Katie D.

Katie is a personal friend who I went on tour with across Shanghai, China in 2015, performing at a variety of International cultural festivals alongside dancers from Scotland, Italy, and Mexico among others. I only later discovered her full-time career - a special education teacher.

‘Special Ed teacher by day, dancer by night’

I’m not one of those people who have been dancing since they were 3. I got a later start to dance; I was around 12 years old when I decided that’s what I wanted to do. So I guess the fact that I’m still dancing into adulthood is just me making up for lost time. I was always interested in dance, but scared that I didn’t have the training and experience to pursue it, especially when most dancers that I knew had been training since they could walk. So I signed up for class and started training. I would practice and stretch whenever I wasn’t doing school work. I worked really hard for a few years, and when I got to high school, I auditioned for the school dance team and I made it! I danced on the competitive team at Lake Park High School.

When I was looking for a college, I had 2 criteria: special education major and a dance team. Although I love to dance, I always kept my goal of becoming a special education teacher in my sight. I enrolled at the University of Illinois Chicago and made their competitive team. I was the only one from my high school team to continue dancing in college. And that’s where it began, one of the first of many times that I decided to keep making dance a part of my life when others did not.

If you were to ask me 10 years ago if I thought I would still be dancing as an almost-30 year old, I would never believe that not only am I still dancing, I am more involved in dance now than I ever have been before.

The reason I say that is because I always put my schooling/career ahead of my desire to dance. One of my biggest regrets is transferring colleges for my major. Shortly after starting college, UIC dropped the undergraduate major of special education. Instead of staying another year and continuing to dance, I left to attend Northeastern so I could finish my degree faster. I finished college in 3 years and jumped into the working world. If I could tell my college-self anything, it would be to stop growing up so fast. I did what I thought I should do, not what I wanted to do. 

I didn’t give up dance during that transition, instead I became the dance team coach at St. Ignatius. I lead my team to multiple top 3 finishes at State. I coached here until I finished college. Through this experience, I realized my love for coaching. Now as a Chicago Public School Special Education teacher, I’ve found a way to balance my career and still be involved in dance. Dance is my release from the day to day stress of my job. It’s my way to escape from my world and focus my energy through my movement.

Baoshan cultural festival Team USA

Through the last 7 years of being a teacher, getting my Master’s degree, and working on becoming Nationally Board Certified, I have been balancing multiple dance gigs at the same time. I am the Assistant Coach for the nationally ranked UIC Dancing Flames, a dance judge for IHSA, on staff at M2 Dance center, and a freelance choreographer for middle school, high school, college, and all-star dance teams who are locally and nationally ranked. Just this year, I traveled to China to represent the USA at the Shanghai Baoshan International Art Festival. I also danced in one of the opening numbers of the McDonalds Thanksgiving Day Parade.

In September, my principal asked me to teach a daily dance class at my school. So for the first time my two worlds are colliding and I get to dance every day and share my passion with my students with special needs and other students who are excited to learn. I’m so grateful for the dance opportunities that continue to come into my life and for all of the teams who continue to make my visions come to life on the dance floor. Most of my days consist of work, dance, eat, sleep, repeat and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Dancer leap great wall

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