Tahira Aliya Page is an international dancer who uses her passion for dance as a means to give back to her community, West Los Angeles/ Little Ethiopia. With 32 years of experience as a dancer, having trained in private dance studios in California, Europe, and South America, Page now dedicates her time to mentoring, volunteering, and teaching dance lessons to young girls of color in her dance studio, Project 18Fourty.
Page is one of the few African American, Russian trained ballerinas in the city. According to Page, it takes about a minimum of five hours of training a week as a child to master the conditioning for Russian style ballet. That alone combined with her education in performance enhancement and corrective exercise from the National Association of Sports Medicine makes her a force to be reckoned with and a qualified dance instructor.
Entering the World of Dance
At a young age, Page, decided to become a dancer after being exposed to one ballet lesson she attended with a childhood friend. After her first class, her instructor spoke to her mother, and told her that Page had a natural gift. However, growing up in an Islamic household with 14 siblings, eight girls and six boys, (Page is the youngest of a total of 15 children) her career choice was a bit surprising.
“[Growing up] my mom was my inspiration. She used to be an ice skater and she gave up her ice skating career to have 15 children. My dad, he was a journalist. He worked for the Final Call Newspaper, formally known as Muhammad Speaks. In an Islamic household, [dance] is really not the first thing you push. We have a lot of accountants and nurses. They don’t really focus on entertainment,” said Page.
Although Page came from a large family, her mother and father did what they could to invest in her dance lessons. As the years went by, Page went on to perfect her craft by traveling around the world to train in private dance studios with the best of the best.
Here’s what Page had to say about her past encounters and experience as an African American ballet dancer.
“[Growing up] I expressed to my mom that I didn’t like looking different. Sometimes we had to wear clip on hair so that we could all look uniform. Just imagine dancing and having to worry about your ponytail falling off,” said Page. “Now ballet has changed with Misty Copeland and Debbie Allen…but when I was a kid, there was a time when you always knew that you were an outsider. My mom always told me, ‘never feel like an outsider, feel like an overachiever. Go past and beyond their skill.’”
Page would carry the lessons her mother instilled in her throughout her dance career and later incorporate them into her classes as a dance instructor.
Creating The Dance Studio
Prior to having her own studio, Page taught dance lessons in her house. The idea to start her own studio came to her after her son’s friends sisters saw Page conditioning and asked her to teach them.
“That was literally the light bulb moment [when I said to myself] ‘I don’t want to be the only African American Russian trained ballerina in this area.’ I think that is an insult to our culture, there are a lot of kids who have unbelievable natural talent and I was one of those kids,” she said.
To date, Project 18Fourty has been open seven years and has continued to grow in size. Page went from training four students to training 24 students and counting. During the dance classes, which are taught in French, Page teaches the girls ballet terminology to better equip them with the tools they need to confidently walk into any audition around the world. Page also incorporates self-esteem and life lessons into her classes. One of the ways she executes that is through what she calls, sister circle.
“We all stand in a circle and hold hands and go one-by-one giving each other a true compliment. Some days they are about a person’s technique and other days they are about a person’s character,” she said. “For me, that’s one of things that bonds us. Then when we break the circle, the first person that we see when we leave the studio we offer them a compliment.” Page goes on to say that a lot of her students spend a night at her home.
Project 18Fourty has had the opportunity to perform at places like the Los Angeles City Council for Council President Herb Wesson and at a showcase in Beverly Hills. However, their most memorable experience was performing at Disneyland. Project 18Fourty was the first all African American dance group to perform mainstream at the theme park. The following day, Project 18Fourty was invited back to perform their choreography on the main stage at Disneyland.
“The goal [of Project 18Fourty] is to introduce art to those who would not be exposed to such art due to social or economic issues. I was that kid that lived in that community and it was the support of my family, community and coach’s that developed my passion. Dance was a need for me and so I decided to ensure my love of dance through education with constantly studying dance and securing a background in performance enhancement and youth kinetics,” said Page.
As far as advice is concerned, Page encourages young girls who are unable to get to her studio to continue pursuing dance.
“Dance is in your heart, it’s in your soul. You can have professional skills and have professional dance classes going in the kitchen. A lot of these girls use their window seals as a barre, or they use the fire place, on the balcony. As long as it’s something that you want and you are driven towards that don’t stop,” said Page.
Page’s future business goals include expanding the size of her dance studio and focusing on her students. Project 18Fourty is located at 5872 w. Pico Blvd. Los Angeles, California 90035. For more information on the hours of operation and summer classes at the dance studio please call (323) 892-6046 and visit @7thdancer on Instagram. Children who have a parent in the California Correctional Facility are welcome to attend classes free of charge!