We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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 “Let us welcome to the stage Park Hill South.” I take a deep breath, smile, and begin to walk on stage repeating the words in my head, “left, right, left, right” in my head so I stay on beat with the rest of my team. As I get to my spot on the floor, nerves and excitement course through my veins. “Ladies your music is on.” I hear the music begin to fill the room, and I exude a sense of pride to be on that stage, but more importantly, I feel unbelievably confident. And in that moment I began to remember a time in my life when I never thought that would be possible. A time where I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin, let alone confident. It was July of 2015, and I stood backstage waiting to perform my solo “Be Wild.” I always dreaded walking on stage alone and having the focus be solely on me. I had gone through this process several times throughout the year, but it never seemed to get easier. This time was different, though, I was about to dance in front of a crowd that was bigger than I was used to. Maybe it was the nerves of being on stage by myself or my lack of self-confidence that made me unable to walk on stage. I felt overwhelmed to the point where I stumbled into the audience and told my mom that I felt so sick I wasn't able to perform. That wasn’t a complete lie either, my stomach felt like it had been flipped inside out.  She pulled me outside and tried to reassure me that I was okay. “Just take a deep breath, and you will feel better.” I tried to calm myself down, but all I could do was imagine myself frozen on stage with the eyes of hundreds of people focused on me. “I don’t think I can do this,” I confessed to my mom. “Maybe I should just not perform.” I tried to convince her to let me skip my dance and be done with everything, but she refused. “You haven't come all this way and practiced this much to quit.” I wish I could say her words reassured me, but I still wanted to leave and never perform my solo. I made one last feeble attempt to get myself out of the situation, but I was unsuccessful. I walked back inside and made my way backstage. “You're up next,” the worker told me. I felt my legs carry me up the stairs and onto the stage even though it was the last thing I wanted. You would probably assume that I overcame my fear and executed my dance flawlessly all in that one day. That would have been too easy. But experiences, conversations, and a little bit of soul searching over the next 6 years transformed me into who I am today. Someone who learned you can always grow from your own mistakes. Someone who finally accepted you can’t expect perfection from an imperfect human, especially when it’s yourself. And when I look back on that specific day, I don’t dwell on the anxiety, nerves, or stomachache I felt, because I remind myself without the person I used to be, I would have never become the person I am now. And that’s a person who never thinks about quitting before they've even started.

© Allison Howel. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.