ST. GEORGE — A St. George resident and recent Desert Hills High School graduate has earned national recognition from the National Honor Society for Dance Arts.
Gabrielle Erickson was named the national winner of the National Dance Education Organization’s Artistic Merit, Leadership and Academic Achievement Award, one of the highest dance honors in the United States.
According to their website, the “National Honor Society for Dance Arts is a program of the National Dance Education Organization, created to recognize outstanding artistic merit, leadership and academic achievement in students studying dance in public and private schools in K-12 education, dance studios, cultural/community centers, performing arts organizations and post-secondary education.”
Desert Hills High School has had an active chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts for 10 years.
Similar to the National Honor Society, students must qualify for induction into the program by earning and maintaining a certain number of credits in both academic and artistic criteria.
To apply for the award, which is open to all junior and senior high school students in society chapters, Erickson had to show high achievement in artistic merit, leadership and academics by completing two written essays, choreographing, filming and submitting a solo dance piece, and providing her cumulative grade point average.
Erickson said she started taking dance classes after being rejected from a theater callback.
“I used to be really into theater,” she said.
She didn’t make it through the dance round of callbacks, so she decided to enroll in some dance classes to get the “triple threat” – acting, singing and dancing – for theater, she said.
It was near that time that the Desert Hills High School Dance Company performed at Erickson’s intermediate school and she became enamored with what she called a weird modern dance piece that the company performed.
“I was blown away,” Erickson said.
From that time forward, Erickson said she knew she wanted to be on the dance company.
Erickson auditioned for Desert Hills High School’s Dance Company as soon as she reached eighth grade, but dance company advisor Courtney Pearce said she did not take her for the company that first year.
“She was new to the dance world and needed some training,” Pearce said.
But Erickson said she just really loved the dance company and the idea that they got to create, so she started taking aerobics classes and other dance classes both inside and outside of school.
When she reached ninth grade, Erickson auditioned again and made it this time.
“When she came to me in ninth grade, she was a totally different kid,” Pearce said. “I think she was bound and determined to prove me wrong.”
It was that kind of drive to succeed coupled with her drive to create engaging and thought-provoking dance pieces that helped Erickson earn the top honors, something that Pearce said makes her student stand out.
“She has this underlying passion to create things that are hers, that she can call hers forever,” Pearce said. “She really dives in and pulls back all the layers, which is kind of unique for a high school kid. Everything she does is full of passion.”
Erickson also has a passion for education, she said, adding that she plans to study education and dance education in hopes of being able to influence and help others.
The young dancer and choreographer has already been influential in classrooms as she has been part of the Beverley Taylor Sorenson Arts Program bringing dance and movement to special needs students, she said.
“I loved getting their creative brains moving,” Erickson said.
Erickson touted the importance of dance education as a way for people to understand themselves better through creativity. Dance education, she said, has helped her learn what she is passionate about and experience a lot of growth.
“It is just really remarkable to see how far I’ve come. I’ve been so fortunate to grow as much as I have from dance,” Erickson said.
The award came as somewhat of a surprise to Erickson who applied in January and had anticipated hearing news in April. Because of COVID-19, results were delayed, and when she got the email, she didn’t really understand that she had won.
“I thought I was just part of a group of people, but I was the national winner,” she said. “I was very much in shock.”
To earn the award, Erickson was up against dancers from both public and private schools, including private arts schools, a fact that Pearce said makes it all the more special.
“You are competing with kids in performing arts high schools where their daily focus is in their field,” Pearce said. “It’s super stand out that from a public school you’ve got this girl that has put in the work and really showcased herself.”
Pearce said that in addition to all her achievements, Erickson is also very humble and hardworking which makes her all the more deserving.
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