M&T Performing Arts

Dawn Cauthen-Thornton | January 17th, 2019
M&T Performing Arts students (Photos by Still Shots Photography)

M&T Performing Arts students (Photos by Still Shots Photography)

If you’ve never met someone who was born to do something, it’s time you’re introduced to Tamela Yelverton. According to her track record, she was born to move. For as long as she can remember, she has performed in front of a crowd, so it was no surprise when she told her husband that she wanted to open a school for the performing arts.

Tamela’s passion has been brewing since she was a child. She began dancing in elementary school with different dance companies, then transitioned to cheer in middle school and focused solely on cheering through high school at Ben L. Smith where she served as captain of their squad. She also taught young children with ‘Cheer America’, during this time. Once she graduated high school, she was ready to try something different. That’s when she discovered the dance team at N.C. A&T SU, the illustrious, Golden Delight.

“I went to University Day at A&T and saw my friend Erica Ravenell, who used to be a cheer captain at Smith. She has always been a role model to me, from a cheer-dance perspective. I saw her performing with Golden Delight and the marching band and got chills all over my body! They were lit! And I knew that was going to be me,” Tamela remembers.

She didn’t realize what she was up against. Of the 76 other girls vying for a spot, Tamela was the only one without marching band experience. While many were taking breaks and chatting with friends, Tamela put in extra work to ensure she had every step as perfect as she could get them. The extra time paid off, because, not only did she make the team her freshman year, she represented Golden Delight for four consecutive seasons. Her skills were often honored by being selected to lead stand dances during games, which is an accolade that only the best can claim.

Being on the dance team filled her schedule but she somehow still found time to lead the dance ministry at High Point Solid Rock Ministries. The pastor, William K. Harper stayed abreast of her school schedule, not wanting to overload the ambitious student.

“I choreographed liturgical dances, helped with special occasion performances, and taught other instructors,” she explains.

Tamela also found the time to attend cosmetology school, which was another passion, outside of performing. Within 2 years she managed to complete cosmetology school, finish her run with Golden Delight, and most importantly, meet her future husband, Michael, who was a music major at A&T.

In 2007 the two tied the knot, and she held her first dance class in the basement of their three-level townhome later that year. She started with a small group of students and called them ‘Dancers of Praise’, specializing in liturgical and tap. When Tamela and Michael decided to start a family in 2009, unfortunately Tamela experienced health issues caused by the pregnancy and decided to take a break from the hair salon where she worked. She didn’t, however, take a break from teaching dance. She forged ahead with the church dance ministries and helped budding dancers perfect their moves, hoping to try out for dance groups. In 2012, Tamela became an auxiliary coach of the dance squad and the flag girls at a local high school while Michael accepted a position as the band director at the same school. For the next several years, the Yelvertons worked side-by-side, collaborating on football halftime shows and entertaining everyone in attendance. They also added two more bundles of joy to their busy family, a set of twins they lovingly named, Melody and Lyric. Tamela finished out the remainder of her last season coaching the high school auxiliary teams but a fire still burned inside her.

“After my last season was over at the school, I told my husband about my vision to have my own dance company. It took us a week to find the studio and we opened the same month,” says Tamela. In May, 2015, M&T Performing Arts Studio – Home of the Classy Divas, was introduced to the city. She started out with eight students and grew to 50 within a year. They’re currently at 72 girls, ranging in ages 2 years to 18 years, and constantly welcoming new faces.

Since the talented couple had always excelled in their respective fields, their friends and family weren’t too surprised to see them embark on such an endeavor. Initially Michael was supposed to share the space and house a music studio for his clients and students, but the dance classes grew so rapidly, they were forced to take over his room. Fortunately, he was such a supportive partner that he agreed to relocate his studio to their home. He remains very involved with the studio by serving on the board and helping make important decisions.

“We started off focused on jazz, tap, and liturgical, but my audience started changing. Now we are a competitive majorette dance team, similar to the show ‘Bring It!’

The students compete four to five times per year depending on the type of competition they’re entering. They’ve placed 1st, 2nd, and 3rd, in many of the competitions which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This gives the girls the opportunity to experience all levels of success as well as allowing them to see where they need to improve.

Tamela is in the process of considering an after-school program where the students can come to the facility immediately following school, do their homework, and then go to dance practice. This avoids having such late nights during the week.

When asked about longevity for M&T Performing Arts, Tamela affirms that she plans on leaving the company to her three daughters, Harmony, Melody and Lyric to continue the legacy. They’re already involved and absolutely love it, so it doesn’t sound like there will be much objection when the time comes.

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