Graceful: An HBCU Dance Story (Chapter 2: Confidence)


Check out our first HBCU Pulse e-book free of charge, entitled Graceful: An HBCU Story by Fort Valley State University Author & P.H.A.S.E.S Dancer Jehnivia Cleveland. “Graceful” is an episodic book series and this second episode is entitled “Confidence”.

Episode 2: “Confidence”

After making S.H.A.D.O.W., I was ready for practice. What Destiny told me at our impromptu tryout stayed in my mind all week.

You’re a great dancer and you need to believe it.

I tirelessly practiced my spins, turns, and kicks over and over so that I would be prepared to display even more of my talent to Destiny. I wanted to have the best experience on the team. This is my future after all.

I walked to practice with my Purple and Gold Laketon State Nike bag on my shoulder. Inside my bag, I had my dance shoes, water, and a rag. I had worn my sweats so that I would not take up too much time changing. I walked inside of practice to Destiny and the rest of the team.

“Hey,” they said waving and smiling.

I was shocked that they were all excited to see me. I smiled. I had to get used to being around this new environment where everything isn’t a competition. S.H.A.D.O.W. was legit a family, nothing like it used to be at Gilliard. As I walked over to put my things down, I could see old members of the team going over counts. I tried not to stare too hard. I put on my dance shoes so that I would be prepared. Negative thoughts started to cross my mind. “What if I trip and fall?”

I laughed to myself at the thought. I avoided eye contact with the rest of the girls as I walked to the floor. Destiny walked in, not saying anything to anyone. She was focused on the task of getting us ready for our first performance at the Laketon State University Homecoming Kick-Off in two weeks. She looked at us warming up and called us to attention.

“Good afternoon ladies. I hope you all had a great week. I once again want to say congratulations for making S.H.A.D.O.W. but now it’s time to work. Go ahead and start stretching. We will learn the first routine afterwards. Kick-off is in two weeks and we want to be letter perfect. Let’s get it going ladies! No time to waste!”

I stretched, watching the other girls talk to one another. They all seemed comfortable. One of the girls was social with everyone. She told each girl to stretch lower and what needed to be higher. I figured that she had to be captain. She was in perfect shape, with her abs perfectly sculpted and displayed for everyone to see in her bright peach crop top.  Her legs were toned. I was sure she worked on the craft of dancing 24/7, probably harder than I do.

I continued stretching, watching them as they spoke. I tried not to compare my body, but it was hard not to. She looked like she already was a professional dancer. Truth be told, she looked more like Destiny than I did.

Destiny shouted. “Ok! Warm up is over! I need you guys to do 10 laps around this gym.”

Some of the girls looked at her like she was crazy. She didn’t say anything. She just started to jog herself. The girl I suspected to be the captain immediately started to run behind her. Then, the rest of us did. Destiny took us through a whole work-out just to warm up. No lie, I was tired. I had to suck it up though. We hadn’t even practiced the routine yet and that was something that I needed to learn to make sure that I was perfect.

“Ok ladies! Let’s get started on the Kick-off routine! Watch what I do. You go one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, and… five, six, seven, eight. Got it? Good! I need you to start practicing it now.”

Destiny did the moves fast. I wanted to ask her to do it over again! I then looked over at the other girls who got the moves on the first try. It wasn’t easy. I could not get the moves as much as I tried. I was frustrated. It was all too confusing in my eyes. I didn’t think that it would be as fast paced. I had never learned anything like it.

“Perfect! Does anyone need help before I move on?”

I stared at her. I couldn’t get myself to ask for help. I didn’t want it to seem like I was the only one who did not understand. I stood there with the other girls, hoping someone else would say something.

“Wonderful! We’re about to move on.”

If I wasn’t going to say anything, I would just have to practice on my own. That was it. I needed to practice having confidence if I chose not to ask questions. I continued to learn the rest of the moves. Surprisingly, I caught on. My negative thoughts start to come back to me.

It had to be a confidence thing. I have the moves just no confidence.

I was overthinking so much that I did not even notice that she had told everyone to grab a partner. Destiny walked over to one of the girls to show us what we would have to do.

“Walk around your partner doing the dance moves I just taught. Do not stand too close.  Do you all have it?”

Everyone nodded.

I searched the room to find anyone that was left who could be my partner. I locked eyes with the captain, watching her walk towards me. I looked away, as if I didn’t think she would notice that I was trying to remain calm.

She smiled. I smiled nervously.


We positioned ourselves the way Destiny showed us.

Destiny yelled. “Five six, seven, eight!”

She clapped her hands over and over before we began. I danced mocking the moves I thought I knew. I just so happen to mess up the dance in the middle of the counts. I was embarrassed.

“Stop!” Destiny yelled. “Practice with your partners.”

I took a deep breath. I had to get it. The captain didn’t frustrated at me messing up at all. She looked at me and asked. “Are you ok?”

I responded. “Yes. It’s just I didn’t get some of the moves.”

“It’s ok! Destiny showed me earlier and I didn’t get it right off either. I understand it a little better now. Let me show you what she did, but a little slower.”

She did each move step by step. I made sure to do it along with her. She could see that I was trying, I just didn’t believe that I could do it.

“That was good! Now do it by yourself.”

I showed her the moves. I had done each of the moves without messing up. I didn’t overthink the routine. I counted the moves correctly, with attitude. She smiled.

“What’s your name?”

“It’s Janelle.”

“I’m Kia, the captain.  If you need help again just let me know.”

I nodded, letting her know I was thankful for her help. I was excited that I could ask her for help if I wanted to. I felt more comfortable asking her privately

“Is everyone ready?”

“Yes!” they yelled.

I was excited to learn the next combo. I danced full out in every move. I was too into the dance that I didn’t notice how tired I was until after. We did the entire dance she taught. We all looked like we had been called by Beyoncé to do a show. It was perfect. Destiny talked to us a little after.

“We will learn a new dance tomorrow. Be ready to perfect this one.”

I was excited for the dances she had planned for us.

I walked over to my bag. I could hear the other girls talking.

I heard someone behind me shout. “Janelle!”

I looked over my shoulder to see that it was Kia calling my name. I walked over to the rest of the girls standing along with her.

“Did you want to work on some of the dances outside of practice with us?”

I smiled. “I would love to!”


Make sure to follow me on Instagram: @niviajay_



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