Arts & Culture News

Dancing for a Cause, a Nonprofit Powerhouse, Is Making a Name for Dallas Youth in the Field of Dance

These Dallas dancers are getting national attention and a lot of hometown support.
These Dallas dancers are getting national attention and a lot of hometown support. Jimmy Nguyen

“Shh,” a man in a black blazer laughingly urges as he attempts to quiet the packed-full, studio dance room inside Dancing for a Cause's headquarters.

It's the dance organization's final Friends and Family Night, and nearly 100 onlookers buzz with excitement in preparation for the dancers to enter the room. The wood floors and mirrors lining the walls vibrate as performers enter in synchronicity. The cheers of the crowd bring smiles to their faces, beaming from their hard work over the last few months.

The organization’s founder is the man in the blazer hosting the showcase, Tanjim “Taj” Rahman, who founded the company in 2008 when he was still a teen at Plano East Senior High. His goal, he says, was to unite the dance community in North Texas and provide a learning environment for the youth to grow as dancers while practicing their art in a safe space.

Over the years, Dancing for a Cause has impacted Dallas on both a big and small scale, raising thousands of dollars for charities like St. Jude’s, Habitat for Humanity and many more.

“I noticed a lot of my peers — talented dancers — wanted to move to L.A. or thought they had to go somewhere else to succeed as a dancer,” Rahman says, explaining what pushed him to create the company. “I wanted to make it where you can do it here, build your empire here. But, like I always tell my dancers, you have to spread your wings. Use dance to unite and then take that elsewhere to impact the world.”

After years of devoting his entire heart and soul to Dancing for a Cause, Rahman is planning his next venture. With “huge plans for Dallas,” he will start by converting the dance organization into an organized brand including annual dance events, to raise awareness and funds for charity beneficiaries. Then, he plans to focus on finishing his MBA and eventually opening a new studio.

“As a group, our style and dances really embody female empowerment. It really represents that female energy here in Dallas.” — Simone Culwell

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“I was able to accomplish so much without studying business,” Rahman says. “And now with my education, I am and will be much better equipped to make an even larger impact with dance as the medium.”

Back in the studio, Rahman backs out of the room with hands clapped, admiring the community that has been joined under his watch. When he returns, he’s wearing a black and pink hoodie with the words “Team Athena” across the front. He signals the next group to come in: 16 pink sweatpants-wearing and bandanna-toting women. Rahman introduces the team’s leaders: Kylah Henry and Darius Brown as directors, Tara Szybillo, team manager, and Simone Culwell, assistant manager. The latter two are recognizable as Dallas Cowboys cheerleaders.

After retiring as a cheerleader after the Cowboys’ 2018 season, Culwell decided to join Team Athena, Dance for a Cause's only all-female, competitive hip-hop dance crew, to continue her passion for dancing.

“As a group, our style and dances really embody female empowerment,” Culwell says, reflecting on her time with Team Athena. “It really represents that female energy here in Dallas.”

And represent they have. Since its founding in February 2018, Team Athena has continued to meet twice a week to practice working toward national competitions. Just last week, they placed sixth in World of Dance Houston, where teams from around the nation competed toward nationals to be featured on NBC World of Dance, with Jennifer Lopez, Ne-Yo and Derek Hough.

Along with Team Athena, two other groups competed on behalf of Dance for a Cause at Houston World of Dance: Neighborhood. Their first adult hip-hop dance crew placed fifth, and the junior team, Impact N Change, won Best Theme and placed second overall. These two groups, along with Team Athena, have done work to represent Dallas on a national scale, which is exactly what Rahman hoped for when he founded the nonprofit.

And while his eyes are now focused on larger pursuits, he’s confident that the teams will be in good hands.

“I like to create teams and platforms with people who will run it well and lead,” Rahman says. “All the directing is volunteer-based, so it’s all about passion. I know they’ll continue to do great things.”
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Ryann Gordon is an Oklahoma-born writer who has lived in Dallas since 2016. After attending the University of Oklahoma, she began writing for Preview Magazine in Tulsa. She currently writes for the Dallas Observer and Katy Trail Weekly, where she represents the face of the “Uptown Girl” column.