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Humans of the U: Leslie Jara

“I became drawn to dance when I was seven years old. At this young age, I lost my little brother 19 days after he was brought to this world. This was my first big experience with how quickly life can go, which led me to discover the power of movement. Dance was my saving grace. It helped me communicate how I was feeling and reshaped the connection I had with life.

Prior to that moment in my life, I would always follow my older brother’s footsteps. I later opened my eyes to the fact that I have a purpose in this life to follow my wants, my needs and my values.

After that moment, every time I would hear music, I would just find myself moving to it. My connection to dance became really strong. It became my way of living, breathing, being, feeling, and I knew it was something I wanted to continue doing for the rest of my life.

I am a late bloomer compared to everybody else in the School of Dance. Due to finances, I didn’t start dancing formally until high school. Although I did make the dance company team in junior high, I left the team because the coach at the time was super biased toward people of color. High school was where my dance career truly started. I’m grateful to have been a part of both the drill team and dance company.

Since I didn’t start dancing formally until high school, I definitely feel behind compared to my peers and the imposter syndrome hits. Although sometimes I feel like I don’t belong, I’ve had some professors and several peers in the School of Dance that have helped me feel welcome.

When I was in high school, I would write essays about my purpose in life and my main goal, which has always been to create a space for people like me who didn’t have the financial resources to participate in typical dance spaces. I wanted to remove the financial obstacle and the stigma of starting dance at a younger age. I wanted to create a space where people could feel welcome and aren’t discriminated against for their size, weight, height, skin color or anything else. Thanks to my mentors and peers, I was able to create Allegiant Dance Crew last year, which currently gives 30 dancers the opportunity to be on a team year-round—where they can train, perform, compete and learn for $40 a month.

I feel like I can go back to my 7-year-old self and say that we made it.”

—Leslie Jara, senior, School of Dance