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Safe Space to Dance

Congratulations to one of our scholarship winners Kelli Cotton. Her essay below, demonstrates a passion for dance that will help her pursue all of her dreams. Kelli is a beautiful, shy, dancer, and on stage she is a powerhouse. Every time she steps on stage, she cracks open a part of her shell.

One could describe the feeling of this place as a warm comfort zone that frees the soul; a place where time stands still and the music is so loud it vibrates through your body. The lights are dimmed; you feel as if no one is around. You take comfort knowing that in this dark room lies an abundance of freedom. Contemporary music plays, allowing the body to move however it pleases. Mistakes are appreciated; confidence is key. Some call it heaven and I agree because every time I imagine heaven I see this place. However, its official name is “Dance Studio”.


Seven years ago, as I was watching a youtube video, I saw a solo being performed. My attention was instantly captured. I was mesmerized at what I was watching. I had never seen someone so young with such passion. I was astounded that her body told a story that corresponded to the music. She was effortless. When the video ended, I knew I wanted to do just that.


This came to fruition the summer after freshman year in high school. My studio was hosting summer intensive classes. I was worried I would not be able to keep up. However, I knew this experience would only make me better. The routines were difficult, but I was trying my best. On the third day, the jazz routine was extremely fast and complex. I felt disappointed because I saw others picking up the choreography quicker than me. I stayed toward the back of the class. Then the music stopped and I heard the choreographer yell, “ You in the back, come up front!” My heart dropped. I tried to act as if he were talking to the person behind me, but quickly remembered that I was in the back with only the wall behind me. I hesitantly walked to the front of the room while everyone stared at me. He then said, “I want you to do the whole routine by yourself.” I quickly responded with a strong no, since I was not familiar with the steps. But he was not taking no for an answer. He started the music and I took a deep breath. I cleared my mind, allowing the music to guide me. When I finished everyone's faces looked shocked. They all began clapping for me and the teacher said, “ That was incredible. Your passion and artistry are going to take you very far. Stop hiding all that talent in the back of the room.” Tears filled my eyes as I thanked him. I could not believe what just happened. I remember feeling so grateful that someone finally noticed my talent. Even though it was a scary experience, I realized that for me to succeed I have to stay out of my comfort zone. Progress only happens when I break out of my shell, so I must continue challenging myself.


That day made me understand that passion and artistry are imperative in dance. They are what separates us from one another. When we are all learning the same routine, the dancer who takes that routine and makes it her own is the one who will flourish. I took what the choreographer said and applied it when dancing contemporary music. When I returned to my regular classes I no longer wanted to stay in a place of comfort. I remember we began to do our normal routine of improv. The lights dimmed and this time I moved to the front of the room. I began testing myself and my limits. I closed my eyes, letting faster and sharper movements take me around the room with hesitation. I tried new skills facing different directions of the room. I honestly never felt more alive. I knew that I was in a safe space to dance and was ready to begin expanding my artistry as the next step.




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