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Teen of the Week: Key School junior teaches others her passion for dance

Correspondent

There was a time in Grace Gallant’s young life when all she could think about was dance.

As a competitive dancer since she was 12 years old, the Key School student worked hard at the sport and competed regionally and nationally in tap, ballet and lyrical. But, a hip injury in her freshman year made it too painful to dance competitively.

It left Grace wondering what was next if she couldn’t pursue the passion she had been involved in since she was three years old? Not one to give up easily, she focused on sharing her passion with others.

Last year, the now high school junior, founded Grace’s Graceful Dancers, a free dance instructional program for young children from underserved neighborhoods. Grace didn’t like the idea that a parent’s ability to pay stood in the way of children who wanted to take dance lessons.

“I thought that dance was my entire life and I thought that if I ever had to quit, my world would end; then I got the injury. And then, I came up with the idea to teach dance,” she said. “I guess it’s an important lesson that I learned – not to let something set me back. I realized dance wasn’t going to be my life and that there were better ways that I could be involved in it.”

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The program, now in its second year is successful and Grace is planning to take it one step further and extend the program to offer classes to children with learning or physical disabilities. She holds the program at the Key School’s dance studio on several weekends throughout the year.

However, dance is only one small part of Grace’s multi-faceted world. She’s also passionate about all things French, which led her to participate in a two-and-a-half-week exchange program last summer where she immersed herself in the culture and language.

“It was a challenge for sure,” she said noting that the family she stayed with only spoke French.

Her French instructor for the past four years, Babette Leshinsky, said that when Grace returned from France, she was impressed that she not only developed linguistic skills, but also was adept in France’s culture. “She was very observant; she came back so enthusiastic and confident.

“What is remarkable about her is that she not only wants to be an excellent French student, she wants to be proficient in it,” Leshinsky continued. “She wants the whole deal – reading, writing, listening and speaking. She’s fully invested in learning.”

Leshinsky, also Foreign Language Chair at Key, added that Grace is one of the most determined students she’s ever encountered in her 40 plus years of teaching.

“When she sets a goal, she’s going to reach that goal,” she said. “It’s really quite remarkable to see that in a high school student.”

Diana Toebbe, Grace’s Humanities teacher for the past two years, agreed. “Grace is absolutely willing to do what it takes. She’s tenacious. For example, if she gets an A- on a paper, she’ll rewrite it. (Key students are given the opportunity to rewrite assignments if they don’t like the grade they’ve received.) That is a statement to be the absolute best she can be. She wants to understand, ‘OK, this isn’t as good as it could have been, how can I make it better?’ And, she’s willing to do the work. That’s just astonishing to me and really rare because it’s so genuine.”

Grace is in the process of looking at colleges and thinks she may want to major in French and or the sciences. Medicine is an option, influenced by her volunteering at Anne Arundel Medical Center three hours a week since her freshman year.

“It’s pretty impactful to me. I switch around in different departments and I found what interested me the most in medicine was oncology. It makes me inspired to help in the medical field,” she said.

Toebbe, who also describes Grace as “poised and force of nature,” isn’t surprised that Grace is so involved helping others.

“There are some people who you look at and you think, ‘that is an incredibly competent person and I am so glad that they are using their super powers for good.’ Grace is that person,” said Toebbe. “Grace is going to get done what she wants to get done. And, I am so pleased that she has such a big heart and what she wants for herself and the world is all the best.”

The tenacious teen lives close to the school in Hillsmere with her parents Gary Gallant, owner, Gallant Government & Law Group in Annapolis, and Trish Gallant, Key School’s parent program and special events director, and brother, Jack, who is in eighth grade at Key School. Older sister, Gabby, is a sophomore at Colgate, and was a Teen of the Week in 2017.

“She’s just always been there for me,” Grace said of Gabby, who she describes as her role model. “She was always involved in school activities; she did it all and she was strongly academic. She always encouraged me to get out of my shell and get involved.”

And, Grace is involved. Aside from being a stellar academic student, a dance instructor and a hospital volunteer, Grace runs track and plays volleyball for the school. She also volunteers for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and is active in her church.

What lies in the future for Grace Gallant? Her teachers say “anything she wants.”

“I think she would be fantastic in international relations; I see her in a leadership position – a quiet, calm leader,” said Toebbe.

Leshinsky sees her eventually settling down in a French speaking country.

As for Grace, she’s taking it one determined step at a time.

Capital Gazette is honoring Wendi Winters’ legacy by continuing the Teen of the Week feature. Winters was one of five Capital Gazette employees killed in the June 28, 2018, attack on the newsroom. Capital Gazette reporters and community correspondents will carry on her legacy, bringing you teens from all over the county each week. To nominate a teen for consideration, email bbottalico@capgaznews.com.

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