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Keeping Hope Alive Through Dance

When a pandemic interrupted this Kentucky senior Emiley Blair’s plans to compete and dance around the country, she brought the rhythm to her hometown instead.

By Paula Ann Solis

November 16, 2020

A young woman in high school leads three girls behind her in a dance routine.

Since she was in first grade, Hazard High School senior Emiley Blair has danced. Ballet, jazz, tap, lyrical; she’s done it all. Just not in Hazard. Blair, 17, usually travels an hour outside her Eastern Kentucky hometown several times a week to meet up with her dance team. And her team usually travels across the country for competitions.

But this year—as a pandemic pressed pause on happenings across the world—this is the year that Blair kept the beat going in her own town.

Blair volunteered to teach a small, but growing, hip-hop dance class for children ages 7 and up at a new downtown arts center, ArtStation, developed to be a place of learning and gathering for Appalachian artists of all kinds.

© Photo Justin Skeens ArtStation in Hazard, KY.

“I love working with the kids, especially the younger ones,” Blair says. “This is a good opportunity for me to learn about teaching, which is just a good skill to have, and to stay involved in my community.”

Dancing 6 feet apart (masks-off during water breaks and cool-downs) the children are managing the social distancing rules better than she expected, Blair says. At the start of school, Blair herself was still attending her high school in person. She knows firsthand how awkward the new normal has felt for her and her peers.

“Around here, it’s been pretty hard with everything closing. The world just sort of stopped,” Blair says. “But it stopped for kids too, so I hope this class is something that can bring a bit of normal to them.”

One recent Friday evening, Blair chose the upbeat Shawn Mendes track, “There’s Nothing Holdin’ Me Back,” for a hip-hop lesson. When leading the class, Blair watches for form and style, but she’s also watching for smiles.

“I didn’t know any of these kids before I started teaching these classes,” Blair says. “It’s amazing how you can touch lives with just movement and showing a little bit of love and care.”

And the fun doesn’t have to end with the kids, Blair says. Staying isolated indoors all day is just about the best excuse anyone could have to turn up the volume and dance like nobody is watching.

“Turn on whatever music feels right and do whatever move feels good. Regardless of whether you’re in a studio or your bedroom, dance is the best release.”