Against All Odds
● By Kirby Tello
By: Kirby Tello Photos by: Lillian Reitz
Many of us get bitten by the dance bug early in life. Whether it is of our own volition or imposed upon us by our parents, you might be hard-pressed to find someone who never took some sort of dance class. But in every studio, among every student, there are the rare few who have undeniable talent and show a real promise to make it big.
The dance world can be a very tight-knit community. Being a massive fan of all competitive dance shows and series (and they seem to be everywhere these days), I tend to give myself undue credit for knowing the ins and outs of what goes on inside the studio. I try to keep this gem of knowledge to myself around the professionals. Still, my inner want-to-be dancer tries very hard to pass as a woman who missed her calling, rather than a small child who ultimately got pushed into other sports.
One part excitement, several parts nerves, I walk into Lucy’s Snackbar for my conversation with local dance instructor Taylor Greer. Greer comes to the Bend by way of Garland, Texas, a suburb on the outskirts of Dallas. She moved to Corpus Christi just a few years ago, and in that time, she’s made a big splash.
Greer is self-described as someone with a “big personality.” Early on, she noticed that some of the students, and their parents, weren’t prepared for her energy. A young, determined, and highly skilled competitive dancer with a big city aura can be a new experience. But Greer didn’t let this challenge bother her too much; she just “kept true to herself and let her credentials speak for themselves.” And in comparison to other life challenges that she has encountered, dealing with skeptical dance moms has been one of the more natural hurdles to clear.
At the age of two, Greer’s family discovered – when her mother dropped a glass in the family kitchen and Greer had no response to the noise of it shattering – that her hearing was impaired. At that time, however, Greer still had some functionality in both ears, so her treatment plan consisted of hearing aids for many years. In the sixth grade, however, she was sitting in class when the school bell rang, and she didn’t hear it at all. Her friends were alarmed and got her attention through the use of American Sign Language to alert her it was time for the next class.
When Greer realized she couldn’t hear anything at all, she was terrified. She immediately went to the school nurse’s office, where she contacted her parents, and a new, more extensive treatment plan was needed to help her regain her ability to hear.
By this time, Greer was already fully immersed in dance classes and had shown significant promise in becoming a top contender in competitions. She had taken to dance like a fish to water, being one of the lucky few who are skilled enough to perform solo routines at age six. For years, her hearing aids were a crucial component in her ability to pursue higher levels of dance.
Even though her hearing impairment wasn’t dictating the activities or level of schooling she participated in, Greer has lots of memories from childhood, which she believes is due in part to some of the trauma she experienced at that young age. “I almost have no memory of middle school, though,” Greer recalls. “That could be because middle school is when we decided to move forward with the cochlear implant.”
As defined by the FDA, a cochlear implant is an implanted electronic hearing device designed to produce useful hearing sensations to a person with severe to profound nerve deafness by electrically stimulating nerves inside the inner ear. A cochlear implant receives sound from the outside environment, processes it, and sends small electric currents near the auditory nerve. Primarily, these currents stimulate the nerve and send a signal to the brain, which the person who is wearing the cochlear implant experiences as hearing. Although it is a much more invasive treatment than using a hearing aid, the usability and longevity of the cochlear implant far outweighed any other options presented in Greer’s case.
It would be entirely understandable for anyone presented with this set of circumstances to be discouraged in the pursuit of individual passions – especially dance, where hearing music and coordinating rhythm is at the root of the art. However, Greer never really let her inability to hear get in the way of continuing.
“Dance was my way of proving to people that I was capable of doing all things,” explains Greer.
“The dance studio was a safe zone where everyone knew about me being deaf, and so it wasn’t a separating or alienating factor. Dance was my four safe walls.”
Greer has a history of dance that runs in her family: Her mom, aunt, and cousin all attended Kilgore College and danced on the drill team – and so did she. In her senior year at Kilgore, she became the captain of the drill team. As depicted in many of the shows one would find on Netflix these days, Greer’s dance schedule was extremely rigorous. She often danced as a part of the drill team, while also training for studio competitions. For years she excelled in contemporary solos, consistently making the finals in both drill team and studio competitions.
Greer has done ballet, lyric, contemporary, hip-hop, jazz, and tap dancing. Soon after her successful cochlear implant surgery, Greer decided to quit doing tap. As she tells me this part of the story, she laughs and gives me a knowing look as if to communicate that this was an obvious choice. The cochlear implant allowed her hearing to be so precise that tap dancing was just way too loud. Even before that, though, her main focuses have always been contemporary, hip-hop, and jazz.
After Greer completed her two years at Kilgore College, she then applied to Chapman University in California, where the dance program is small and extremely competitive. It was common knowledge among dancers seeking admission to Chapman that no dancer had ever been, nor would be, accepted to the program immediately. Still, Greer performed her best routine, and the judges were so stunned by her abilities that after she finished, she gained acceptance on the spot. “I went into the hallway and grabbed my mother aside, taking her to the bathroom,” Greer recalls. “We both started crying in celebration of my acceptance and especially because instant admission into Chapman University is unheard of.”
During her time at Chapman, she would often travel to Los Angeles and do commercial projects, but eventually became homesick and decided to come back home to Dallas. Upon her arrival home, she had an opportunity to join the Dallas Cowboys’ Rhythm and Hip Hop team. She sustained a significant injury while dancing for the Cowboys, her second major injury in her career. And while this felt like a setback at the time, it allowed Greer to plan her next move. Once healed, she was in a position to travel and teach technical dance training and choreography all over the country for various studios and drill teams.
When the world-renowned Joffrey Ballet School brought its program to Dallas from New York City – the first time the school had offered programming outside of New York – Greer and other teachers at her studio were the first to teach that program.
“I always thought my career would lead to becoming a commercial dancer, but I found a love in teaching,” explains Greer. “What I love about teaching are the life lessons that come out of the rigorous discipline and dedication it takes to be a great dancer.” All in all, she wants to teach her students how to be a great dancer, but more importantly, a great person.
As far as the landscape of the dance scene in Corpus Christi, Greer says it is becoming more and more popular. “There is such a big drill team community here in Corpus,” she says, “which is something I only discovered as a result of moving here a few years ago.”
Hip hop is trending in Corpus Christi, as well. Currently, Greer has four classes where she teaches ages 5-14, all of which are consistently full.
Her first competition with her Corpus Christi students at Avant Dance Studio took place this past March, under the title, “Snack Attack,” a hip-hop routine based on the school lunchroom. Greer’s 14 students, ages 9-13, performed this at the competition. There is a studio-wide showcase in May when all dance students will present their routines.
Greer works with amazing teachers, both at Avant Dance Studio and her newest teaching gig, the Ballroom Collective Studio. She makes a point of emphasizing the amount of talent and potential the local dance community holds. As the excitement for dance continues to grow, there is no stopping this forward momentum for kids who want to explore non-traditional sports.
Greer is a real example of a dancer who is unwilling to be held back by life’s challenges. This is a lesson she gets the privilege of instilling in her students every day. And while not every dancer will have a story of adversity to tell, Greer’s focus is on showing every up-and-coming dancer that what is essential is to find your rhythm and dance to your own beat.