Class of 2018: Cumberland teen uses dance to teach, inspire others

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CUMBERLAND — Dancing has inspired Michaela Ellison for 15 of her 18 years.

And the Greely High School senior, who graduates Sunday, June 3, continually uses that gift to enrich others.

Last year, she spent study hall time for four months teaching a Greely Middle School girl with Down syndrome how to dance, and choreographing a dance recital for her at the end of the school year.

Greely’s graduation will be held in the 303 Main St. gym at 1:30 p.m.

“I love being able to express myself (through dancing), because I’m very visual, and I’m very artistic,” Ellison said May 24. “At school, it’s hard for me to sit down and take a test, where I’d rather go and do a project.”

Despite their differences, ballet and hip hop are her two favorite types of dance. Asked whether she could ever incorporate them into one routine, she said with a laugh, “probably not.”

Ellison had taken up dancing in Massachusetts before her parents moved to Cumberland when she was 6. She has since honed the art through the Studio for the Living Arts Dance Complex in Gray, which has students between the ages of 5 and 18.

Her involvement there goes beyond the dance floor. Ellison helps with teaching and has taken part in “Perform for a Cure” to raise money toward cancer research, as well as the “Dance for Autism.”

“We’ve done a lot of fundraisers, which is fun,” she said.

Ellison and her mother last year created a mentoring program, Pulse Pals, a nod to the Gray studio’s competitive Pulse Dance Company.

“It’s a way for the older girls to mentor the little ones,” Ellison said, noting the pairs will make posters for each other’s away competitions.

“I wish I had that when I was younger,” she said. “… That’s one thing I’ve been really proud about. We’re passing it along because I’m going to graduate.”

One of Ellison’s most important mentoring roles was the one she served with Caitlin Williams, the Greely Middle student. Her guidance counselor, Melissa Fowler, had approached her about teaching the girl to dance, and Ellison leaped at the opportunity.

They spent four months working together on a jazzy “Kidz Bop” version of the Beyonce song “Single Ladies.”

“It was fun because I got to go down there and work with her once a week,” she recalled. “We created a dance routine for her, and at the end of the year we put on a recital for all the teachers in the room, and her parents and siblings.”

The event “was really emotional, and made me really proud of her, and seeing her grow,” Ellison said. “It took a while for her to memorize the routine, but she worked really hard on it.”

That experience, through which Ellison learned much about patience and better ways to communicate with people with Down syndrome, branched into this year’s senior project. She is working with Caitlin and other students in Greely Middle’s Functional Life Skills room, where she helped coordinate a talent show last week.

Ellison will enroll this fall at Endicott College in Beverly, Massachusetts, where she plans to major in interior design and minor in another talent, photography, and – no surprise – dance.

Dance is likely to follow whatever journey she takes in life, whether she’s teaching it or simply doing it.

“I love it so much that I’m always hoping it’s in my life,” she said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Michaela Ellis, a dancer and photographer, is among Greely High School’s class of 2018, due to graduate June 3.

Greely High senior Michaela Ellis, at right, taught Greely Middle student Caitlin Williams how to dance last year and choreographed a recital for her.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.