Once upon a time, in the Virginia Tidewater area, there lived a little boy. He had six siblings, went to school in Virginia Beach and dreamed of becoming a dancer.
His name? Eric Stith.
One day he finally grew up and became a young man. At the age of 18, he moved to Charlotte to fulfill his dream of becoming a dancer. Well on his way, Eric, now 20 years old, lives in a center city apartment and is a member of the Charlotte Ballet II. QNotes met Eric for the first time at a Charlotte Black Pride event featuring dancers of many different styles. His stature, grace and command of space could not go unnoticed.
But who was the young man bringing life to the resonating choreography? We wanted to know more and knew you would too.
What brought you to Charlotte?
I want to be a professional dancer and I wanted to find a way to pursue that. So I started out as a trainee with the Charlotte Ballet Academy. I’ve always had dreams of working with the original Balanchine dancers. The dancers that are slowly dying off because they were at the height of their careers, in their heyday in the ‘60s & ‘70s – these are the legends of dance. Before coming to Charlotte, I didn’t realize there was any more to me than dancing. I don’t think many dancers learn that until much later in life. It’s a blessing, I’ve learned so much already.
So, you graduated high school, came to Charlotte and now life is all about dance?
Well, mostly. Currently I’m enrolled at TCC (Tidewater Community College) [and] working on an Associates in Small Business Management.
What will you do with that?
It’s really just about learning and knowing more information. In the future I want to have my own school. So, knowing more about business is something that I’d like to find out more about so that I am able to speak fluently [about the business of running a dance school] and know what I’m talking about. Being able to work with the right people. Knowing who I need to hire and how to select people with proper qualifications and learning more about the financial side of owning a business are all things I’m excited about learning and applying.
Sounds like a lot of big moves for such a young man. Following big dreams, going to college and moving away from home. Do you live alone here in Charlotte?
No. I live with my roommate. We met around the second day [after I arrived] in Charlotte, during the Charlotte Ballet Summer Intensive Program. We’re both in the Second Company.
Can you explain for our readers what you mean by first and second company and the difference between the two?
The first company has its own agenda. They have their own repertoire and perform primarily for people who come [solely] to see dance. If the Charlotte Ballet is featured in media, what you’ll see is generally performed by the First Company. But, there are instances where we/the Second Company also have opportunities to rehearse and perform with them.
Second company is supposed to be a feeder to the First Company. We’re there to learn the pieces and in the best instances perform them. We have our own pieces that we’re working on that we’re performing for schools (K-12); this year especially, elementary schools and middle school because we’re working on a lot of fairy tales this season.
Who inspires you? Who comes to mind when you think of dancers you admire?
This is gonna’ sound corny but, my mom. She is definitely someone who inspires me. She has her own daycare, her own building. She was doing that before I was born in our house. It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that she had her own building, with employees. She does everything she wants to – with kids who can be hard to deal with at that. Still, she pushes through and she also waits for [the right] time. She’s patient [in her pursuits], which is something I need to learn. As for dancers, Arthur Mitchell; you gotta love him. He inspires me a lot as a dancer, a teacher and choreographer. And, Mel Tomlinson; also a Black dancer with NYC ballet. He passed away a few years ago.
What if you wake up one day and can’t dance? What would you do?
You know, that has been a question on my mind, very recently, I really don’t know. I think I would love teaching, learning and giving what I’ve learned to students. If I couldn’t dance, I would teach.
Many artists fear not being able to perform their art. But the thought you’ve put into that sounds more like a plan and less of a fear. Is there anything that frightens you when you think about your future?
What frightens me is the feeling of not being happy at what I’m doing. My parents stressed to me, get a career not a job, and be happy. So it’s scary for me, the thought of doing something I’m not happy with. Secondly, I’m afraid of not having or trying to find money for the sake of living.
Would you mind sharing with QNotes something most people don’t know about you?
Honestly, that’s hard to answer, I really am an open book and don’t mind sharing my life. I tell people how I feel and very much like to share my opinion, so I don’t have a lot of secrets.
Your musical choice for the Charlotte Pride event was interesting and quite moving. Who are you digging and listening to right now?
I listen to a lot of classical music and a lot of composers that composed for piano. So it’s the typical big ones, Mozart, Chopin, and Schumann. But I like to find new stuff as well, especially when I’m trying to choreograph contemporary pieces. I like loud stuff, music that when you first hear it you’re like, “What the heck?! But I don’t think that. I think “Wow, this is amazing.” And I’m also a big Nicki Minaj fan. I could listen to her all day.
Ever dance to any of her music?
No, I’ve never really thought about it. I just really enjoy listening to her but never thought of choreographing to her. Sometimes when you do that, you end up not liking the music after and I don’t want that to happen with her.
When you’re not dancing, studying or listening to Nicki Minaj, what do you enjoy doing?
I play the piano. I’ve been playing for about a year now. So I practice almost every day but also like to just watch tv and eat snacks. I love Skinny Pop Popcorn, ice cream and Oreo Cookies.
Any advice for kids who want to dance?
I think for a lot of artists, once you start doing it as your job and getting paid for it, your art does lose some of it’s magic because it’s not just for fun anymore it’s for survival. So, make sure you enjoy it. There’s a fire inside everyone, we all have it. It just burns hotter and brighter in some of us. Make sure you keep that fire burning. And let it be big.
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Born in North Carolina, Peyton-Namire has lived in Charlotte for most of his 22 years. On a balmy Friday evening he hangs out at a playground where a celebration of his girlfriend’s mother’s birthday is about to begin.