people felt she should not have been there.

“So a lot of my dance experience – I was in a dance studio in South Carolina for a short time – but I just felt so uncomfortable that I didn’t continue,” Ellis said.

She attended a Baha’I school in Vancouver Island, British Columbia, for high school. She was part of a performing arts group that used dance to address social issues like racism, the inequality of men and women, drugs and alcohol. They used dance to tell stories.

Then after college, Ellis said she lived in South Korea for six years.

“And when I was in Korea, that’s where I got heavy into Latin dance,” she said. “Believe it or not, Salsa is king in Korea, Japan, a lot of the Asian countries. So that’s where I was first certified as a dance instructor, as a Latin dance instructor, by a Korean dance instructor who owned a dance school.”

Ellis was born in Hartsville, moved to Darlington when she was 5 and then Florence when she was 8. But when she left Florence, she said she was never coming back. Things were different then. Ellis said she has been able to live overseas and travel to places such as Africa, Australia and Taiwan, among other places. But it was the Baha’I community and dance that brought her back to Florence.

“I feel like to whom much is given, much is expected,” Ellis said. “You leave and get to have all these experiences, and you want to come back home and give back to your community. So I really wanted to create a space that was different from my experience, that young people of color could come and feel at home and feel loved and accepted.”

Right now, Aroha Arts Collective focuses mainly on adults. She said she wants to provide a space for couples to have a nice evening together and for single people to be able to meet other single people.

“But at the core of it is developing friendships,” she said. “The dance is the thing that brings everyone together in one space. But then ultimately creating connections where friendship can happen.”

Ellis has operated Aroha Arts Collective from different locations since she returned to Florence, but now the studio is located in the Charles W. Gould Business Incubator on the Florence-Darlington Technical College campus at 1951 Pisgah Road in Florence.

“I’m getting to incubate. I’m getting to learn what it is to run a business,” Ellis said. “I’d rather make mistakes here than get myself locked into a lease. Make mistakes; learn in this kind of space. I think incubators are really, really vital for small businesses.”

At the Charles W. Gould Business Incubator, Ellis said she not only has a studio for dance, but she also has access to two meeting rooms and a common area.

Several things are planned for Aroha Arts Collective in June. Ellis said she is starting fundamental classes at Soule Café in Florence. People will be able to learn the basics of the salsa, bachata and kizomba dances in three-week cycles.

“This is a partner dance, so we really need the guys,” Ellis said.

At her studio, Ellis will offer a goddess series.

“The goddess series, I’m really excited about it, because this is where I really get to take dance and connect it to the heart and soul of women,” she said.

Women will get to spend three weeks learning “soulful salsa,” “beautiful bachata,” and “queen kizomba.” Each type of dance is taught in three weeks, and the women who participate will perform it.

“When you say beautiful bachata, we’re not just talking about the dance. We’re talking about the women dancing the dance,” Ellis said. “Queen, we’re talking about queens dancing kizomba, the soul of women dancing salsa.”

Children also will be able to learn in the studio this summer. Ellis will offer summer dance camps in June, July and August for children ages 12 to 14. Children will do partner dancing and learn salsa, bachata and hip hop.

“So, they will also be focusing, too, on character, respecting yourself, respecting each other,” Ellis said. “I think one of the things that partner dance does, it teaches young men and young women how to interact with each other in healthy ways. Having boundaries, but then being able to figure out how do you share that space with someone of the opposite sex.”

Each camp will end with a performance, and there will be an end-of-summer formal.

In the future, Ellis said she is considering offering a baby wearing class for moms and dads and also a class for families.

More information about Aroha Arts Collective can be found at arohaartscollective.com.