In high school, he danced in Gypsy, The Wizard of Oz and Nutcracker, to name a few. He would have loved to study dance full time, but he needed to work. So, he enrolled in Job Corps, moved to Portland and took dance classes at night, while working during the day. As much as he loved to dance, he was realistic about his chances of being a professional given his late start. So, his fallback dream was to be an instructor.
“Dancing made me feel alive,” he said. “And even though I knew the odds were against me, I still loved to dream about dancing professionally.”
Two years ago, while working at a Wal-Mart in Portland, he noticed a pain in his leg and what felt like looseness in his kneecap. He had always had stiffness and discomfort in his joints because of his dancing, so he didn’t pay much attention to it. The pain got worse, so he took a day off to get tested. In March of 2013, he was given a diagnosis of Osteosarcoma, a form of bone cancer that had spread into his left leg. After two months of chemo, his doctors decided to go into his leg to remove the tumors. He showed me the scar that ran the length of his calf. And the scar where they put in his replacement knee.
When he came out of the anesthesia, his mother was at his bedside. The first thing he said to her was: “Mom, I’ll never dance again.” With that, he entered into a crushing depression. Fueled by drugs and despair and compounded by multiple follow up surgeries, his “dark night of the soul” lasted more than a year.
Depression has been a reoccurring theme on my journey. Having struggled with the same over the years, I’m always curious as to what helps someone break through to the other side. When I asked Bryant what got him through his depression, I was surprised by his answer. “PlayStation 4,” he said. “Well, Let’s Dance for PS4.”
At a friend’s house one day, Bryant noticed the Just Dance box sitting on her game console. He hadn’t heard of the game. Out of curiosity, he turned it on and took his first, overly cautious dance steps. He’s not missed a day of PS4 Just Dance since. “When I play Just Dance, I feel alive again,” he said. “And I can monitor my progress, I can see myself getting stronger every day. Whenever I feel down or feel sorry for myself, I just pop in Let’s Dance and in a few minutes, I’m in a different place.”
As the bus pulled into Salem, I asked Bryant about his plans, his hopes and dreams. He said his goal is to open a dance studio, but one that will cater to kids from all income levels. He wants young kids, those in families without the means, to have opportunities that were not available to him. He thinks, because of Just Dance, he will be strong enough to be an instructor. “But I have to save up some serious money,” he said as he gathered his belongings. I said: “How about Kickstarter? This is the kind of story that people would love to support.” He looked at me with a wide grin and said: “You’re right. This is exactly the kind of story they’d love.” He shook my hand and headed into the Salem evening.
Just keep dancing Bryant!