If you peek into the broad, transparent windows of Xfinity Dance Academy in the afternoon, you will witness a ballet or hip-hop class with its members swirling and strutting vigorously on a flat, wooden dance floor. Each Wednesday evening at 8:30, however, the sound of clicking heels and blaring pop music fills the room. This “Stiletto Style” class is taught by Southern Miss’s own senior dance major Taylor Lucien.
“EJ [the owner] originally started the Stiletto class, but overtime it eventually died out. When I first started dancing here, there was carpet, no mirrors, no sign out front. Real sketch,” Lucien said. “Yet it was extra dance for me, being a dance major.”
Lucien plans to open her own company that emphasizes heel dancing.
“USM is not going to give me everything I need. So through doing this I’ve learned the different avenues I should be taking that USM has not told me: going to different auditions, what I need to be looking out for, how I need to carry myself,” Lucien said.
Aside from the professionalism lessons, Lucien said she has also learned her own style of leadership while dancing at Xfinity.
“I just don’t myself as the kind of person to be like ‘Alright guys,” Lucien said. “I’d rather be like, ‘Alright what we doing?’ So this has really forced me to take action and be prideful about things. But the fact that people want to learn my choreography blows my mind.”
Lucien’s students, many of which are Southern Miss students and alumni, speak eagerly about their love for the class. One of the class’s regulars, Timeiya Harris, a senior theatre major, remembered the shock of the class’s layers. Even twerking had its own choreography.
“It really helps me with heels. It gives more momentum, more stamina and it makes my endurance go through the roof. It makes everything without heels feel so much easier. It’s a great confidence builder,” Harris said.
Erret Jones, otherwise known as “EJ,” is the owner of Xfinity Dance Academy and a Southern Miss Dance program Alumni. Jones has owned his own dance company since 2001.
“I started in high school. I graduated in 2004 and started my first dance program in 2001. I basically rented out a community center. I did shows, events, arts in the park, and around 2014 I opened up my first studio in 2014 in Picayune, Mississippi,” he said.
In the following decade, Jones opened another sector in Slidell, Louisiana, as well as Wiggins, his hometown. He proceeded to sell the Wiggins branch and leave Mississippi, transferring from Southern Miss to Florida State University, then to Duke University, to eventually return to finish at Southern Miss and open a new studio in Oak Grove. However, Jones met this return to Hattiesburg with initial resentment.
“Honestly, I was not supposed to be in Hattiesburg. I was not supposed to come back, because that clientele I just didn’t want. I was just so used to Slidell and Picayune. Hattiesburg area is not really big in the arts. Coming from Slidell and Picayune, they take arts very seriously. So I didn’t look at Hattiesburg as a place that wanted anything,” Jones explained.
After three years in Oak Grove, Jones finally made the move to Hardy Street to seek out new clientele.
Compared to what felt like a close-minded community in Oak Grove, the Hardy Street community brought back something into Jones’ life and work that he felt began to waver after such a long, straining career: family.
“People in Hattiesburg, they are loving, giving, they are family. And I started my studio based off of family. But in the course of all my years I got away from that. But now, I’m back where I started. You want to have a relationship with the clientele, have a relationship with the kids, go to their parties and graduations,” he said.
In only a year since transitioning to Hardy Street, Jones has managed to triple his clientele. He continues efforts to make the Xfinity Dance Academy grow by reaching out to other community artists. He keeps an extremely hands-off approach on other people’s courses, allowing students like Lucien freedom to explore their craft.
“I’m trying to build an outside. Trying to give more artists, choreographers, teachers and educators an opportunity to come here and not have a studio owner that just takes and takes. I’m getting up in age and I want to be more of a mentor. To do that, I have to trust educators to do their job,” Jones said.
Jones and his team only continue to grow and have big plans of expanding. If you are interested, you can always step in and come learn to be confident in heels every Wednesday at 8:30 pm.