It was the start of an ordinary Monday for Erin, a 5th grader at the Hopkins Center – or at least so she thought. Little did Erin know that February 8, 2016 was a day she would never forget.
The day began at 5 a.m., an hour earlier than Erin typically starts her normal school routine. Deborah, Erin’s mother, styled her daughter’s hair, placed earrings in her ears and prepped her apparel. Erin thought nothing of the special treatment. Instead of dropping her off to school, Deborah drove directly to the Northeast Performing Arts Group (NEPAG), where Erin has danced since she was 7 years old. “She told me she had to pick up something at the dance center,” Erin recalled.
It was at the performing arts center where the well-kept secret was revealed – Erin and her classmates were just moments away from not only stepping foot inside of the White House, but also performing for the First Lady of the United States of America and dancing with some of the world’s leading female dance pioneers.
In celebration of Black History Month, First Lady Michelle Obama hosted a day long master class for up and coming dancers focused on the impact of dance in African American culture – and Erin was going to be part of it.
Shortly after NEPAG arrived to the White House, the dance practices were in full swing. Erin was placed in a group of girls to learn the dance steps of Alvin Ailey’s best-known ballet “Cry,” originally choreographed for Ailey’s mother in 1971. Although the 3-hour dance practice was filled with steps that proved challenging for some, the moves were an easy feat for Erin, who has been dancing since the age of four. “I have a lot of energy. I like to use that energy to express the way I feel through dance,” Erin said excitedly.
After practice the First Lady paid a visit to the dancers to discuss topics on overcoming adversity, health, self-confidence and hard work. Erin left the discussion feeling inspired.
“She [Michelle Obama] said ‘Never let anyone tell you what you can’t do.’ That really encouraged me,” Erin said smiling.
Later that evening, the dance practices culminated in a student presentation that told the story of African American history and culture in front of their dance instructors, family and the White House administration. First Lady Obama applauded the young girls for expressing themselves “through dance, in which they tell stories of who we were, who we are and who we can be — and during Black History Month that’s really what we celebrate.”