“If I wasn't in here, I'd probably be on the street in gangs and things,” he said.
Life Change offers a “drama-free” environment where friends who have known each other for years can share their worries and lift each other up, Celeste said.
“We've been able to talk about what's going on at home, and we're able to pray for each other,” she said.
Dancing is the most overtly visible part of Life Change, but they also take etiquette lessons, attend plays and go to restaurants. About once a month, they perform for groups such as the Ballroom Dance Club.
Chyanne Wood, an eighth-grader at Belle Isle Middle School, said she has learned valuable social skills, such as how to keep proper manners but still enjoy a formal dinner.
One of her favorite things is teaching dancing and other skills to new members and elementary students when they visit schools.
“There are new people every year,” she said. “It's a wonderful experience to help little ones.”
Keyveontae' Martin, a sixth-grader at KIPP Academy, was a student at Britton Elementary when he saw the dancers give a performance.
“I saw leadership in some of them,” he said, “and I saw it showing you how to become a gentleman that knows how to treat a lady.”
He said he likes the mathematical side of dancing, keeping rhythm and counting steps.
Pipkin had no experience with kids or schools and essentially none with dancing when she saw “Mad Hot Ballroom,” a documentary about an inner-city dance program in New York City, and first considered starting Life Change.
“I just watched that documentary like 15 times,” she said. “I was just going in blind and by faith.”
The program still faces challenges with space, and fundraising is always a concern, but with a few years of dancing gone by, she said the reward is seeing young people grow on the dance floor and in life.