CVPA students make triumphant return to stage for first time since school shooting
Students in costume almost seemed to float across the stage at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in St. Louis on Monday night. They leapt in unison, legs outstretched, in full control of their poses and the crowd’s attention.
The mood in the auditorium was celebratory; throughout the night, the packed room exploded in applause and cheers. That’s exactly what Principal Kacy Shahid was expecting for the students’ first public performance after the October shooting that resulted in two deaths.
“They're going to dance away from pain and dance into joy, into creativity, into grit, resilience,” Shahid said. “We're still processing so we're not at a place where we've healed. We've realized that it is a forever-growth era for us.”
The magnet school attracts talented students who are artists, actors and musicians. In a night of exuberant performances, dancers showcased their range, which includes modern dance, tap and hip-hop.
The students were assigned a genre and selected music, costumes and choreography for each set. The stakes were high — the students were graded on their performances.
One Super Bowl-themed piece started with a student catching a football, then running through much of Rihanna’s live setlist for the halftime show, with dancers dressed in red and white popping through choreography inspired by the star’s performance. Another student said they have issues expressing themself and put that into their performance — a slower, emotional dance full of flowing spins and back bends.
Many of the students said they worked through the trauma of the shooting with their art. Junior Jaylen Washington performs a little bit of everything, including jazz, tap and modern dance. He said the months after the shooting have been full of restless nights, so for this show he was looking forward to connecting with the audience, to find joy and fulfillment together.
“I still can't fathom that it did happen to us,” Washington said. “You know, dancing has played a major role. I like to dance, I like to make people smile, I like to smile. This is my passion, and I want everyone to see that today.”
Sophomore Mars Sander was also hoping to inspire the audience.
“What I wanted to do was to perform, to show these people that we're still going and to help give other people courage to keep going if they don't have that kind of courage,” Sander said.
At moments, the night was somber. There were projected videos filled with memories of teacher Jean Kuczka and student Alexzandria Bell, the two people killed in the mass shooting at the school.
Early in the show, Shahid and Alderwoman Shameem Clark Hubbard called Keisha Acres, Bell’s mother, to the stage. They presented her with an award in honor of her daughter, and Acres gave a speech encouraging the families and students in the audience.
“I want the kids to know there’s different ways to handle things,” Acres said. “Regardless of what you’re going through, you can make it, especially if you have a team behind you.”
Shahid said Alexzandria was on the stage that night, in the spirit of her mother, the audience and everyone’s prayers.
Jaylen Washington hopes this return to public performance will be the start of something new for a school community that has been through so much.
“I think this is a new chapter for all of us to keep growing up to keep spreading love and to keep the community growing,” Washington said. “We really are a family. We were close before, but we're even closer now.”
See more photos from the performance by staff photojournalist Brian Munoz.