CLAIM TO FAME
Last year, Lajeromeny Brown, 11, performed as the youngest member of Tennessee Temple's recruitment/educational dance team. Earlier this month, he danced the lead role in a community performance of the play "Once Upon a Princess." Earlier this year, he received the Mayor's Distinguished Citizen Award for a speech he wrote about Black History Month founder Carter G. Woodson. This summer, he volunteered to help teach dance classes at a summer camp at the Chambliss Shelter.
Do you know a child age 13 or younger with a precocious talent in academics, athletics or the arts? The Times Free Press is searching for children to feature in "Talent Show," which appears in the Life section on Tuesdays. To nominate a child as a possible subject of a future feature article, e-mail staff writer Casey Phillips at email@example.com or call him at 423-757-6205.
Even sitting in a chair, Lajeromeny Brown can't stop dancing.
As the 11-year-old talks, his slender body is in a constant state of motion, his shoulders rolling and his legs stretching out, toes pointed.
For as long as Lajeromeny (pronounced la-JER-man-ee) has been able to walk, dance has been a favorite way to express himself. At times, it also has served as a way to silence his critics.
"If somebody says something to me that I don't like, if I dance, I feel so much better," he said. "I feel like nothing can make me happier than when I dance."
Lajeromeny's dance studies have been wide ranging, from ballet and modern dance to jazz and tango, but his favorite style is hip-hop, which he learned to love through his mother, Tiara Ward.
Among the earliest memories Lajeromeny has of moving to music revolve around his mother, who led the dance team at Howard High School when she attended there. At the kindergarten prom for Woodmore Elementary, the mother-son team danced so well they drew a crowd.
Lajeromeny didn't receive any formal dance training until early 2010 when he enrolled in lessons at Wesley Chapel Christian Community Church about a block from his home on Wilson Street near Holtzclaw Avenue.
Joyce Fletcher started offering free classes at Wesley Chapel as an outreach to neighborhood children as an alternative to joining gangs. This summer, she asked Lajeromeny to help her as a teaching assistant during a summer dance program she ran at the Children's Home-Chambliss Shelter on Gillespie Road.
About a dozen times during the summer, Lajeromeny visited the center, where he helped the students learn a piece he and Fletcher choreographed.
"They really looked up to me as a role model and a good person," he said. "I was proud because they learned it so quick and were so enthusiastic."
On Aug. 4, Lajeromeny led an 85-person cast in a production at the Chambliss Shelter of the dancing drama "Once Upon a Princess," which Fletcher wrote in the mid-1990s.
Fletcher has been teaching dance at public schools in Atlanta and Chattanooga since 1962. In that time, she said she only has encountered four other children with Lajeromeny's skill and passion.
"The other children that are of his caliber are from well-to-do families," Fletcher said. "... He is moving on. His potential is unlimited."
In addition to his studies with Fletcher, Lajeromeny last year was one of the youngest members of an educational outreach dance team at Tennessee Temple University. He said he hopes to return to the team this year.
Earlier this month, Lajeromeny entered sixth grade at Center for Creative Arts, where he is majoring in dance and chorus.
His home room and language arts teacher John Echols said that, even after less than two weeks, Lajeromeny's commitment to his art form is evident.
"At this time in the South, it's still a little unusual for a young man to be excited about dance, but that doesn't seem to stop him," Echols said. "He's pretty determined to be a dancer, and he's not embarrassed or ashamed about that."
Although dancing has always been Lajeromeny's greatest love, it hasn't always been popular among his peers. While they accept hip-hop, he said they balk at his enthusiasm for ballet.
Not that he's bothered by what they think.
"I keep doing it because I could care less what they say," he said, shrugging. "When they're in jail somewhere, I'll be on stage, so it doesn't matter."
Lajeromeny's grandmother said that, while she is moved by her grandson's talent, she is even more touched by his determination to follow his dream.
"I knew he would overcome all these hurdles he would have to go through, if they gave him a chance and saw him dance," Ward said. "There are going to be obstacles in everyone's life.
"It's up to you to let it stop you or jump over it, and my grand-baby is jumping over it, regardless. That makes me so proud."