It’s been a minute. I apologize for that. I have been working on this post for almost a month now. Every time I sit down and add more, I end up getting emotional and quitting. Maybe “quitting” is the wrong word. Instead, I’ll say “pausing”. While I was at work yesterday, Baron Batch walked into the door, and I immediately felt guilty for not sucking it up and finishing this damn post. A good friend of mine Ryan McGoogan (Googs hehe) first introduced me to Batch’s blog, and I was totally infatuated. If you haven’t read his stuff, you will DEFINITELY want to check it out. Nonetheless – this guilt I was feeling, quickly turned into inspiration. I went back and reread the post that Ryan had sent to me, and felt this sudden NEED to finish this post.
So – Here we go !
A week ago, today, my family had just arrived to Pittsburgh to spend time celebrating my college graduation. It’s been 5 days since I walked across the stage in Consol Energy Center at Point Park University’s 2016 Graduation Ceremony. The feelings I had all week leading up to that moment when I heard my name called last Saturday morning were indescribable. My last month of school was filled with a whirlwind of emotions, challenges, and straight-up tears (both good and bad). Although, throughout the commencement ceremony, all I could do was laugh. While the whole arena stood, every right hand covered every heart, and the lyrics to “The Star Spangled Banner” flashed across the overwhelmingly large screen… I couldn’t help but stand in my cap and gown hysterically laughing. It wasn’t that I thought anything was funny, at all. I think the laughter was stemming from a place of surreal conflicting emotions. I was so freaking excited to have been standing in between two of my best friends, who had also accomplished similar things to myself. I couldn’t believe it was all really coming to an end – at Point Park University. I was nervous for what was going to happen after the arena was left empty and lifeless. Did that mean – “real life” was officially going to begin? Right when I left the ceremony? Or did it mean it would start the next morning, or when the weekend ended? Did I have a summer to still consider myself not fully immersed in the “real world”? When did it truly begin? And then, I realized, that “real life” had actually started a long time ago. I realized that “this step I take today is no greater or higher or harder than any step I have taken before. It’s just the next one.” (A friend of mine has this note, from her dad, tacked to the wall above her desk. I’ve always adored it.. but on this day, I understood it.)
(P.S. The emotional blah blah stuff is happening again, but I’ll keep pushing forward. hehe)
Anyways – that moment, the whole weekend, was magical and confusing and scary and wild etc etc ETC. But with all of my chaotic emotions, I began to reminisce on how I felt BEFORE this chapter started, nearly 3 years ago. How nervous and excited I was to move to Pittsburgh and dance/live in this whole new environment. Playing my three years in Pittsburgh quickly through my head, and remembering ALL of the lessons I learned, people I met, places I traveled, experiences I had (good, bad, or indifferent), I started to feel a sense of calmness – While there were definitely things to be scared of, I actually had nothing to fear.
I want to create a Throwback post to thank all of the individuals and organizations (specific to my field) who made the last chapter of my life even a possibility.
First of all – Michelle Stafford (Next Step Dance and Performing Arts Center in Frisco, TX)
(This is where the really annoying emotions pop up- hopefully I can continue at this point, without obnoxiously crying.)
Thank you for your constant push and never-failing high expectations. I definitely wasn’t the easiest student that you have taught over the years. (I know that hehe) Growing up, I was so determined and particular that I would end up defeating myself striving for something that does not exist – perfection. And to make matters worse, I would expect perfection from everyone else around me. Including you, Michelle. I apologize for that, and want to thank you for never giving up on me. Even though I KNOW there were instances where you wanted to. You never backed down. Whether you were screaming in my face, holding me while I cried, or laughing at me when I acted obnoxiously excited over nothing, you always believed in me, and in my very serious passion and respect for dance. (shit. I’m crying ugh) I didn’t realize, when I was younger, just how much energy and LOVE, a person (teacher) must have in order to demand such high expectations from a student. It would have been so much easier for YOU to back down, but you never did. Never once. YOU, Michelle, are the reason why I fell in love with dance. And I know that’s true because of the tears I feel running down my chin and neck as I write these words for you. You taught me work-ethic, drive, tough-love, and the true meaning of passion. Even when I left you, and the rest of the studio, you never treated me any differently. No one has ever pushed me harder than you, and quite frankly I have never felt the desire to work harder for anybody else. You assisted in molding my life into what it is today, and the coolest part is that I’m not alone. You have molded so many young dancers into strong, confident, and happy individuals. I hope you’re reminded daily just how special and necessary you are to this world. I love you. Thank you.
Lily Weiss – Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts
I remember being absolutely petrified walking into the overwhelmingly large white studio (in my pointe shoes LOL) as an eighth grader, wanting NOTHING MORE than to be accepted into this magical high school. Booker T. had been a dream of mine since I was 11 years old. THE dream, actually. The only thing I thought of, desired, and really really wanted all throughout middle school. I stood in B+, holding my fan, prepared to do a Don Q variation, when all of a sudden my best friend, Reilly’s, music started to play from the speakers. I knew immediately that I had accidentally grabbed the wrong CD from the holding area. My mind was racing. Absolutely RACING. A current student was in charge of running the music, so I looked at her with massive bugged eyes and whispered “THIS IS THE WRONG MUSIC.” I had to run back into the holding room and grab my correct music. I’m sure you’re thinking that I was disappointed or upset or yada yada, but honestly even as a young 13 year old, I was always decently OK at moving on, quickly. I walked back into the waiting room and laughed it right off. 4 Months later, I got the letter. I was accepted into Booker T. Washington. My mom texted my, what of course was, a hot pink razr cellphone telling me of the news, and I sprinted out of my 8th grade math class to find Reilly in her 8th grade math class. We hugged and jumped up and down and screamed throughout the halls – we were ecstatic. And quite frankly, so were all of our friends and teachers. I’ll never forget that moment. And that moment was possible because of you, Lily. Everyone who graduates from Booker T. always tells the current students that they’ll miss it, they’ll never find anything like it again, there’s nothing better, etc etc. But you truly don’t understand how accurate those phrases are until you’re gone. I can say, overall, I did a pretty good job of living in each and every moment throughout high school. I understood and respected the fact that I was in a very special place at a very special time with VERY SPECIAL people. Lily has molded the dance department into something that others would’ve had a hard time even imagining as an option. The opportunities available, the companies that run in and out, the rep that we were giving as teenagers – I mean, it was unfathomable, extraordinary, and so ridiculously rare. Lily took in hundreds and hundreds of kids as her own, and she still does today – even though she has moved forward from her position at Booker T. Thank you, lily. You presented to me opportunities that would have never been in my life if it weren’t for your constant desire and passion for education. You completely changed my life. I will never be able to thank you enough for that.
Michelle and Lily tie in together –
I had been attending New York City Dance Alliance since I was 9 years old, and the summer after my freshmen year at Booker T., Michelle was finally convinced to send a couple of us to NYCDA’s nationals in New York City. I attended these nationals for the next three summers. By the time I was attending my last summer in NYC, Joe Lanteri, NYCDA’s founder, had created a college scholarship foundation.
“The goal of the NYCDA Foundation College Scholarship Program is to award multiple 4 year college scholarships, primarily with total values of $5,000-$25,000. These scholarships will be awarded as tuition payments directly to the college of YOUR choice. The scholarship recipient must be intending on pursuing a performance based major (dance, musical theater) in college.
Since our inception in 2010, the foundation itself has awarded more than $1,300,000 in college scholarships. NYCDA Foundation scholarship recipients are now represented in 30 prestigious arts programs across the country. When factoring in generosity of our College Partners, over 300 teenagers have shared in $17,000,000 in college scholarships awarded through NYCDAF.”
Lanteri is another extraordinary human being with an extraordinary vision and passion for the arts and education. It’s surreal to think of how rare and unique my situation and opportunities have been because of this man and his desire to give. But what’s even crazier, is that I’m one of hundreds. He has changed HUNDREDS of teenager’s accessibility to higher education – created HUNDREDS of opportunities, and in only 6 short years. He has totally changed the entire outlook and idea of going to college for the arts. I mean, that’s INSANE!
There was a teacher at Booker T. my freshmen year. Our time together was short lived in Dallas because he was quickly recruited to take a position at Point Park University in Pittsburgh. I only took one class with him because he immediately moved me down a couple of levels after the first day. Can you guess who this Queen may be? Yep- yours truly, Garfield Lemonius 🙂
Garfield was present at the 2012 audition process. Recruiting for Point Park University. I had just finished my junior year of high school and was looking for some sort of help. Anything. Because without some sort of help, there was no way my family and I would be able to afford to send me to college. Well, the unexpected – happened. I was somehow awarded a full-ride to Point Park University. And I couldn’t move. I couldn’t talk. It was truly the first time in my life that I just completely froze. On stage, in front of god-knows how many people. Just froze. And prayed that I wouldn’t puke all over Joe as he awarded me the ungodly amount of money to further my one true dream in life. I can’t even put it into words. I STILL freeze just thinking about that moment.
If it weren’t for Michelle sending us to NYCDA Nationals, and if it weren’t for Lily accepting me into BTWHSPVA (and also allowing Susan Stowe to steal Garfield away), then I would have never been in the right place, at the right time, nor knew the right people. All of the cards lined up perfectly, and now, here I am – a college graduate.
Let me just say – that feels pretty damn good to type out.
With ALL of that being said, all I can think of is my “Two P Theory.”
Patience and Practice.
2PT: As long as I have faith in my future, my life and whatever the hell it’s going to consist of, and as long as I make a constant, daily choice to practice life the way I know, the way I have been taught, to practice life – then the next set of cards will line up perfectly as well.
Trust the future, but don’t live there. Because newsflash, the “future” never actually exists. Only right now. That’s all we have. Right now. We have heard it, read it, preached it, the whole 9 yards, millions and millions of times. But to actually understand it and APPLY it – is a whole other ballgame.
Thank you. To everyone that has spent their lives patiently practicing – because of YOU, I am where I am, who I am and what I am.
I can confidently say – I am proud to be me.
Onward – CHEERS !
The NYC Dance Alliance Foundation, Inc. is an IRS approved 501(c)(3) public charity, committed to broadening performing arts awareness while advocating education and high standards of excellence in dance. NYCDAF is dedicated to investing in the next generation of professional performers by offering scholarships for secondary and college education.