Throwing Shade

Coast dancers are athletes, too, and don't you forget it

Justin Mitchell

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If someone asks me if I like to dance, my response is always, "If by dance, you mean doing the Macarena, then yes."

And by doing the Macarena, I mean that's literally the only trick I have up my sleeve. I can't wobble. I can barely dab (unless it's really hot outside). Nobody was ever able to teach me how to dougie, either. I can't two-step, but on a really good day I can twirl my dance partner without dropping her in the middle of dance floor. You catch my drift.

But I love to watch dance. There's something so raw, so athletic and so compassionate about a performer moving their bodies in ways I did not know were possible. I love to watch their feet, battered and bruised, twirl around the hard wood floor. I love to watch a woman lose herself in a number that flows impossibly perfect with a song choice.

When a dancer is bleeding, so am I. When she is victorious, so am I. When she is hopeful, so am I.

But dancing isn't for the faint of heart. Men and women give their all to perfect their skill, just like many other professional athletes.

And even though I can't dance, it infuriates me when I interview South Mississippi dancers who say time and time again that their classmates don't think that dancing is a sport. Their peers don't consider them athletes.

But every dancer I have interviewed over the past year doesn't care what others think. 11-year-old Pierson Feeney said people make fun of him for being a boy dancer, but he does it anyway because of how it makes him feel. Nyah Duckworth, 18, did not have scouts recruiting her to play football or basketball -- she had travel across the country for auditions on her dime to get accepted into her dream college. And Gulfport High did not host a signing day for Nyah like other athletes. But that's okay, because after she went to see her friends sign their college commitment papers, Island School of Performing Arts hosted their own "signing day" for Nyah.

When I put in an assignment to interview Nyah -- who got accepted on scholarship to University of the Arts in Philadelphia -- a coworker said, "Are you doing another story on a dancer?"

Yes, I am. Yes, I did. And no, I'm not sorry.

Dancers, just like any other high school athlete, deserve to see their names in the newspaper, in print and online. And Nyah's story is spectacular and special, much like Pierson Feeney's story or the Bay High Steppers dance team's win at state. Her story is just as unique as Taylor Gregory's story. The actor and dancer from Biloxi was the first boy to star in a Barbie advertisement.

I hope you'll read about Nyah's journey across the world to pursue her passion.