Faculty & Staff

China Smith Founding Artistic Director

China Smith performer, director, teacher, producer, and now, Founding Director of Ballet Afrique and East Austin Performing Raised in East Austin herself, as well as teaching dance for over eight years in East Austin schools and performing arts programs, China found limited opportunities for exposure to African American art, which she felt was crucial to the self-empowerment of her young predominantly African American students. With strong roots in the community, China served as the Director of Performing Arts at Texas Empowerment Academy from 2004 -2011 where she developed curriculum for the performing arts program, advises on hiring, teaches dance for grades 5-9, and has established a youth performing company. Since 2004, she fully produces the dance productions at TEA, serving as director, choreographer, theatre set/tech designer, costume designer, accountant, and advertising/promoter. These productions include Blackout (annually 2005-2008), Out the Box (2011), Message In the Music (201, Where We Come From (2008), Moving in the Blue (2006), Connected (2005), East Austin Revival (2004). Drawn to the stage at an early age, nine-year-old China debuted as a dancer/actor in Porgy and Bess at the Bass Concert Hall. Since then, China has danced in countless productions and events in Austin, including Tapestry Dance Company’s Esprit, Austin Salsa Music Festival, Discover by Roy Lozano’s Ballet Folklorico de Texas, Huston-Tillotson’s Hispanic Heritage Festival, DANCEfest, African American Festival of Dance, and Puerto Rican Folkloric Dance Company’s Celebrando. China danced at the 2008 Black Arts Movement festival in the debut performance of Ballet Afrique to name a few. China’s “street dance” style was developed through her extensive travels throughout the Caribbean studying traditional African derived folk dance. From 1998 – 2005, however, China chooses to focus her studies on traditional dance from Puerto Rico training directly under Bomba and Plena dance Master Modesto Cepeda. China began studying choreography with Kathy Dunn Hamrick in 2001 and has actively been creating dance works ever since. In 2008 with the creation of Ballet Afrique, China made a priority of getting the training that was not accessible to her as a young street dancer. Now training in classical ballet, modern dance, including Horton and Graham Technique, and African dance, China has had the rare opportunity to train with Master dancers/choreographers such as Dudley Williams, Mel Tomlinson, Bruce Wood, Milton Myers and Chuck Davis.

Ryane Byrd, Associate Artistic Director

Ryane Noelle Byrd is an Austin Native who gained her passion for dance from China Smith as one of the first members of the Ballet Afrique Academy In 2009. At Ballet Afrique she intensely studied Modern, Ballet, and West African techniques and had the opportunity to be featured in Amy Poehler’s Youtube show “Smart Girls at the Party” and be featured in a documentary presented by PBS on Ballet Afrique entitled “A Reason to Dance”. From there, her love for dance continued as she grew with Ballet Afrique and got accepted into the McCallum Fine Arts Academy. In 2014 she went on to receive her Bachelors of Fine Arts in dance and her Bachelors of Business Administration in Entrepreneurship from the University of North Texas in Denton. Where she had the opportunity to work with world-renowned artists such as Rennie Harris, Jake Bone, and more. As new Associate Artistic Director she is excited to introduce students to a more robust and developed curriculum in which she will expose students to the tools needed to be successful dancers, but also developed problem solvers and thinkers.

Wendy Bascom, Dance Instructor

Wendy Bascom was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico. She was exposed to rhythms and dances of the region at an early age. After she was established in Austin, she focused her energies on additional Latin and Afro-Latin dance styles such as Bachata, Salsa and Kizomba. She has performed on big stages during dance Festivals and Congresses such as Oaxaca Salsa & Bachata Festival(Mexico), Houston Salsa Congress(US), B.I.G. Salsa Festival(US) and NeoKizomba Festival(US) with her teams, as well as on local venues.
Additionally she has participated in other dance events such as Miami Bachata Festival, Dallas Bachata Festival, Bachateando Miami, Aventura Dance Cruise, Afro-Latin Festival and Texas Salsa Congress taking numerous hours of training with internationally recognized talent such as Vladimir Pineda(Mexico) , Amneris Martinez(Spain), Juan Matos(Italy), Magna Gopal(US), Sara Lopez(Spain) and Enah & Carolina(Paris) just to mention a few.
She is one of the Executive Directors of Pa’La Rumba Austin, which offers training and performance opportunities for Ladies and Kids. She is passionate about dancing and helping individuals in different stages of their dancing journey to grow and excel. Pa’La Rumba is in a mission to contribute to making our local dance community bigger and stronger.