Professionally trained ballet dancer fought the odds to open Chattanooga dance school

Staff file photo / Dancer Fred Davis leads students in warmups during a master class in dance at the Brainerd Recreation Center in Chattanooga.

In the bustling streets of Brooklyn, New York, Fredrick Davis's story unfolded against the backdrop of struggle and hardship. He grew up in poverty, and his world was further complicated by the separation of his parents. Ultimately, though, destiny had a promising path in store for him, leading him far away to the Scenic City of Chattanooga.

When young Davis arrived in Chattanooga with his mother in the late 80s, they struggled and even spent several years being homeless. They stayed in a part of town where violence, drugs and poverty were all too common. Determined to have a better life, Davis went to live with his grandmother — a woman he says taught him many life lessons and instilled in him a strong work ethic.

At age 11, Davis was enrolled in Dance Alive, a summer program designed to provide dance instruction to underprivileged and at-risk youth. He was awarded a scholarship through the Talent Identification Program (TIP), which was also connected with Dance Alive.

"Dance saved me from poverty, drugs and violence," says Davis, now 37. "I could have gone down so many dark paths, but dance, it saved me."

Then, during his sophomore year of high school, Davis' grandmother died from cancer. A young man who had faced adversity throughout his life, he persevered. His community rallied in support. Davis was welcomed into the home of his church's minister, where he lived while working towards his goal of graduating from high school.

Two years passed, and Davis finished high school and received news that changed his life forever: He was offered a full scholarship to Joffrey Ballet School, a world-renowned dance academy in New York City. "New York was always where I wanted to be, and I wanted to be reunited with my father," says Davis.

He spent the next several years working three jobs in modeling, retail and food service just to stay afloat in the city, while studying rigorously and rekindling a relationship with his father.

"You know, things don't come easy at first," Davis says. "You got to work hard and put in the time and due diligence to excel at your craft. It's going to upgrade you and make you into the person you're going to become — that role model, that artist, this human being that is going to become a leader."

Davis landed his first professional ballet job with Roxey Ballet Company in New Jersey. From there, he embarked on a journey across the country, traveling with the company and performing in historic venues such as The Kennedy Center and the Lincoln Theatre. Years of performing throughout the United States prepared Davis for his next chapter — a chapter that will soon unfold in Chattanooga.

Davis hopes to open a performance arts school and a dance company here. It's a bold goal but a doable one, he says. The proposed name for the school is the Tennessee Dance Conservatory, and the dance company would be called the Tennessee Dance Theater.

For now, Davis has a five-year plan and a 10-year plan. He is currently working with a team of industry professionals and investors — people who have strong connections in the community and have the resources to help him build a strong foundation. This is the first stage of his five-year plan.

"I love kids, and I think they need a diverse school culture that's inclusive, to bring change to Chattanooga," Davis says.

He explains that he wants to emphasize diversity, inclusion and change with his new school and company. He feels that there needs to be a dance school in Chattanooga where children of color look around and see other kids who look like them — a place where they can feel at home.

A 2021 online demographic report by Zippia announced that 44% of professional ballet dancers are white, 32% are Latino/Hispanic, 7% are Asian and 4% are Black. According to this report, minorities and men are the least represented across the industry, with less than 25% of ballet dancers being men.

Davis's goal is to give opportunity to all children, particularly marginalized communities.

"I have a wonderful team right now that is going to build this dream from the ground up," he says.

Cost and tuition, class size and curriculum are in the process of being sorted out. When opened, the school and company will shift their focus toward children ranging in age from preschoolers to 10-year-olds.

"The goal and idea are to have a curriculum and foundation that's going to build students to become dancers, to become stronger and to make them the best they can be," says Davis.

Although there is no defined opening date, he remains optimistic.

"Ballet has impacted me in ways that I could never comprehend or fathom," Davis says. "I had no idea where this journey was going to take me."