By Rosaland Tyler
New Journal and Guide
Kahlil Gibran could have been talking about the first line dancers at Norfolk State University when he said, “It is when you give of yourself that you truly give.”
Obviously Gibran was not talking about the first, six line dancers at Norfolk State, because the poet died in 1931 about a decade after he wrote The Prophet, a book that launched a new genre called inspirational fiction. While critics gave his ground-breaking book a cool reception, it sold well. Currently Gibran is the third best-selling poet of all time, behind Shakespeare and Chinese philosopher Laozi.
And this is where the first line dancers at Norfolk State come in: Line dancing was a relatively new genre in 1983 when Stephanie Wright-Jenkins signed up for several grueling auditions, survived tryouts, and soon strutted her stuff on the gridiron and hard courts at Norfolk State. Now, about three decades later the dancers are giving back. In 2014, the group launched a mentorship program for aspiring dancers in middle school and high school. In 2015, the group launched a foundation.
“We were treated like celebrities,” said Wright-Jenkins, an NSU dancer from 1983 to 1984, who now heads Ice4Life Foundation Inc. “
“Dance line was new to NSU,” Wright-Jenkins explained. “They handpicked us. They had high expectations for us. It was jazz dancing. Yes, it was a confidence booster for sure.”
“We instantly became a sisterhood,” Wright-Jenkins said. “We spent countless hours together working on choreography. So we stuck together on and off the field. We were so close that we have been in each other’s weddings.”
“We support each other by having baby showers and bridal showers,” she said. “We attend each other’s retirement ceremonies. We attend funerals. We wear a special pink silk corsage to each funeral.” “One dancer who danced in the 1990s passed away from breast cancer about a year ago” Wright-Jenkins said. “She was from Portsmouth. We have a Facebook page. The passion and camaraderie we felt back then are still alive. We were very close and remained that way. We didn’t have to pledge a sorority because we were similar to one.”
This means the group that made history at Norfolk State is still on the cutting edge. The former dancers give of themselves. And they are teaching a new generation of dancers how to develop self-esteem, a sense of sisterhood, and discipline. “We offer dance workshops and mentorship sessions each month,” Wright-Jenkins said.
“We require our participants to participate in community service activities,” she continued. “They participated in the Making Strides of Hampton Roads Breast Cancer Awareness Walk, partnered with the Sister Network and distributed Breast Cancer Awareness literature in low- income neighborhoods in Norfolk and helped to feed the homeless at St. Mary’s Catholic Church.”
“We will complete the year with more dance workshops, mentoring sessions, an etiquette class and formal tea in April,” she said. “At the formal tea our young ladies will have a chance to wear their beautiful dresses, hats and gloves while enjoying a program put together especially for and in honor of them. A Princess Ball is slated for spring 2017.”
The group plans to recruit new members in May and launch mentoring programs in other areas including Atlanta, the Washington, D.C. area, North Carolina, Richmond, and Ohio. Wright-Jenkins said, “The Ice4Life Foundation has some very exciting plans for the future. We are in the planning stages of hosting a Youth Empowerment Conference in July 2017 which will be held on the campus of Norfolk State University. The plan is to sponsor 100 or more young ladies and young men in the Hampton Roads Area.”
For more information, please phone 897-0576.