May-June 2016 | On My Mind

OMM_TWords from the publisher

Sometimes when I tell people that I believe dance can change lives, I receive skeptical reactions, especially from non-dance people. Maybe they’d change their minds if they heard about Pierson Feeney, an 11-year-old who lives in D’Iberville, Mississippi, and takes dance classes at Gulf Coast School of Performing Arts. The Kansas City Star recently reprinted a story about him, and I want to share it with you.

At age 4, Pierson was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder; a couple of years later, because of behavioral problems, he was placed on twice-daily medication. Later he developed tics and was diagnosed with Tourette syndrome. His mom noticed that he constantly shuffled his feet, so she asked him if he’d like to take tap lessons. He said he would, and the tap classes led him to take every kind of dance available at the studio, from hip-hop and house to ballet and ballroom.

Photo by Mim Adkins

Photo by Mim Adkins

What changed for him as a result of taking dance classes? Two things: his self-control and his self-image.

As quoted in the article, Pierson says that in class “you have to focus more. I started learning how to control myself because you have to be quiet in class and pay attention.” Like many boys, he faces ridicule from kids who can’t relate to his love of dance, but the payoff from training and performing overrides the mockery. He says (again as quoted in the article), “Every time I dance I feel something in my heart and my head, and I just want to keep dancing, and it makes me feel really good about myself.”

A year after Pierson started studying dance, the tics were gone; now he takes medication only when needed for important academic events. A member of his studio’s competition team, he takes class after school every day and has won three awards at a Hollywood Vibe competition: the Junior Scholarship Award, the Los Angeles Talent Agency Award (in his age division), and Regional Dancer of the Year.

I’m happy that he’s won awards for doing what he loves. But to me, what’s more important is that he has learned to take control of his life and feel good about himself. That’s what makes him another shining example of the power of dance.

DSL publisher Rhee Gold has owned a dance competition, presided over national dance teaching organizations, and founded Project Motivate. His book, The Complete Guide to Teaching Dance, is in its second printing.