ESLCPA dance instructor and alumna Jay’Kayla Winford.

EDWARDSVILLE - The open, inviting wooden floor, the beckoning hand rails and the watchful, supportive eyes of instruction. Jay’Kayla Winford knows them especially well. As a six-year-old, she started dancing in the studios of the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville East St. Louis Center for the Performing Arts (ESLCPA).

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Nineteen years later, Winford is teaching ESLCPA classes – all of them – Afro dance, jazz, ballet, contemporary and hip-hop. “I’ve been dancing so long, that it’s really not hard on me,” she said.

Winford instantly took to dance and seemed destined to partake in the art of movement. Both her mother, Lashonda McLemore, and her older sister, Ta’Shayla Montgomery, are ESLCPA alumni.

“My mother put my sister, Ta’Shayla, and I in dance classes at young ages,” said Winford. “I immediately loved it, the music, and the fun. Dance was a way for me to express my personality.” Her favorite styles are West African and jazz dance.

After years of intense training with ESLCPA, Winford went on to further her education at Howard University. While studying at Howard, she returned to ESLCPA to teach as an intern during the summers of 2019-21.

“Those summers helped me craft myself more as a dance instructor and choreographer,” she recalled.

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Winford earned her bachelor’s in fine arts from Howard University in 2021. She returned to ESLCPA to a permanent position as dance instructor. Her students range in age from 6-17.

“It’s exciting for me to be able to teach where I was once a young student,” said Winford. “I want to encourage and motivate my students to be the best they can be, with the same kind of dedication that was given to me.”

In recalling the great and influential instructors of her younger years, the 25-year-old Winford points to the former ESLC Performing Arts Director (the late) Theodore H. Jamison. “Mr. Jamison was always on us and helped me with being disciplined. He was very detailed with his instruction and was very vocal about it.”

She also credits ESLCPA Coordinator and longtime staff member Jack Williams. “Mr. Williams has always been there for me and for the students. He supports us and the program in so many ways and does whatever is needed to help us be successful.”

The expertise, care and commitment of Jamison and Williams is the kind of legacy Winford wants to leave with ESLCPA students.

“The mark of a good dance student is discipline,” she noted. “I stress the details and the technique, then it’s easier to learn the choreography. I hope one day my students will remember when they learned the beauty and joy of dance. I hope it will stay with them forever.”

SIUE East St. Louis Center for the Performing Arts has a long, rich history. The legendary dancer, anthropologist, and social activist Katherine Dunham founded the Center for Performing Arts at the SIUE East St. Louis Center in 1964. At its peak in the 1990s, the East St. Louis Center for the Performing Arts provided year-round instruction to more than 1,000 youth and became a training ground for professional artists of all disciplines. For decades, the East St. Louis Center for the Performing Arts has provided performing arts classes to students and community members to develop local talent and to cultivate a love of the arts. The program serves children ages 6-17. Students study beginning piano and guitar, drums, bass guitar, West African drumming and multiple styles of dance. Classes often culminate in musical and theatrical productions.

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