Norwich -- As a little boy, Steven Wilson used to dance around the kitchen to music playing on the radio. His mother, Debra Wilson, knew he had a talent for dance, but she was more concerned that he learn to read and that he love school.
Wilson, now 18 and about to graduate from Norwich Free Academy, went through 10 grades of school never thinking about dance. Then the passion hit like a flash flood. Wilson watched music videos and sneaked into teacher Gwen Martins' dance classes at NFA. He joined her community dance troupe, Colors of Life, and now helps her lead students in complex, choreographed hip-hop dance routines.
“I love to dance,” Wilson said. “It relieves tension. People say I'm good at it, but that's not my main motivation. It's like writing to get a point across. With dance, you are getting a point across to your audience.”
Wilson's passion for dance didn't replace his other motivations and hobbies. Two years ago, he won the NAACP youth service award, and last summer he was a member of the Presidential Classroom, a group of students who spent three weeks in Washington, D.C. working in government. He still tutors at the Greeneville Elementary School, where he attended grammar school, and belongs to clubs at NFA, including two that emphasize multi-racial interactions.
He has also channeled his zeal for dance and community service into the creation of a youth drill team he named El Amor Propio – “the love of oneself.” He started the group at the Greeneville School three years ago. As his students graduated to Kelly Middle School, he followed them.
Wilson quietly removed requirements that participants maintain good grades and stay out of trouble, hoping that troubled kids would see the program as motivation to come to school. But like a proud parent, he scanned the Kelly Middle School honor rolls and was pleased to see about half of “my kids” made it. Twice-weekly practices always included a stomping and chanting routine, “I am somebody. I will be somebody. I will do something.”
Two of his friends at NFA, Heidi Cappacetti and Jennifer Kowal, will teach the program next year, but Wilson called the eighth graders to the center of the gym and challenged them to become the future of El Amor Proprio.
“In four years, I will graduate from college and I want to sit in that chair and watch this performance,” he said. “That is your task.”
Although the middle school students cited Wilson's humor as one of the things they liked best about him, he is not kidding. Returning to Norwich is part of his career plan. After majoring in history and education and minoring in dance at Morehouse College in Atlanta, he hopes to come back to NFA to teach history and oversee the NFA Drill Team. Wilson is one of three drill team captains now.
“I think NFA is a great place,” Wilson said. “There are so many opportunities here for students. The teachers have helped me here all along the way. Being here, I've had a chance to go to Washington, D.C. and meet kids from all over the country. You just become in awe of what we have here. I'm ready for college, but I want to teach in a school like this.”
Wilson captivated the audience at Kelly with a tribute solo performance called “Trials and Tribulations.” He portrayed the suffering and torment of man, at one point carrying the world on his shoulder as he struggled forward. Kenneth Jenkins, a professional dancer and choreographer who lives at the Artspace artist apartment complex in downtown Norwich, choreographed the piece as a tribute to his brother, a diabetic who died recently.
The 6-foot, 1-inch, 220-pound, athletic Wilson also is a diabetic on regular medication.
The dance has a positive liturgical message, Wilson said. “No matter what you go through, it won't be more than you can bear.”
Jenkins and Martins both said Wilson has a natural talent that needs only technical dance instruction. He plans to enroll in ballet lessons at the Ballet Theater at Spellman College, Morehouse's counterpart women's college.
“In five years, I see Steven Wilson coming out of college and learning so much from great choreographers and powerful people in dance,” Martins said. “And he's going to come back to Norwich and give back to Norwich and share his talents with this community. He's very passionate about that, and so am I.”
Wilson won the regional competition of the Afro-Academic Cultural Technological Scientific Olympics (AACTSO) with the dance. He will compete in the AACTSO nationals July 4-8 in Houston. The award is a college scholarship.
Wilson's B+ average and his long résumé of civic activities have already earned him an annual $4,000 Martin Luther King Jr. Scholarship from the Norwich NAACP chapter and the $500 Burton Owens Scholarship.
Morehouse, a traditional college for African-American men that emphasizes character development and public service, costs $26,000 per year. Wilson figured he needs about $8,000 between now and the end of summer to pay his first year of tuition. He hopes his grades and activities will qualify him for a full scholarship next year.
Wilson's father is retired on disability and there are eight younger siblings at home: 16-year-old Debra; 10-year-old twins Derell and Terell; 9-year-old Britton; 8-year-old triplets Gilio, Gilia and Gilin and 10-month-old Yvdouia.
So for now, the family is soliciting donations for the Steven Wilson Scholarship Fund. On July 20, family and friends will host a barbecue rib dinner at the Tabernacle of Deliverance and Praise church on Hunters Road. Tickets to the dinner are $10. Donations to the Steven Wilson Scholarship Fund can also be sent to the Dime Bank, 290 Salem Turnpike, Norwich, CT 06360.