Dancing Around Philly
- by Tonjanika Smith
It’s funny how things just happen. One night, I casually mentioned that I was interested in working with nonprofit organizations. Next thing I know, I am spending every Saturday morning in Southwest Philly, volunteering. Yes, you read right: every Saturday (well, unless it was a holiday break).
It all started when I attended a friend’s birthday dinner, along with her parents. The night had been going well, and we were just getting to the cake when it happened. Wharton was brought into the conversation, and I interjected, “I’m not interested in finance; I’m interested in the nonprofit sector,” not thinking much of it. Usually, people are surprised about my intended career path, but the surprise soon wears off. It always did.
Not this time. Instead, my friend’s mother took me up on my statement. She enlisted me as a volunteer for a local nonprofit organization: Evelyn Graves Drama Productions.
So, how do I spend my Saturdays? I teach Philadelphia how to dance, working with local legend Evelyn Graves. Now, I do not claim to be a professional in any way. I started dancing through my church when I was younger and then gradually enrolled in dance classes. My students, who range in age from 5 to 50 years old, and I explore many different styles, from ballet to liturgical to hip-hop (a summer favorite!). This year’s performing-arts theme is “Cultures Around the World.” So not only are my students dancing, but they are also learning how people around the world express themselves through art.
Based on my short time here, it can be easy to get swept up in this microcosm called “college”—full of professors, students, exams, social events and extracurriculars. It is easy to overlook the world outside of University and Center City. However, I’m grateful for the opportunity to experience Philadelphia on a different level. After all, Philly is not only where I attend college, it is my new home, my new community.
The feeling of accomplishment, especially academically, is exceptional, but the feeling of watching your students achieve their goals and conquer their challenges is one of a kind. These experiences do cost me my Saturday mornings; however, I am able to make a difference in the lives of the people in my new community—and that is priceless.
(Editor’s note: This post first appeared on the Undergraduate Program’s Student Voices blog on March 16, 2012.)