Paige Fraser has performed on world-class stages and in a video with Beyoncé—yet some of her most meaningful dance moments happened in tiny classrooms on a small island 1,000 miles from America. This past spring, Fraser, who's danced with Ailey II and is a founding member of Visceral Dance Chicago, teamed up with the non-profit Milk Carton on a String to bring dance to underprivileged children in Haiti. Fraser taught daily ballet and modern dance classes and used YouTube videos and social media to introduce the students to other aspects of dance they hadn't been exposed to.
Now, Fraser plans to continue to use dance to give back through her own newly-funded non-profit, The Paige Fraser Foundation. But instead of traveling outside the country, Fraser will be helping kids in her childhood home: the Bronx. She wants her foundation to assist aspiring dancers no matter their color or abilities.
Read our interview with the dancer and do-gooder—and discover the life-changing diagnosis that inspired her to help other dancers achieve their dreams.
What made you want to get involved with Milk Carton on a String?
Paige Fraser teaching dance to children in Haiti (courtesy Fraser)
I first found out about MCOAS online. I was looking to get involved with organizations that had a strong focus on dance. After reading their mission statement, doing more research, and following them on Instagram, I felt that I needed to make a trip to Haiti to teach these young, aspiring dancers of color. Representation is so crucial, and I wanted to be an example and show them that someone who looks like them can make it as a professional dancer.
What was your favorite part about teaching in Haiti?
Fraser teaching dance to children in Haiti (courtesy Fraser)
I was mostly inspired by their fearlessness. They loved showing me their back flips, splits, and handstands. Caroline Poppell, the founder of MCOAS, has done an excellent job exposing them to not only dance, but also gymnastics, music, and acting. I focused my classes on the basics of ballet and modern, and they were good at following me and imitating the steps. The students were so excited and so hungry for more information. It was beautiful to watch them struggle and then ultimately succeed. I wish I could have stayed another week to see even more growth because the students were so were so hungry for information.
What do you hope to achieve with The Paige Fraser Foundation?
Photo by Nomee Photography, courtesy Fraser
I'm very passionate about giving back to the next generation, especially my community in the Bronx. Our mission is to provide a safe space for all dancers, with and without disabilities. My foundation's mission is based off my own experience with dance. When I was 13, I was diagnosed with scoliosis, a severe curvature of the spine. Nevertheless I continued dancing. It wasn't easy, but I was fortunate to have people who supported my dreams of becoming a professional dancer. I'd like to help dancers of all abilities to believe that anything is possible. I'm fortunate to dance for a career, and am a proud advocate for those living with scoliosis.
Our first program is scheduled for this fall, and is giving dancers from the Bronx the opportunity to attend a three-day intensive where they can learn from professional dancers.
Why is it so important to make dance available for everyone?
Photo by Fabio Filippi courtesy Fraser
Alvin Ailey said, "Dance is for everybody. I believe that dance came from the people and that it should always be delivered back to the people." This is one of my favorite quotes because it's a reminder that we must share our art. Dance should be accessible for all ages, genders, and races, because movement is healing. It has healed me in so many ways.
What advice do you have for young dancers?
I want them to know that there are many ways to make dance your profession. There are so many dancers who haven't gotten into a professional company or booked their dream show or tour. This is a very competitive and subjective art form. You must stay open and curious, even when things get discouraging. Remember there are many ways you can make your dream come true. Challenge yourself to think outside the box and create your own path. Remain patient and sharpen your tools so that when an opportunity comes, you're ready.