Nestled in the vibrant heart of Harvey lies the Legacy School of Performing Arts, a dance institution where ancestral ties intertwine with the boundless dreams of a younger generation.
Pagan McClure is its founder and artistic director. The school has transformed the basement of Transformation Community United Methodist Church, its dance headquarters, into a performance and practice space.
“The word ‘legacy’ in itself is a major component to our school’s foundation. We take pride in honoring those before us in performing arts,” McClure said. “We use our program as a way to pay homage to those before us.”
Students are nurtured, guided, and encouraged to connect with their roots, embracing the wisdom and creativity of their ancestors while fearlessly pushing the boundaries of artistic exploration.
McClure, a lifelong dancer, founded Legacy in 2018—her dream to “open the doors to children of all walks of life,” regardless of economic status. The faculty show up and give support to kids who may not be celebrated elsewhere. “One thing I really take pride in about our school is the ability to help boost our performers’ confidence,” McClure said.
Legacy takes current pop culture trends and alchemizes them into a visually arresting storytelling experience and social commentary. The group is fresh off of the premiere of “The Butterfly Effect: Kendrick Lamar.” The cine film transcribed the Grammy award-winning rapper’s discography into a piece about gun violence, youth mental health, and even social media addiction.
The school rejects traditional labels like beginner, intermediate, and advanced. Each student is placed in a unique and fun category named after a performing arts icon. Pupils, ranging from two to 18, learn ballet, jazz, modern and tap dances, but also culinary arts. They take vocal lessons and engage in musical theatre to develop their repertoire. There’s even “Scratch Academy,” exploring the art of DJ-ing.
Jamir Diggs, 13, and Darius Blount, 16, have both been dancers at the school since it first opened. They were influenced to join after the school’s first male dancer, a friend of theirs, convinced them.
Both Diggs and Blount asserted that the space provides an escapism from worldly mires.
Diggs said that he would recommend Legacy to other kids his age because “it’s more than just dance—it’s a way of life. The lessons we are taught here will live with us for the rest of our lives,” adding he’s confident “that this is an opening and possible career for my future.”
Shermetrius Bush is the Director of Student Affairs at Legacy, handling special events and bookings and has been with the school for about four years, during which her younger sister has joined.
“We’re all about celebrating artistry. Everything has a story to it,” Bush said. Other performances include the “Legacy High: Honoring Busta Rhymes,” and “Dereque’s Legacy: Alvin’s Wildest Dream,” an homage to legendary choreographer and namesake of the famed New York dance institution, Alvin Ailey.
“We try to tell the story through the kids’ eyes, and highlight issues and struggles that they go through,” Bush said.
At the “Butterfly Effect” private premiere, staff noted white performers once lunged racial slurs at Legacy students in a locker room at a competition.
“Without Legacy, who knows where they’d be,” Bush said.
Sharon Malone serves as Director of Music, first shaping Legacy’s dance education programming. Now, she educates students in music, music theory, and the music industry at-large. “I think the kids enjoy the fact that we show up not only for the school but whatever they have going on in life,” Malone said. “I think they like the sense of being wanted, being loved.”
The group currently relies upon small business support, donors, and tuition to get by.
Last year, the school made history as the first all-Black performance group to lead the daytime parade at ‘Dance the Magic’ in Disney World. It was the first time a lot of students ever left their neighborhoods,” McClure said.
The kids most recently performed at nationals. But additional community support would go a long way, faculty said.
“I think that if they [residents] see them, they’ll love them as much as we do,” Bush said.
Malone expressed that she would like for Harvey city officials—namely Black ones—to speak to the kids and attend shows to inspire and encourage them.
Next month marks the five year anniversary, culminating in a free festival at Transformation on 154th Street & Lexington Avenue Saturday, August 5, between 4pm and 9pm. Blair Christian of MTV’s Wild ‘N’ Out will host.
Malone hopes someday, Legacy can become like the Henry W. Allen School, a culturally significant elementary school that once taught over 600 kids in New Orleans, Louisiana.
Expansion plans over the next handful of years include becoming a franchise and hopes of Legacy’s own community center.
Students interested in joining can enroll on their website or by sending an email to the academy.