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'Dance Is Life': Cleo Parker Robinson Helps Elevate Black Voices With Dance

DENVER (CBS4) – On a Tuesday morning, Cleo Parker Robinson sat in her studio, shimmying her shoulders and swaying along with the choreographed moves of her dancers. A similar scene plays out daily at Cleo Parker Robinson Dance.

Robinson says dance is an art she's been dedicated to since she was a young girl.

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Cleo Parker Robinson (credit: CBS)

"I was born in Denver. How many years ago? I don't know if I'm going to tell you all that," she laughed. "But I was born right here in Five Points at the Rossonian Hotel."

Robinson shared her story with CBS4's Mekialaya White in the lobby of her dance facility, which she built from the ground up back in 1970.

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(credit: CBS)

"We have 51 years of this wonderful building magic together," Robinson said. "My dancers and teachers come from all over the world."

Robinson says getting her start in dance didn't come easy, however. "I became very ill very young in my life and I was bed-ridden. And I think there was that rebellious part of - I want to live, and to live was to move. (Then) I just kept looking for the next moment of - who do we dance with next, you know?"

That rebellion also propelled her forward, helping her shatter stereotypes as a Black woman who wanted to dance or a living.

"People have lots of stereotypes about who we are. The East Coast and the West Coast also didn't think there'd be that focus on diversity and arts right here in this area. When I would be where I was in the world, they'd say are there Black people in Denver? I'd say 'oh yes, we are here. It's the Harlem of the West.' You would also think that dance is a woman's art form. We do dance, but we're not the CEOs. And I was the CEO."

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(credit: CBS)

Since then, she's used her talents to coach up thousands of dancers.

"Dance is life. I see people how they move and relate to one another or don't relate to one another."

"We're standing on the shoulders of our ancestors and building where we're going," she continued. "There will always be a struggle, but know where you are in the struggle and you'll make it be a little easier for the next person. It's so important to exercise the heart every day, to learn how to be compassionate."

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