Zachary Jepsen started dancing when he was four years old. Her father created the playlist, and Zachary performed in front of her family’s living room filled with her siblings, friends and adults.
Even at the age of four, his talent was so obvious that one of his mother’s friends recruited Zachary to The Dance Factory, a small studio in Delavan, Wisconsin, near the farm where he and his family lived. recommended to enroll in She followed her friend’s advice and by his seventh grade, Zachary was acting in the pre-professional program at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet School. He has found his vocation.
However, my classmates at school did not accept it.
“It’s not considered cool in many places for boys to wear tights,” says Zachary.
He was mercilessly bullied. He thought of homeschooling. He even considered quitting ballet. Anything to stop atrocities.
Instead, his mother considered enrolling Zachary at the Chicago Academy of the Arts, which had attended another Dance Factory alumnus a decade earlier. This means a 6 hour commute each day. Leave home by 5:30 a.m., catch the 6:22 a.m. train from Harvard, IL to the Ogilvie Transportation Center in Chicago, take the bus to school, and vice versa at school. . end of each day. And when she got home around 9:00 p.m., she immersed herself in farm work.
He jumped at the chance.
“My first feeling when I got here was, ‘Oh my God,’ I was the perfect fit,” Zachary said.
That was in 2017. I was interviewing Zachary at the Chicago Academy of the Arts. Because not only of his dedication to his art, but also his dedication to honoring the part of himself that feels most true, even if it’s the part that the world appreciates. Because I was moved. he was being bullied It’s no easy feat for humans of all ages, let alone teenagers.
Zachary graduated from the Juilliard School this month. He had won the Martha Hill Award for his outstanding achievement and leadership in the dance field during his dropout, and his work for the summer was to dance at the Bagrisi Dance Theater. there is
“You find the right person,” he told me over the phone from his New York apartment shortly after graduation. “I feel very loved, and I feel that I am who I am because I was able to find friends, teachers, and allies.”
I love the ending (of course, it’s really the beginning). Because Zachary’s respect for his whole authentically beautiful self at the time means he’s living an authentically beautiful life now. It is also what brings art and beauty to others.
But I also love this particular moment. Every day is when a new story is born of an adult, or a group of adults trying to wall up beauty, wall up curiosity, wall up empathy, wall up belonging. . Their misguided, misguided ban.
A graphic novel about the Holocaust. Statue of Michelangelo. Disney movie about Ruby Bridge. A duet by Dolly Parton and Miley Cyrus.
And perhaps worst of all, Amanda Gorman’s gorgeous inaugural poem, “The Hill We Climb,” was just plucked from a South Florida elementary school after parental complaints.
“I wrote ‘The Hill We Climb’ to help all young people reinforce themselves in historic moments,” Gorman wrote in a statement about the ban. “Depriving children of the opportunity to find their own voice in literature is a violation of their right to freedom of thought and speech.”
It tells young people who they are and who they want to be, what makes them feel alive, what helps them feel known, loved, recognized and understood. It is also a waiver of our responsibility to help you understand
What would have happened if Zachary had quit ballet?
“Here’s what I believe about art making,” said Jason Patera, president of the Chicago Academy of the Arts. “Art can be a personal and transformative experience for anyone, regardless of ability or experience. Anyone who has taken a few piano lessons or bought art supplies probably knows that. The process of writing a song, writing a story, or painting changes something inside of you, which is why we should all be creative. ”
I called Patera this week to talk about Zachary. Patera’s school sends several students to Juilliard, but I only knew Zachary.
“What very few people have is the opportunity and the ability to change an audience with their work. Zach is one of them. We saw it when he walked in the door.”
But opportunities and abilities come without education and space, without ideas, insights and exposure to humanity.
“Sometimes young people see the existential crisis of being an artist,” says Patera. “They see the world around them and the horrific events that take place – wars, divisions, violence. It might be easy to start thinking, ‘Maybe the art I make doesn’t matter. But I would argue that that is when their art is most important. ”
Patera said he is often asked to defend the role of art, but the demands often turn art into a kind of bargain. Arts improve math grades, reading comprehension, and graduation rates.
“But art is important for that kind of personal transformation,” Patera said. “That change can be an emotion. It could be a message that it reaches you.
“There is no shortage of things that need the truth,” he continued. “There is no shortage of things that we need to be hopeful and uplifted for, or at least feel we are not alone. It has the power to bring you back to a place of ration and, when needed, a place of action.”
What if it was the lens through which we decided what we should let our children read, watch, listen and learn? What if we looked for sparks? A catalyst for change, hope, unity and inspiration?
What if we helped them find their allies? Like Zachary did?
I think that’s the way to change the world.
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