I have always marveled at time. Like its some marble shiny & round. I'll hold a handful of colored spheres in my palm and fidget them through. And around again. Wondering big things about my who. The one I was, the one I am and, just as much, the one I am becoming.
Today I have the privilege of introducing to you someone so very full of light. She is no super hero. No, no ginormous "S" lives on her chest. But she is filled with this amazing spirit that makes all things feel possible. This light and good energy has me cheering her on in her "all things" just as loud as I can.
Yet, all the while, I can't help but feel those glass spheres rolling there in my hand. Wondering as they twirl what would've happened if I would have been brave like her at 18. Brave to be and to try and to do. That kinda of brave comes from confidence and a completeness I am so honored to offer to you today. Meet one wonderful young lady, Miss Tessa Voccola.
We become who we are because of the passions we hold and the people who believe (and sometimes those who don't believe) in those passions. Those people help ignite the spark that takes your passions from a flame to a fire and they push you to become greater than you had ever been before. Dance is my passion. I have always had a rhythm inside of me and dance, especially tap dance allowed it to flow from me with force. Much of this love and passion can be attributed to my tap teacher, Justin and his wife, Tara. Justin taught me for four years, pushing me and challenging me and never letting me give up. And when the time came for Justin and Tara to move and for my studio to close, Justin pushed me once more to do something bigger than I had thought to do. He told me to teach, to take over where he was leaving off. Needless to say that freaked me out. I mean, I was a student, I had always believed I would be a terrible teacher, and was just overall terrified to step into a new role.
Nevertheless, two weeks later, I started my own tap-specialized studio called Tappin' Town. I had eight students, three classes, a dance floor in my sister's art studio, and a pair of tap shoes. I started teaching Justin's old choreography while working my way into being comfortable in my own artistry; then in December, I taught the first section of a dance that would end up become the symbol of my success.
We signed up for a competition in April. I choreographed two of the pieces we were bringing: our group dance, Cups (When I'm Gone) and my solo, Get Out. Between January and April, I spent over two hundred hours on the dance floor, teaching classes, making up choreography, and sending it all back to Justin for his input and advice. He and Tara poured support and encouragement into me and my imagination soared. When April came around, we were ready.
We showed up at the competition carrying copious amounts of costumes, makeup, and an undeniable excitement. We crammed into our place backstage and let the moms fuss over our makeup and hair. Cups would go up first. We stood in a circle backstage, held hands, and prayed over our performance. Then it was time. I remember standing on the stage, waiting---and then a rush of movement, a big smile on my face, lights in my eyes, having the time of my life, and then stillness and applause. It was wonderful.
I waited nervously in the wings for it to be time for my solo. I ran through it in my head, making sure I knew it by heart, and then I was waved on stage. I let a smile make its way across my face, waited for the music to start, and then—I flew. I felt the energy flowing through me and then I forgot everything. Every step I ever choreographed. Every. Single. Thing. I just kept moving until I could find my place again. I could feel my smile like it was physically pasted on my face. I fell off my choreography again and improvised my way to my finale. As soon as I was in the wings again I felt tears come to my eyes and momentarily thought of hyperventilating (I did not). When I explained what happened to my mom, she said "You messed up? You're kidding right? I didn't even notice!" I was shocked and relieved. Maybe, just maybe, if she didn't notice the judges didn't either.
Then it was time to announce the awards. My solo was given a High Gold, only two point away from the highest score of Platinum. The only note the judges gave me was to relax my face. I improvised one third of my dance and they didn't even notice! All I could do was thank God I had spent the whole year getting comfortable in what I could do.
Cups was also given a High Gold, and then it was given an award I had never expected: The Choreography Award. If you aren't in the dance world, a choreography award is huge. Our High Golds were scored on our performances alone, not rated against anyone else's. This award on the other hand, could have gone to anyone, and they gave it to me for the first dance I ever choreographed. It was one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.
That moment and that year leading up to it has shaped me more than any other experience in my life. I grew up when I decided to take what Justin was offering me and when I opened up my own business. He gave me confidence when he pushed me to do something bigger than I had ever tried before. I was forced to learn to interact with people as an adult and to teach them in such a way that they couldn’t help but feel the same love I had for tap in their hearts. I've become comfortable in the artist I am, and I have pushed my creativity to the limit. A moment of sadness and loss empowered me, and it's all because Justin and Tara's belief in me pushed me into a belief in myself, and I'll never forget that.
Now I have nine students, their ages ranging from seven to fourteen. I've clawed my way through lack of inspiration and stress to find that place where the choreography flows through me, and in April we'll be at competition again. The lights will shine, the music will start, and we'll leave a part of ourselves on the stage for the audience to see, and that will be enough. We will be enough, and that is beautiful.
And I must thank the people who brought me here. Thank you for believing in me, for pushing me, for making me who I am. My story is better for it. Thank you.