An Unexpected Path

Meet Maurice Mouzon Jr., the performer set to take the stage with Novant Health’s Kim Henderson at Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing with the Stars competition.

Maurice Mouzon Jr. showed up to his first real dance class in basketball shorts and a T-shirt.

Mouzon grew up in south Baltimore in an area known for its high crime rates, not its arts scene. And he learned everything he knew about dance from watching Michael Jackson.

Mouzon was good — uncommonly good — and a natural performer. But it was a hobby, something he did when he wasn’t playing basketball, baseball and football. Then, during his eighth-grade year, his friends told his social studies teacher that Mouzon could really dance. She asked to see a few moves.

“We pushed the desk to the side and played some music, and I just started dancing. Then, she took the liberty of printing out an application for the Baltimore School for the Arts. I didn’t even know the school existed at the time,” Mouzon recalled. “She said, ‘You never know what could happen.’”

Mouzon got an audition. The school offered a workshop beforehand for anyone who didn’t have a performance already prepared, and in basketball shorts and a T-shirt, he received a crash course in dance. Two weeks after his audition, Mouzon received a decision letter. He was in.

Making a difference through dance

The next few years transformed Mouzon’s life (more on that later) and led him to where he is now, a dancer with Charlotte Ballet for the past six years. In this role, he has taken part in a variety of powerful, innovative performances. On March 5, he will add another first to his career: Taking the stage with Kim Henderson, system chief of staff and senior vice president of corporate health at Novant Health, as part of Charlotte Ballet’s Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte Gala. Throughout the competition, Henderson is raising money to support equal access to health care for everyone in our community through the Health Equity Fund at Novant Health.

“This competition gives me an opportunity to be part of something bigger than myself, and it’s supporting a cause I can relate to,” Mouzon said. “I come from a single-parent household, and I know the importance of equity and making sure everyone has access to what they need to care for their families. Now, I feel like I can help make a difference.”

Novant Health has a longstanding relationship with Charlotte Ballet. For more than 20 years, Jerry Barron, MD, an orthopedic surgeon, has served as the ballet’s doctor. During the initial phases of the COVID-19 pandemic, Novant Health provided on-site COVID-19 testing and medical consulting related to return-to-work guidelines. The Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte Gala takes that relationship even deeper: Half the funds raised will support Charlotte Ballet, and the other half will go toward the Health Equity Fund at Novant Health.

“It is such an honor to work with someone as talented, patient and kind as Maurice has been over these past few weeks,” Henderson said. “He’s made this process fun, which was my goal going in. I wanted to have a great time while raising money for a great cause.”

Destined to dance

The competition is one of many opportunities dance has presented to Mouzon over the years. The Baltimore School of the Arts granted him formal ballet and modern dance training, which he recalls as one of the most challenging experiences he’s ever gone through. He would stay after school to take extra classes and catch up with his classmates, many of whom had years of formal dance training.

“I was drawn to the storytelling of it, but what also drew me was the discipline of ballet,” Mouzon said. “It helped me grow up and figure out who I am as a person. It taught me patience, as well.”

After his graduation, Purchase College, State University of New York accepted him into its dance program. During Mouzon’s first year there, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, then-artistic director of Charlotte Ballet, visited the college on a scouting trip. He was visiting to observe senior dancers, not freshmen. But by chance, a light had broken in one of the studio spaces at the college, and the freshmen and senior classes had to merge. So Bonnefoux watched them all.

“Next thing you know, the teacher walked up to me and said, ‘Jean-Pierre is interested in you for his second company in Charlotte Ballet,’” Mouzon recalled. “He said I was very enthusiastic, and I looked like I was having fun, and he wanted to work with me. Everybody was like, ‘Take the job!’ I was the only one who said, ‘I don’t think I’m ready for this.’”

At the time, Mouzon was only 19 years old. He was nervous. But one of his teachers encouraged him to embrace it and lean into an incredible opportunity. And when the contract came, Mouzon accepted.

He finished the year at SUNY Purchase and then started with the Charlotte Ballet II, a group of young professional artists affiliated with Charlotte Ballet, the following fall. But he wouldn’t remain there for long. After a week of lecture and demonstration, he got an opportunity to audition for the solo in Ohad Naharin’s “Minus 16.” Once again, Mouzon stood out. Not only did he receive the solo, but Charlotte Ballet offered him a spot in its main company. Six years later, he is still there, grateful to have the opportunity to pursue his passion every day.

“You never know what you’re capable of until you push yourself. That has been the key thing for me. Never doubt yourself because you never know what you can do,” Mouzon said. “I’ve been super proud of myself for being fearless and jumping into it and learning through experience. And I love it. Dancing is one of the only times I can say I’ve experienced complete freedom.”

Taking the stage, for a cause

The Dancing with the Stars of Charlotte Gala, which will take place March 5 at the Knight Theater, isn’t just another performance for Mouzon. Being part of the competition puts professional dancers in the role of choreographer and teacher, helping individuals with no professional training prepare to take center stage. But Mouzon and Henderson have been practicing, learning the basics and putting together a performance they won’t share much about other than to say it will be “nostalgic,” Mouzon said.

“Kim is just a big ball of energy,” Mouzon said. “She has the biggest, brightest smile ever, and she’s very determined. We keep it fun. We’re always laughing.”

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