Personal Essay

By Violet Rand
Southold High School

Dance is an art form that has allowed me to express my emotions, create my own artistic voice, and be my authentic self. Dance has brought out my confidence and individuality in my personal life, as well as on stage. Being a dancer and dance teacher has allowed me to meet the needs of a diverse group of younger dancers in my studio. Both of my dance studios, North Fork Academy of Dance and Eglevsky Ballet, have always been supportive and welcoming places. Both studio owners and teachers encourage acceptance and inclusivity of all skin colors, sexual preferences and body types. I carry on these philosophies of inclusivity in my class that I teach at North Fork Academy of Dance by encouraging students to be their authentic selves, supporting and loving every single one of my students the same, and motivating them in all of their dance-related and non-dance-related activities.

My love for dance and teaching led me to become a member of the Southold Drama Club and participate in their productions in sixth grade through high school. I have been extremely fortunate to be a part of a program that encourages dedication to craft as well as inclusivity and self-expression. As a middle school and high school student, I had the opportunity to choreograph various dance numbers for Southold Drama Club productions. Getting to work with people of various levels of ability and backgrounds was my favorite thing about this experience. I loved being able to help and encourage my fellow students and friends reach their potentials, showing them that dance is for everyone no matter your background or previous ability. My goal in teaching my choreography was to create an environment in which cast members worked together and lifted each other up.

I have been a member of the Southold Alliance for Equality and Respect (SAFER) Club, which promotes the understanding and acceptance ofLGBTQ+ youth, for the past two years. It was thanks to my friends in the drama club that I found out about, and found a home in this club. Mr. Meyers, the supervisor of the SAFER Club, advocates for tolerance, acceptance, and collaboration. This club has helped me stand for what I believe in. In particular, last year I joined other Long Island and New York City students at Citi Field for an LGBT Youth Conference. Not only did the conference help me learn more about myself, but it helped me support an entire community of people. Aside from all of the conference activities, we participated in a rally against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The bill prohibits discussion of gender identity or sexual orientation from kindergarten through grade three, or “in any manner that is not what the state considers age appropriate.” That last clause is vague and opens the door for targeting students of all ages. I firmly believe that not allowing LGBTQ+ youth to be out in their communities is discriminatory and harmful and does not support my belief that all students should be allowed to be their authentic selves.

Earlier this year, an unfortunate incident occurred in our community regarding the dismantling of the pride flag garland on our SAFER Club’s holiday tree displayed in town. Our club was shocked and upset by this hateful act, but we felt very grateful when we received strong support from community members such as Camille Limongelli, program coordinator for the East End’s LGBT Network, who issued a call to action for her friends and neighbors to help right the wrong. As a member of my high school’s broadcasting program, SOHO TV, I felt compelled to create a broadcast package that presented the community’s heartwarming response to the vandalism. My broadcast package described how our town came together for a holiday miracle of love and support. I included footage of more than seventy community members, young and old, who united to show their support by redecorating the vandalized tree and placing a second decorated tree in Silversmith’s Comer. It was my hope that this package exemplified the message that love trumps hate, and inspired the Southold community to love and support one another.

During this journey of finding my people and finding my artistic voice through theater and dance, I have come to realize that everyone has a unique story to tell. It is our job as a society to support and encourage others to be their authentic selves. I hope that during my time at Southold High School, I have helped to create an atmosphere of creativity and acceptance. I hope that as a senior member of the Drama Club and the SAFER Club, I have been a role model to younger students, and I have encouraged them to continue to be their unique selves, to be loving and welcoming to others. As a dance instructor and choreographer, I hope I have instilled in my students the courage to launch forward and become who they want to be. As a musical theater dance major at Oklahoma City University next year, I hope to continue to find my voice as an artist and thrive in a community whose vision supports my values, as part ofOKCU’s mission is to “expand and deepen perspectives about a range of identities and lived experiences, and to celebrate, fully, the rich and diverse cultures of those who are a member of our community.” I hope to always be a role model of love and acceptance to those around me, especially to my future generations of dance students.