A slim boy with brown hair, Anthony was an average student. Friendly but quiet, Anthony was more interested in sports than in school.
“He just kind of blended in with the other kids,” says Melanie Bodner, Anthony’s sixth-grade dance teacher at his school in Manahawkin, NJ. “He didn’t have a focus, or something that made him excited to be in school. He didn’t really know where his place was.” But that year, Anthony found his place—and his passion—when Young Audiences’ Illstyle & Peace dance troupe came to his school, through an Artists-in-Education grant. During the 20-day residency, the Illstyle dancers worked with Anthony’s class on a hip-hop infused, anti-bullying performance piece that stressed self-esteem and acceptance.
Out of 60 classmates, Anthony was cast in the lead role, which involved dancing, singing and acting. The change in him was immediate; where once he had blended in, now he began to shine. “It just brought him to life,” Melanie relates. Soon Anthony was arriving early to class and showing other teachers his new dance moves, always with a big grin. He also became a leader to his classmates, encouraging them to try new things, too.
“Anthony loved the energy, the spirit, the mentoring—everything we brought to him, he took it in and applied it to his life,” affirms Young Audiences teaching artist Brandon “Peace” Albright, the artistic director of Illstyle & Peace. “I was able to work with him and say to him, ‘If this is one of the things you want to become, this is your opportunity right now. You can do all of these things.’”