There is a scene in the film “Billy Elliot” in which 11-year-old Billy is asked by one of the audition judges at the Royal Ballet what it feels like when he is dancing. Billy delivers an enchanting monologue that describes his feelings when he dances: it’s like electricity.
Dance also provided Teresa Gomez, a senior journalism major at Montclair State University, with electrifying experiences that would eventually lead toward her ideal future.
Gomez began her dance training at the age of 12 by watching YouTube videos. She was mesmerized by the likes of Autumn Miller and Club Dance Studio. Long before the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic mandated virtual dance training, Gomez would follow along with the Royal Ballet’s day class and Russian ballet exams.
After realizing her passion for dance, Gomez’s parents enrolled her in their local dance studio. Her talent was quickly recognized by Star Essence where she was invited to join the competition team for free but still had to pay tuition. After two years, Gomez’s dance teacher told her that there was only so much she could teach her and that it was time for Gomez to advance to a higher level.
“I did [advance] and that’s when I got accepted into the Joffrey School [of Ballet], but I didn’t get a full scholarship,” Gomez said. “So, I still kept going to Star Essence.”
Gomez described her upbringing as humble; her father worked two jobs and her mother was disabled. Her goal is to not have to face the same financial burdens she witnessed growing up. Dance training, costumes, makeup and dance competition fees could easily exceed $5,000 annually, making it a fee too costly for many families.
Later, Gomez attended her junior and senior year of high school at Middlesex County Vocational and Technical Schools (MCVTS) to study dance. From grade six through grade 10, she attended Abeka Academy, an online home schooling program by Pensacola Christian College.
“[It] was a jump from being online, to public school,” Gomez said. “Once I was at [MCVTS], I started auditioning for colleges my senior year.”
Gomez applied to Montclair State, University of Virginia, Marymount Manhattan College and Rutgers University as a dance and premedical major. She hoped to one day work at Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at New York University’s Langone Orthopedic Hospital.
Unfortunately, she was not accepted into any of the dance programs. Rejection, however, did not deter her from dancing.
“I auditioned for ‘West Side Story,’ a bunch of different schools [and] the [Martha] Graham School,” Gomez said. “I would just have fun at auditions; I had nothing to lose. It wasn’t life or death for me.”
Emely Alba, a senior communication and media arts major and friend of Gomez, attested to Gomez’s resilience.
“There were moments where I could see her stress out, but she always pushed through, no matter the obstacle.” Alba said.
Gomez recalled her experience auditioning for Ballet Hispanico (BH), located in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. BH, according to their website, is “the nation’s renowned Latino dance organization and one of America’s cultural treasures.”
“I went to [BH and] it was the first year they were doing the Nuestro Futuro scholarship program audition,” Gomez said. “I remember thinking I did a really bad job. It was three hours [and] there were over 100 people of various ages. I just remember loving it and wishing I could be there after I left.”
A month later Gomez received an email stating that she was the recipient of the inaugural Nuestro Futuro scholarship, a yearlong full-tuition scholarship to support her training.
Once at BH, Gomez was fully immersed in the role of a pre-professional dancer. She remembers a time the Broadway cast of King Kong was rehearsing next door to her studio. She also acquired new dance styles: flamenco, Afro-Cuban and the modern techniques of Martha Graham and Katherine Dunham.
She performed at the United Palace theater, Tony Bennett Concert Hall and would have performed at The Joyce Theater, had it not been for her academic responsibilities.
.@MSU_Thtre_Dance student @teresamdg14 expresses the freedom, the release, the absolute joy that comes with the end of the semester and the holiday season. It’s a spirit we share as each of us dance our way through life. #finishline #happyholidays #dance pic.twitter.com/Xl13tQhED9
— Montclair State University (@montclairstateu) December 20, 2018
During her freshman year at Montclair State, Gomez realized chemistry and mathematics were not her favorite subjects, resulting in a hesitance about her future plans to be a pre-medical major.
“[My time at BH] definitely brought me to what I chose now, journalism. There was one day that [journalists] from Dance Magazine came to [BH]. They talked about their career goals and that they wanted a stable income,” Gomez said. “And growing up not having so much money, I wanted that.”
Gomez was passionate about dance, but she acknowledged that the financial reality of the field was not in line with the future she envisioned for herself.
This newfound interest led her to change her major and apply to the journalism program at Montclair State’s School of Communication and Media Arts (SCM). Gomez met with professor Thomas Franklin before being accepted into SCM. Gomez remembers how candid Franklin was.
“He was like, ‘Well, journalism is hard. Not everybody finds a job. You might not even get a job; you might not even end up in journalism,’” Gomez recalled. “He asked me what I wanted to do, and I remember I said, ‘I don’t know, maybe I’ll work for a news company, maybe work for ABC or something.’”
Fast-forward to January of this year and Gomez was hired as an intern at WABC-TV in the creative services and community engagement department. She also decided to focus on her studies and stop formally training in dance. At WABC-TV, Gomez was reunited with ex-feature editor of The Montclarion and classmate, Chanila German.
“I think that her dance background has really helped her become a visual learner,” German said. “She learns better by seeing someone do something and then she’ll grasp it right away. She’ll be like, ‘Thanks, got it,’ and run with it. That’s definitely coming from dance.”
Gomez credits dance with many of her strengths as a journalist.
“Especially because [to] edit
, you have to have rhythm,” Gomez said. “If you don’t have rhythm as an editor, nobody is going to really watch [your video], because you want to feel that motion as you’re watching. [In dance] I learned about working as a group, talking with other people, dedication, being determined and not giving up.”
Gomez is looking forward to her future, post-graduation.
“Five years from now, I hope that I’m producing, editing or writing,” Gomez said. “Honestly, my biggest goal is to have a stable job where I can live on my own, do things on my own and be independent.”