Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three Remarkable Boys

We've arrived in LA, still shell-shocked from the incredible turnout at last night's Bon Voyage Party! Alan and I are humbled and grateful to the hundreds who came to wish our dancers well before we left town - and to donate to money to help cover the costs of this trip. Thanks to the generous support of the community and the JSAP family, we are almost assured of having all the expenses covered.

The Executive Director of the Dizzy Feet Foundation greeted us in the lobby when we arrived at the Omni in downtown LA. The incredible Music Center is a block away - all steel and glass and intimidating performance venues. Tomorrow, we have our tech rehearsal - Hayley, Melissa, Claire and I are nervous but determined to "fake it til we make it" through a rehearsal in one of the most renowned venues in the world.

All of this excitement is great - it was thrilling to have WAAY TV come to the airport to film our departure and interview the kids; it was amazing to see so many friends in last night's audience and to receive such a rousing ovation from them; it was great to get here and be reunited with Ashley Dinges, our former Executive Director who flew out from New York and Leah Huebner, our former Officer Manager who is making it big in Hollywood. But as it usually does when I'm with the amazing young people who are part of Project UP, I witnessed something profound last night that really puts the excitement in perspective.

Zach Hulgan has been the male dancer in "Change the World" since it was choreographed a year ago. He has performed in Atlanta, Birmingham and at Merrimack Hall, rehearsing for hours over the past year to perfect the piece. He's been so excited about going to LA, talking about flying on the airplane to go Hollywood and change the world. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out the way they were 

supposed to. Zach's dad had emergency open-heart surgery on Monday and the Hulgan family needed to be together while their dad is in the hospital. Even though he couldn't travel with us, Zach continued to attend rehearsals, dancing better than he ever has before. We selected Connor Furber, a recent graduate of Dance Your Dreams! and new member of Project UP to dance Zach's part. Connor stepped in without missing a beat, learned the choreography in an hour and happily shared the rehearsal time with Zach each day.
Zach at the Evening of Dance

Last night, we performed "Change the World" two times so that each boy could have a turn to dance. Zach went first and did an incredible job. When Connor stepped onstage for his turn, Zach stepped to the side, into the wings. As the music started, he called out, "You can do it, Connor! Way to go." No matter how disappointed he was, no matter how much Zach wished he was making the trip, he stood in the wings, clapped loudly and proudly for his teammate, thinking not of himself, but of Connor. What a wonderful example of good sportsmanship and professionalism.

Connor at the Dream Big Recital

Mentoring both of these boys is Peyton Davis, a talented and dedicated dancer from Element Dance Company. Peyton has helped and encouraged both Connor and Zach and has been very sensitive to Zach's disappointment. Peyton is a tremendous role model for our guys.

When the show was over and everyone was heading home, the reality hit Zach...he wasn't leaving on the airplane after all. He sat down on the stairs in our lobby and cried - big, hard sobs that were painful to watch. His teammates tried to comfort him, his mother tried to explain, I told him there would be other trips he would make. But no one could console him except Peyton. Peyton sat on the steps with Zack and told him what a great dancer he is, what a great job he's done in the piece and told Zack, "You have to stay here and take care of your dad...he needs you right now." Peyton offered Zach the sort of comfort that only a guy can offer to another guy - not the sort of gushy hugging that girls offer each other, but a matter-of-fact understanding that said, "I know how you feel, I know this sucks and I wish you could go on the trip." 

Peyton is a handsome, popular, talented and very busy 17-year-old guy. But he takes time out of his week to mentor the boys in Project UP; more than that, Peyton has become their friend. No matter what sort of "differences" there may be between Peyton, Zach and Connor, Peyton views the boys as his friends, treats them with respect and truly enjoys hanging out with them. I am so proud of these three young men - proud of them for being good sports, close teammates and buddies. And I'm grateful to them for showing me what it truly means to be a friend to someone - to think of others ahead of yourself, to wish the best for your friends, and to be there to offer comfort and support when your friends are down.

Zach's father is recovering quickly, thanks in no small part to having Zach by his side. Zach may be back in Huntsville, but he will be in our hearts when Project UP takes the stage on Saturday. We will never forget the excitement of this trip, but I will never forget the shining example of friendship that three remarkable boys have shown me.

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