Get to know the next generation of must-know names that are changing the game in the series Introducing, where Sports Illustrated and Empower Onyx are celebrating the Black women and girls who are emerging leaders and rising stars in the sports world.
School: Bishop McNamara High School (Forestville, Md.)
Hometown: Upper Marlboro, Md.
Hobbies: Shopping, hanging out with friends, cooking with dad
Future goals: Go to college in California (UCLA or USC) and perform onstage with Beyoncé
Most take a lifetime to figure out their passion—but not Daneya Celestin. The focused teen knew at the early age of 3 that dance was in her soul. She spends endless hours practicing—not just because she wants to be the best, but because she truly loves it. When she is not in the studio perfecting her pliés or working on a signature tap routine with choreographer Danielle Ward, you can find her at the mall shopping with friends, in the kitchen cooking with her dad or enjoying her favorite fast food, Chick-fil-A. The Upper Marlboro, Md., teen took some time away from her busy schedule to chat in her Washington, D.C., studio about how she feels dance is the cure to stress, why it should be taken seriously as a sport, why Beyoncé is her go-to music to dance to and more.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length.
Empower Onyx: What is your dance background and when did you discover dance was for you?
Daneya Celestin: I train in tap, jazz, ballet, hip-hop and modern—and I also do improv. I started out doing gymnastics at the “Little Gym.” One day my mom enrolled me in a dance class. … I loved it! I went to my mom and told her that I want to dance and I want to dance for real.
EO: What’s your favorite style of dance?
DC: Contemporary and tap. Contemporary because it’s the most expressive genre of dance, but you can also show off your tricks. And then tap, because I’m good at it. Not a lot of people are strong at tap, so it’s something different about me, when I go places and they’re like, “What are your strengths?” I’m like, “Well, I tap!” They don’t have a lot of tappers out there.
EO: How did it feel when you took those first dance steps?
DC: It felt like joy, actually. When I’m dancing, I can tell that it’s not something that’s just for the moment; it’s something for a lifetime.
EO: You started in gymnastics before transitioning to dance. Do you think dance is just as rigorous and athletic as gymnastics—would you consider it a sport?
DC: I do consider it a sport, although I also consider it an art form. I wish people took it more seriously, like when it comes to football or basketball and it’s easily considered a sport. When it comes to dance, that’s always a question. I feel like the definition of a sport is something that takes time and something that you compete in. There’s a lot of competitive dancers out there. Dance takes a lot of time, especially if you want to become an expert at it. I think it’s a real sport and it’s definitely an art form because it’s a way that you express yourself and express your emotions.
EO: I would think that as a brown girl, people expect you to dance urban or hip-hop. Are they surprised when they discover you’re a trained dancer and a ballerina? Have you experienced any racism because of that?
DC: I personally have not experienced any racism. I think that the common perception for a brown dancer is that she’s only trained in urban style of dance—hip-hop, very street jazz—and that’s not always the case. A lot of my friends and a lot of people that I know are more geared towards ballet and contemporary like me. Just because we are brown in color does not mean that we don’t have the technical training as all of the other dancers.
EO: What would you like to see happen with the future of dance?
DC: I’d like to see dance offered in more schools. A lot of performing arts schools are the only schools that have dance. The other schools offer basketball, football, volleyball, but they don’t offer a lot of dance programs. I feel like they should, just because there are some people who can’t go to a studio so they can get that training at school. Just to be able to get that training at school is enough for them to realize that dance may be their passion or that it’s something that they would love to do.
EO: Finish this sentence: If more people in the world danced …
DC: ... they’d probably feel less stressed and happier! Because like I said, dance is a form of expressing your emotions. If you dance every day, not only are you finding something that you could possibly be good at, but you’re also finding something to help you release your stress and get your mind off certain things.
EO: What is your favorite song to dance to when no one is looking?
DC: Any song by Beyoncé, really. I feel like Beyoncé’s music has it all. Put on a Beyoncé playlist, then I’ll dance.
EO: If you had to choose between Beyoncé, Ciara or Megan Thee Stallion, who would it be?
DC: Oh, you threw in another factor with Megan. Since Beyoncé hasn’t given us a lot of music lately and that hurts my heart, I got to go with Megan.