D'IBERVILLE -- D'Iberville Middle School student Pierson Feeney finds himself checking the clock often when he has down time in class. The 11-year-old said he anticipates dismissal so he can hop on the bus and head to the Gulf Coast School of Performing Arts.
"I'm always looking at what time it is, wishing it was time to go so I could go to dance," he said.
Some classmates don't understand Pierson's passion for ballet, hip-hop, house, ballroom and contemporary dancing. In fact, he often faces ridicule from his peers.
"At school, they'll make fun of me, saying dance is all for girls," he said. "I know girls do dance a lot, and it's most girls in dance (class), but boys do it, too. If anybody says anything to me, I just ignore them."
Many D'Iberville Middle students have never seen him on stage, nor do they understand how the artform changed his life for the better, the sixth-grader said.
Pierson was diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder when he was 4. By the time he was 6, he began to show differences in behavior that led doctors to put him on morning and night doses of prescription medicine.
But it seemed to make his condition worse, Pierson's mother, Marsha Feeney, said. By the time he was 9, it was hard for the family to go out in public together. Pierson had developed ticks, and medical professionals diagnosed him with Tourette Syndrome.
Marsha Feeney was desperate to help her son. She noticed that Pierson constantly shuffled his feet, so she asked if taking tap dancing lessons would be something he would like.
"His ADHD was disrupting our whole family," Marsha Feeney said. "We, at the time, could not go to dinner. We could not go to birthday parties. We pretty much stayed home.
"Now, Pierson is a different child. He says his dance is how he gets out his frustration and how he gets his excitement out."
What started as a couple of tap classes now encompasses every single dance class offered at Elaine Kulick's performing art school: ballet, jazz, hip-hop, contemporary, ballroom and house. He also takes tumbling and acting classes.
"It was as if God whispered and said, 'We need to find a useful and productive use of all this energy,'" she said.
In two years since, Pierson's technique has improved tremendously, and he earned a spot on the Gulf Coast Performing Arts Center competition dance team.
"When I first started, I didn't know anything and it was really hard," Pierson said. With ADHD he said he couldn't control himself.
"Whenever you take class, you have to focus more. I started learning how to control myself because you have to be quiet in class and pay attention."
After a year in dance, the ticks were gone. Pierson was off of almost all medication, but Marsha Feeney said her son still takes a low-dose of the ADHD drug Concerta before big tests or important days at school. Pierson goes to dance every single day after school and often stays until 8 p.m. or later. By the time he gets home, he's covered in sweat and he's oftentimes so worn out that it's easy for him to fall asleep.
"I like being here better than home," Pierson said. "It's where my friends are and where my teachers are."
Pierson said he believes dance is what helped him get his ADHD under control.
"I felt so good because I could actually do something," he said. "Every time I dance, I feel something in my heart and my head, and I just want to keep dancing, and it makes me feel really good about myself."
Pierson's hard work in dance class paid off this year when he won three awards at a Hollywood Vibe dance competition at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum and Convention Center in Biloxi.
He earned the Junior Scholarship Award and the Los Angeles Talent Agency Award in his age division. Overall, he scored one of the biggest prizes: Regional Dancer of the Year. He will travel to Las Vegas from June 27 to July 2 and audition to be a part of Hollywood Vibe's tour, a team that travels across to U.S. and hosts dance clinics.
Marsha Feeney and her husband were ecstatic that Pierson did so well.
"He has worked very hard, and it wasn't just given to him," she said. "When we pick him up at night, he is so tired. ... Just to win one award, we would have went home feeling like we had conquered the world."
Pierson said when his name was called as dancer of the year, he had to pinch himself to make sure it was real.
"I just couldn't believe it," he said.
What his coaches say
Hip-hop, house and ballroom coach Josh Burchette said he and Pierson did not get along when the then 9-year-old started taking class.
"He didn't like my classes at first," Burchette said. But the coach discovered in class that Pierson really excelled in house, a sub-style of hip-hop dancing. "It started opening up other styles of hip-hop, and he started growing.
"House is one of those styles, you don't normally see people learn off the bat. It's a mature style and a mature mindset. It's about soul. It's about feel. For an 11-year-old to get that at that age, that can put 30-year-olds to shame."
Burchette said Pierson is one of his best students.
"He's such an amazing dancer," he said. "He deserves it. He deserves being called dancer of the year. I'm really proud of him."
Jazz and contemporary coach Casie March said Pierson works hard and listens to coaches, and that helps him excel.
"He's very talented," she said. "He puts forth 110 percent in everything he does."
Ballet instructor Vasily Lunde said his class is one of the hardest because ballet movements have to be perfect.
Lunde said he and Pierson have butted heads in the past, but he's a hard worker and will push himself beyond his limits.
"He's not scared," he said.
Dancing and Dad
Marsha Feeney said it was very hard for husband at first to appreciate Pierson's passion for dance. He had to miss his son's first live performance because of a prior engagement. But he saw his son on stage during last year's competition, and his mind totally changed.
"As soon as Pierson got on stage that afternoon, and my husband saw him, he was blown away. He got it then, and he understood."
Pierson said he is happy to have his father's support.
"He just didn't think I was a good dancer because he had never seen me. He always had to go somewhere," he said. "Now, he shows up for all of my performances and is there in whatever way he can."
Pierson said he hopes to dance professionally in the future.