If it’s a weeknight, you’ll find Michael Hayes here, at the front of the dance studio at the WC Reid Center. Music is pulsing, the room is packed with kids ranging from toddler to young adult, and all eyes are on Hayes as he leads the group through a grueling, acrobatic two-hour workout of expertly choreographed moves, alternately shouting orders, cajoling, laughing, criticizing and handing out praise. “I’ve been blessed with a vision,” Hayes says — and he’s devoting himself completely to making that vision a reality.
Hayes is the director and creative force behind Asheville’s Urban Arts Institute, which was founded in 2007 to provide a safe, positive environment and creative inspiration to children in need. Today the group serves over 150 children with after-school classes in dance, drama and music. The dance troupe Eternity in particular has made a splash on the scene this year, with high-profile performances at Goombay, the LEAF festival, and the Arts Council’s Turquoise Ball. Just recently the organization became a partner in local nonprofit arts powerhouse Arts2People, which will help them expand their programs.
A largely self-taught dancer, Hayes choreographed his first performance at the age of 9 for a group of teenagers entering a competition back in his hometown of Winston-Salem; they won, and a passion was born. Through the ups and downs of a complicated life, dance has remained his passion, and now he’s sharing that with kids and young adults in need of direction.
And his motivating influence extends beyond the walls of the dance studio. “I want these kids to understand that each of them has a gift inside, and they need to discover it and live it,” he says. Students are required to maintain a minimum C average in school to participate in the program, but he notes with pride that a number of them are making A’s now; several who had dropped out have now returned for their GEDs, and some have even enrolled at AB Tech. “It’s not about me. It’s about them,” Hayes says, beaming. Then he repeats his refrain: “I’ve just been blessed.”