Amiya Alexander offers dance classes in her mobile studio.

Fifteen-year-old Amiya Alexander, a 2010 Black Enterprise Teenpreneur nominee, is striving to help her community thrive through dance and health education. Her mission: to eradicate childhood obesity through her mobile dance academy. The academy, for Detroit students age 2 to 12, provides dance lessons in ballet, tap, jazz, salsa, and hip-hop. Amiya also teaches classes in healthy eating and wellness.

Amiyah’s efforts are also helping keep those in her community from chipping away at their wealth. Annual healthcare costs to treat obesity-related illness are about $190.2 billion, or nearly 21% of annual medical spending in the U.S., according to a report in the Journal of Health Economics. Childhood obesity is responsible for about $14 billion in direct medical costs. Obese children often remain obese in adulthood. As adults, they are more likely to struggle financially than those who are not obese. Some studies have shown that obesity is associated with more missed time from work and lower wages and household income.

Through her for-profit company, Amiya’s Mobile Dance Academy, Amiya teaches students who would not otherwise be able to afford the cost of formal dance instruction, which can cost anywhere from $30 to $60 a class. With the help of donations, she is able to offer her students a discounted rate of $11.50 per class. She has also created a scholarship fund to help students who cannot afford to pay. Amiya’s company receives monetary donations as well as dance equipment such as pointe shoes and leotards. Television personality Dr. Phil also has a section on his foundation website through which donations can be made.

Amiya, who has been dancing since she was 2 years old, got the idea for her own dance academy at the age of 9. She discussed it with her mother, Teberah Alexander, who immediately agreed to help with her effort. Teberah, with the help of family donations, made a total investment of about $20,000 to get the mobile dance studio up and running. This money helped them purchase a 52-passenger school bus, have the seats removed, and have ballet barres and wood flooring installed. (Classes are held inside the pink school bus.)

The decision to create a studio on wheels was a response to high gas prices and parents’ busy work schedules. In addition, Amiya says that since many of the families may not have cars, she chose to go to them. This way, classes would always be accessible to the students and convenient for the parents. Alexander credits her mother and Dr. Ben Carson with influencing her desire to give back to her community. “Reading Dr. Ben Carson’s book Gifted Hands (Zondervan; $6.99) was transformative. He is from the inner city of Detroit and has accomplished so much and has really given back.”

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