When Nikki Taylor started as a Girls Inc. participant at the South Park Center, she was certain about a few things.
She knew her parents were divorcing. She felt alone. And she knew she could dance. She wasn't sure about much else, including what it would be like to interact with SO many girls.
Her journey since then took her through dance studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, a stint in Dallas and back to Memphis. Today she's a busy member of the Collage Dance Collective and she's still teaching, still helping.
"I'm one of those people who wants to do what needs to be done for the future," she said, "which is why I want to work with children. I want them to have something I didn't have. I push them to be something they never expected."
Nikki began studying dance at age 3. Within a few months of starting at Girls Inc., she found herself teaching dance to her fellow participants.
"Since I was so young, they were interested in what I was doing," Nikki said. "They wanted to be a part of it. I was like a big sister, I guess."
But even before that, her Girls Inc. experience had uncovered layers of who she was and what she was about.
"I started opening up," she says. "I realized I like to help."
In addition to teaching dance to other participants, she helped counselors with everything from setting up for snack time to organizing camping trips and fashion shows. And she got some extra exposure to girl power when she went with her mom to work at the Girls Inc. administrative office.
“It was all these wonderful, strong women," Nikki said. "They may have issues with their families or in their lives, but they didn't bring that to work. It was amazing to be around them. It was very empowering."
Those Girls Inc. lessons helped drive her from there on, including four years studying dance performance and choreograhy at Southern Mississippi.
"That was a tough four years," she said. "I had academics and dance classes throughout the day then I would practice all night. It was tough but it was good."
After graduation in 2011, she moved to Dallas, where some of her family lives. But after 7 or 8 months she decided Memphis held more opportunity for her. Back home she happend to learn about Collage Dance Collective--and she found her focus.
"I was a student, training up to company level," she said. "Plus I was teaching in a Collage satellite program at Collegiate Middle School. Kids picked dance because classical and ballet wasn't specified. They had no clue. But I have students from there who now are in college conservatory programs."
A typical day for her is to attend a class at 9 a.m., rehearsal from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. then teaching til 7 or 8 p.m. She teaches 35 to 40 kids per/each week. On top of all that, she still makes time to teach ballet for Girls Inc. summer programs.
What drives her? Talent, passion, hard work--and the transforming lessons she learned as a Girls Inc. girl.
"I see now that I became more outgoing. And Girls Inc. brought the leadership side out of me. They gave me all these sisters that I wasn't expecting to get. All of the people at Girls Inc. are like part of my family."