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Class of 2002: Through the ups and downs, he kept on dancing

By Claire Bessette

Publication: The Day

Published December 25. 2012 4:00AM

Since he graduated from Norwich Free Academy 10 years ago, Steve Wilson has pursued his passion for dance, performed for the United Nations, danced for Lady Gaga's anti-bullying campaign, told his mother he is gay, got married, became an AIDS research assistant and still hopes to return to Connecticut to teach dance.

"My past 10 years have been up and down," Wilson, now 28, said during a recent telephone interview from his home in the Washington, D.C., area.

Wilson never stopped dancing, but his career path did take a dramatic shift. He had entered Morehouse College in Atlanta to learn drama and dance and to become a teacher. He left after three years to pursue his dance career, returning to Connecticut for three years to teach for Dance Express and Writers Block Ink in New London. He worked at Mohegan Sun at night as a slots machine attendant.

"I thought I'd go back (to college) and finish at the time," Wilson said, "but I didn't. Sometimes I regret it, but I'm OK with it most days."

Life and career changes were in store in 2007, when Steve Wilson married Brandon Wilson, whom he had met in college and reconnected with when Steve was living in Connecticut. Brandon Wilson is a clinical research recruiter specialist for the National Institutes of Health.

The couple moved to Washington, D.C., in 2008, where Steve Wilson started working as a research assistant at the Clinical Alliance for Research & Education-Infectious Diseases in Annandale, Va. There he works with patients and recruits volunteers for clinical trials for HIV/AIDS vaccines and groundbreaking treatments.

He also works on HIV/AIDS policy issues in Washington. Wilson said the work is rewarding and he wants to continue in the field, but his passion remains in his dancing and teaching dance to others.

Wilson founded the Oasis Dance Co. in 2003, with dancers ranging in age from 18 to 26 learning all forms of dance for performances in everything from parades and pride events to national competitions and social awareness campaigns.

The group performed with Lady Gaga in her Born This Way Foundation's anti-bullying campaign that grew from her song "Born This Way." Wilson said Oasis dancers also performed at the United Nations and last year competed in the World of Dance competition in Chicago.

He brought the troupe to Norwich in September 2011 for a performance and fundraiser at NFA and he's planning a major dance event for this spring in eastern Connecticut, hoping to schedule it at Connecticut College or the Garde Arts Center. The Oasis board of directors is looking for sponsors for the show, he said.

The anti-bullying campaign hits home for Wilson. He is the oldest of eight children, including triplets Gilio, Gilia and Gilin, who are seniors at NFA and all in special education programs.

Last spring Gilio helped launch a campuswide campaign against bullying and insulting words. The video "Spread the Word, Just Don't Say It" featured Gilio and many classmates in a campaign against the word "retarded" that became a hit on YouTube.

Steve Wilson is proud that the triplets will graduate from NFA this year and plans to be in town for the graduation ceremony. Their mother, Debra Wilson, said the three will enroll in a vocational program after high school.

Steve Wilson thought for a moment about what sort of advice he would offer to his siblings and other members of the NFA Class of 2012. Then he said he would tell them to keep their own dreams and goals in mind when they make life-changing decisions and not to be afraid to say "no" if others try to persuade them to change their paths.

Wilson entered his own senior year of high school just before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, an event that changed many lives throughout the country. The attacks affected Wilson to the point where he altered his own dream of living and performing in New York City. He had trained for dance there and had attended many Broadway plays for inspiration.

"It made me focused," Wilson said of the attacks. "Because part of me had really wanted to live in New York and go to school in New York, and it kind of shifted me away from that. It took me to Atlanta (and Morehouse College)."

Debra Wilson admitted she was disappointed when Steve dropped out of college, but she accepted the decision as he was pursuing his real dream of a career in dance. She still expects him to return to school at some point. She's proud of his research work and said he seems to love that career as well.

At one point when he was in college, Steve struggled to tell his mom that he is gay.

"He thought there was going to be a big fallout about it," she said. "But I knew."

Steve Wilson hopes to return to Connecticut permanently, but he knows that Washington offers better opportunities for his daytime career.

With the goal of eventually returning to his home state in mind, Wilson has a dream of starting the Wilson-Gillard Performing Arts Center, named for a close college mentor, Leon Gillard, who died abruptly in 2008 of pneumonia.

Gillard had been Wilson's choreography and step coach in college and urged him to launch the Oasis Dance Co., which now has an annual award for community youth service in Gillard's memory.

"Within the next 10 years," Wilson said, "I'd like to be the director of the Wilson-Gillard Performing Arts Center."

c.bessette@theday.com

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