Instructor Lynn Wilmot-Stenehjem remembers the 3-year-old nailing the dance routines, then freezing up backstage before the recital.
“She was just incredibly shy and didn’t want to do it,” Wilmot-Stenehjem said. “Once she did, though, that was it. You couldn’t stop her.”
Not much has stopped Sophia Manenica-Frank from dancing with the Morgan Family YMCA since – not injury, not financial problems, not personal dilemmas that might
have sidelined her.
Sophia is 22 now, and while she’s still taking dance classes, she’s also teaching them.
“I’m teaching six classes a week and working part-time at the Lakewood YMCA as the arts coordinator,” she said. “I’m looking for a second, part-time job that I can work within my schedule – maybe all mornings, or after midnight. I’m thinking Starbucks, Walmart, maybe working as a part-time nanny.”
Wilmot-Stenehjem, now the associate executive director of the Pierce and Kitsap County YMCAs, said her one-time student has one quality every nanny needs – the absolute devotion of children.
Yes, Sophia teaches dance to her YMCA students, and has for years. The past few months, however, the YMCA tried an outreach program at Point Defiance Elementary School – and nearly 100 kids signed up.
“We partnered with the PTA and offered 10 weeks of classes for $20,” Wilmot-Stenehjem said. “I’ve asked children what they love most about the program, and the answer is always the same – ‘Miss Sophia!’”
Sophia’s passion for dance has been hard-earned. Her love of children came naturally, and she remembers what dancing did for her as a child.
“At 5, I saw Elmo tap dance on ‘Sesame Street’ and that was it, I wanted to learn to tap dance,” she said. “I’ve taken jazz, hip-hop, contemporary and modern dance. I’d take ballroom dancing, but I haven’t found a local group that teaches it.
“At 10, I became a teacher’s assistant in tap classes. When I was 15, I was employed as a tap teacher at the Y.”
She danced with the Morgan Family YMCA Dance Company, an age 11-to-18 troupe that performed around the Northwest each year and, every three years or so, took a two-week trip.
Those trips were marvelous opportunities — during her run in the company, the troupe went to London, China and New York. Each of the trips cost dancers about $3,000, and the YMCA had fundraising events to help offset the cost.
Sophia missed all three trips.
“I was 15 or 16 and my mother was fighting cancer when we made the first trip, and it just wasn’t a time when I could go,” she said.
“I was 18 when the troupe had its second trip, and my family’s home burned down. We lost everything, and I just couldn’t ask for money to go. Kids from the troupe got together and gave me a gift card for dancing clothes – all mine had been burned.”
“Three years ago, the group went to China, but we were still rebuilding the house. I really wanted to make that trip. Again, it just wasn’t the time.”
In March, the dance company she helps teach will travel to Vietnam and Cambodia and immerse itself in the culture of those nations. After missing the first three trips, Sophia wasn’t going to miss a fourth.
“I’ve been saving all year, and I’m about $200 short of the $3,200 we need,” she said. “I’m going to get a loan from my mom, and go as a teacher and a dancer. We’ve had fundraising events, and we’re selling T-shirts. On the front, there’s the YMCA logo. On the back is the quote, ‘Dance is the hidden language of the soul – Martha Graham.’”
Those T-shirts are available through any Tacoma-area YMCA, and cost $12.
“I’ve seen kids grow up in the YMCA program, like I did,” Sophia said. “Some of those I teach are like little sisters. To see them go on a trip like this — and to go myself? It’s one of the highlights of my 22 years.”
* * *
A happy birthday goes out to Caden Stockton of Fircrest, who knows how to make the most of numbers.
Today, on the 12th day of the 12th month of 2012 – 12-12-12 – Caden turns 12 years old.Larry LaRue: 253-597-8638