Artistic Director and Founder of Epiphany DanceArts Melissa DeGroat is not your typical mover and shaker. She’s a passionate source of inspiration for others. Through her 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which is also a professional dance company, she “uses art to transcend the barriers of this world in order to bring hope and healing into people’s lives.”
Just some of the ways she and her team accomplish this? Through the creation and performance of unique productions, workshops and artistic outreach in order to engage audiences with the beauty and joy of movement. Epiphany DanceArts reaches a broad range of individuals including professional dancers/training artists to children and adults with special needs.
At the core of each project is the belief that art should illuminate a glimpse of something beyond ourselves – something sacred. It’s a concept that is definitely needed in today’s world, and we’re excited that Melissa has channeled her passion and talents to do it. #UGauGrrl!
What inspired you to do the work that you do/motivates you today?
My inspiration is three pronged:
I was born with a love for it. My inspiration has been with me since I was a little girl. I think God created me to be an Artistic Director. I’ve always loved creating dances and bossing people around! Lol 🙂 My parents quickly recognized my giftings and encouraged me to work hard towards becoming excellent.
I grew up with a brother with a physical disability. My passion for dancing and making dance available to all people is also deeply rooted in my experience of growing up with my amazing brother, Timothy. He has Spina Bifida, permanently making it impossible for him to walk. Despite his challenges, he grew up to become an amazing wheelchair basketball player transcending all barriers of his physical disability. He is more “able” than most people I know and is an example to all that freedom and purpose in life is there for us no matter what our limitations…we just have to reach for it.
I’ve witnessed first hand the impactful power dance has in people’s lives. When dance is done well, whether people are taking a dance class or watching a performance, it engages people in a way that words cannot express. It’s a universal language that’s powerful enough to break people free from depression, anger, sadness and bring them into a more positive and joyful place. Those three powerful reasons are why I do what I do.
“When dance is done well, whether people are taking a dance class or watching a performance, it engages people in a way that words cannot express.”
How did you get to where you are and what challenges did/do you face?
I was born a dreamer and a visionary, and everything started because of my love of dancing and entertaining. I had talent and was blessed with opportunities to train at prestigious schools during my summers including School of American Ballet in New York City and on full scholarship at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle.
I thought it was my destiny to dance professionally at PNB, to live in Seattle and become the principal ballerina I dreamed of. However, the road to becoming a professional dancer and ultimately launching Epiphany DanceArts involved some devastating setbacks that almost caused me to give up on my dreams.
While dancing in Seattle, I developed hypothyroidism and other health issues that robbed me of my physical health, and I had to stop dancing and move home. It felt like death to me. The years I spent “not dancing” were critical in developing me into the woman I am today. I couldn’t stop moving and listening to music. Dance was in my soul even though my body was weak.
I discovered a different side to dance a spiritual one. With the help of those close to me, I was able to find the right doctor and treatment programs to get me back on my feet. I made such a recovery that I started dancing professionally as if nothing had ever happened! This time it wasn’t only a physical gift, but a spiritual one as well.
Because of all my experiences, I decided that I wanted to do more than just performing. I wanted to choreograph and direct as well. I decided to go to college and major in Dance Choreography at Ohio State University. This education paved the way for the leadership skills I would need to launch my next project: Epiphany DanceArts. My company was born out of all my life experiences… the good, the bad, and the ugly. All my broken pieces, my education, and my successes came together to make something beautiful.
Through all of it, I’ve learned that there are some things in life we can’t control. The storms are going to come, but they don’t have to keep us from dancing and achieving our dreams!
Who is your she-ro?
That woman is my best friend Katie Ellwood. We’ve known eachother for more than 20 years. She came into my life and empowered me. She’s seen me through all the good times and the painful ones. She knows my entire life story and helps me continue to look towards the future with great hope. She sees life as an adventure and is always honest with me. Every woman needs a best friend like Katie.
What does the term”UGauGrrl” (“you go girl”) mean to you?
It’s calling all women to stop sitting in the dark afraid of their dreams and step into the light! I think as women, we are perfectionists. We don’t want to do anything until we feel and look perfect. So, we spend most of our lives in hiding. The world needs us…just as we are. And the world wants us…. For everything that we will become. UGauGrrl is a term that empowers us to come out of hiding.
What is the message that you would like to share with the world as a woman or girl?
Find your passion, become ridiculously good at it, and share it in community with others. The world can be seem dark sometimes, and are faced with times that seek to divide us. When we are alone, we are weak. But when we are together, we strengthen and refine one another to be the very best versions of ourselves.
I encourage all of you to celebrate the relationships around you and to broaden your horizons by making friends and building community in your areas of work and play. When we get to the end of our lives, our work will only be as powerful as the relationships we built along the way.
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storms to pass… it’s learning how to dance in the rain.” – Anonymous
Learn more about Melissa:
Do you know a #ModernMuse who has an amazing story to tell? Send us her story. We’d love to know her 1) Name, 2) Age, 3) Ethnicity, 4) Location, 5) Relationship to you, 6) Why you think she is a #ModernMuse (what is she doing or has she done to make Inspire, Empower, Impact the world or the community around her?). We’ll let you both know when we’d like to publish her story, send her a few more questions and will share it on our social media channels. Looking forward to your submissions!