Gina Tate has good timing. The dancer, choreographer and owner of The Pointe! Studio of Dance in Greensboro seems to have a knack for choosing just the right show to submit to the National Black Theatre Festival, held biennially in Winston-Salem. This year, Tate submitted “Prideland: A Dance Adaptation of ‘The Lion King,’ ” which her troupe will perform July 30-31 during the festival.
And it’s just the right time, with everyone buzzing about the new “Lion King” movie out this month. But this isn’t the first time the stars aligned for Tate when it comes to the festival.
“Every show we’ve done, there’s been something big before it or right after it. It’s God,” she says. “We did ‘The Wiz’ right around the time they did a live version of it on television, and the same year we decided to do ‘Annie,’ Jamie Foxx released his new version of that. Everybody’s always like, ‘Miss Gina, how are you doing that?!’”
“Prideland” is an all-dance interpretation, choreographed by Tate, of the classic story of the lion Simba and his ascent to the head of the animal kingdom. And unlike the Broadway musical version of the tale, Tate’s interpretation is strictly told through dance, with no spoken dialogue.
“We call it a theatrical ballet — it really is theater through movement,” she says. “You will not hear any vocals except the voice-overs. You only see the dancers acting through movement to the words in the music.”
The co-ed performance is made up mostly of children ranging in age from 6 years old to high schoolers. Tate explains that they practiced and performed the show during the spring, but once it breaks for the summer, the group only gets a few days to rehearse before the National Black Theatre Festival performance. Many of her students participate in summer programs at prestigious institutions such as the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater and Debbie Allen Dance Academy.
“It’s a challenge, but they are such professionals,” she says. “Kids are like sponges — they don’t forget a whole lot.”
Tate’s students especially seem to absorb a lot under her tutelage. Her studio — which opened in 2006 — has trained countless young dancers for careers in the field. One of her former students is even performing now as part of the Broadway production of “Hamilton.”
Tate offers scholarships and reduced-price workshops to make sure cost isn’t a barrier for potential students. She says she wants to encourage these kids to discover and hone their talent, giving them the push to succeed that she wishes she had growing up.
“I didn’t have that opportunity, and I wanted it,” she says. “My parents didn’t really believe an African American could make it in the dance world — they were just ignorant to the fact that you could make a career out of it. Giving these kids the opportunity to make this a career is my intent — I make sure I’m always uplifting and providing opportunity.”
That’s one of the reasons she submits to the National Black Theatre Festival. Performers and companies must submit their work for inclusion, and the competition is steep. Tate says she feels fortunate having been selected several times now, and sees the recognition as another way for her kids to shine.
“It’s an honor because we’re a small dance studio in Greensboro, and we’re actually getting a main stage show like the professionals from around the world,” she says. “And it’s not just for myself — the kids get to put this on a resume — we’re just all about their successes.”