Debre Evans likes to push herself.
A few months ago she sprained her ankle. Doctors told her to stay off of it for two weeks but within days she was back in classes at In Motion School of Dance.
“I know my body,” the 18-year-old insisted. “I felt like it got better faster, dancing rather than nursing it.”
Her tenacity was rewarded last month when she won scholarships to summer intensives at two US dance schools.
Keisha LaLama, choreographer for the 2012 movie The Perks of Being a Wallflower, picked her from more than 100 dancers in a weekend class at Pennsylvania’s Grier School for Girls.
“She saw how I pushed myself and how I truly loved what I did,” the Bermuda College student said. “She said that is why she chose me, because she saw something in me.”
She’s excited to return to the Grier School and visit Point Park University in Pittsburgh for classes next year.
It will be her second intensive at Grier, having attended classes there over the summer. Her goal last month had only been to show how she had improved.
“I had a little hope of getting the scholarship again, but wasn’t expecting it,” she said. “I just wanted to push forward.”
The classes were challenging, if only because there were so many dancers packed into the room. “You don’t want to be in the back because you can’t see and you don’t want to be in the front and then mess up,” she said. “I tend to be in the middle so I can still watch people, but still see the choreographer. And you don’t want to swing your body and hit someone.”
She was one of 24 students between the ages of 10 and 18 from In Motion who attended. Half of them won scholarships.
“We have been going to the Grier School for five years now,” Ms Evans said. “We get invited because In Motion has an amazing relationship with Grier.
“Jocelyn Hrzic is head of the Dance Department there. She loves how we push ourselves in our work ethic. These days dance teachers want someone they can work with, who will grow and get to a higher level. She sees we work really well.”
The classes were an opportunity for In Motion students to experience different teaching styles.
“You have to be able to adjust to other choreographers,” she said. “Some will show you the steps and some will expect you to figure it out. You have to be able to adapt.”
Ms Evans started dancing at In Motion when she was 3.
“I’ve been there [almost] 16 years,” she said. “Annae Robinson was my first teacher, and she is my teacher today. It is really good to still have her.”
She still remembers a dance recital she did when she was 8.
“We danced to the song Uptown Girl,” Ms Evans said. “I didn’t even know what an ‘uptown girl’ was — and still don’t. But I remember we carried these little shopping bags and I really enjoyed it. I think that dance was the spark that really got me into it.”
Despite that, for a long time she lacked self-confidence.
“I didn’t really believe in myself,” she said. “When I was going through In Motion, I didn’t get into Company [the top dance group at the school] until I was 15.
“I was too scared and holding myself back. I don’t like watching myself dance. Your hardest critic is yourself.
“My mother would always tell me I had something, but I wouldn’t listen to her because the doubts were in my head. When I got into Company, I was shocked because I was like, ‘wow, I must be better than I thought’.”
Her plan is to head overseas next year to study physical therapy and dance.
Her dream school is the University of Tampa in Florida.
“My mother and I visited the campus and I really liked it,” she said. “Dance classes are usually after five, so I think I could do both.”
At the moment, she’s happy being a student teacher at In Motion.
“This is my second year doing that,” she said. “It is a great experience. I love inspiring all the little kids and seeing where they start.
“I often think, once upon a time I was here too. One day they could grow up to be like me, or anyone. I would love to know that I started their passion or helped them along their journey.”
She said warm and caring teachers are one of the reasons she has stayed at the school for so long.
“It’s like a family,” she said.
She’s had top roles in the school’s annual Nutcracker performance several times.
Last month, she and 50 other In Motion students were in a video, attached to this story, highlighting Christmas shopping.
“We filmed it in a day over a period of two hours, for the Washington Mall,” she said. “I was an elf who had to sneak into the mall. We were just dancing all around the mall.”
She was surprised by how tiring the process was.
“We had to retake and retake,” she said. “There was one scene we shot 15 times. And you have to have the same level of energy each time.”