Though humans have expressed themselves through dance since the dawn of time, most don’t make a career out of it. Some of us take the occasional Zumba class at the gym; others may simply enjoy watching a good musical number on TV, or at the theatre. Many just consider dance a fun hobby and a great way to keep in shape. And then there’s Nicole Thomas.
She doesn’t “play dance”- she lives, eats, and breathes it.
Affectionately nicknamed “Miss Pinky” by Savion Glover, a Tony – award -winning choreographer and childhood friend, Thomas has been dancing for most of her life and has the credentials to prove it. A U City native, she began taking lessons at age five from the Pelagie Green Wren Academy of Dance in ballet, tap, and jazz. After Thomas received her BFA in Dance from the University of Illinois Champaign-Urbana in 2001, she traveled extensively throughout the country and performed with the Katherine Dunham Senior Dance Company – SIUE, CounterGroove, Spirit of Angela West African Drum and Dance Ensemble, and many others. Some of her teaching credits include the Debbie Allen Dance Academy, Kaatsbaan International Dance Center, and Wadleigh School for the Performing Arts in Harlem, New York. She is also one of few in the world who is currently a candidate for certification to become an instructor of the Katherine Dunham technique – a style of dance that fuses classical ballet/modern with dances of the African Diaspora. In 2006, Thomas opened Pinx Academy of Dance in the Olive Link’s Industrial District.
“I love the Olive Link,” says Thomas. “It’s centrally located and brings all cultures together.”
Now in its ninth year, Pinx Academy is one of the only dance studios in the U City area. Thomas offers ballet, tap, jazz, hip-hop, African dance, and majorette, as well as hosting an array of guest artists and workshops. Anyone is welcome – Thomas’ students range from age three to eighty and come from a variety of cultural backgrounds. In fact, since her clientele is so diverse, Thomas teaches in four different languages: English, Spanish, French, and American Sign Language.
Not only is Thomas the primary instructor at Pinx, she also is the carpenter, plumber, and master decorator for the Academy. Pictures, costumes, and hand-painted murals adorn the walls, transforming the once-abandoned building into a unique space representing Pinx Academy and the Olive Link culture. One mural, designed by a friend, is an ancient Baobab tree. The tree, native only to Africa, may live for thousands of years and represents Thomas’ complete devotion to dance, her students, and the desire to help others in the U City community and beyond.
The mural represents her character well; Thomas teaches in juvenile detention centers, children’s homes, and school districts throughout the metropolitan area to provide an artistic outlet to those who may not have access to a dance program. In addition, Thomas has recently started her own non-profit. According to the mission statement, Project Pinx aims to, “expose and educate underprivileged youth to dances rooted in the African diaspora and the region’s rich artistic traditions.” Thomas was inspired to start Project Pinx after seeing talented young girls in the U City neighborhood making up dances without a safe space to practice.
“If I can help them feel like kids again for one or two hours a week, I will,” says Thomas. “I want kids moving and active. I want them to feel good about themselves – no matter what their background is, no matter what they look like, or where they come from.”
Eventually, she hopes Project Pinx will travel to larger communities that do not have the funds and resources to start their own programs. For now, though, Thomas keeps busy in the diverse Olive Link area, inspiring others to work hard, dream big, and of course – dance.
“I want to push the kids as much as they can. I want them to take pride in their work, to take pride in themselves,” says Thomas. “I am here to educate, and I am here to dance.”
6537 Olive Boulevard
University City, MO 63130
Phone: (314) 304-7719