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Daytonian of the Week: DeShona Pepper Robertson, a life of dance

DeShona Pepper Robertson, the Stivers School for the Arts dance director, moved to Dayton from Chicago 26 years ago to dance with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. 

She performed with DCDC for 12-years before joining the staff at Stivers. 

Here’s what this week’s Daytonian of the Week loves about her role in the Gem City: 

Why did you leave DCDC and join Stivers School for the Arts? 

I had no choice!!! I knew retirement was near…I could just feel it in my spirit. Though, I absolutely loved my work at DCDC, I knew there was another path set for me as well. I had been on adjunct faculty at Stivers for a year or two and I was open and enjoying what life had to offer. 

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DeShona Pepper Robertson danced with the Dayton Contemporary Dance Company for 12 years and is now the Stivers School for the Arts dance director. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

How do your students inspire you? 

They are my heroes every day! 

I am privy to their true stories and as I watch them overcome adversity daily, I remain in awe. The light in my students’ eyes is beyond bright and beautiful. They encourage me just from their mere existence! 

The expectations that I place on them and witnessing them rise to the occasion every single time gives me purpose and validation as to why I put so many hours in (on and off the clock). The genuine love that the students show me is unreal…simply unreal. I often say to myself and aloud, ‘now I know why God gave me one son.’ I am abundantly rich with so many other children. The students honor my standards and they cherish our time and space we have in classes, rehearsals, and/or traveling. 

They trust me…I am real with them…and they are real…they are my world. 

What does teaching dance bring to your life? 

Teaching brings me purpose. It is the very fiber that I exist. I adore teaching…I am called to teach. The passion that I have to share and give is indescribable. It is an amount that goes beyond infinite. 

Jeraldyne Blunden, the founder of DCDC, would often say that there were givers and takers in this world. I have embraced the category I fall under. I am unable to breathe when I have been away from it for too long. There are too many stories to share…too much pain to heal from…too many sides to reveal. The empowering of children is beyond rewarding and compelling. Teaching is my ministry! 

DeShona Pepper Robertson (left) teaches an advanced dance class during a summer immersion dance camp at Stivers School for the Arts in Dayton. . LISA POWELL / STAFF (Lisa Powell)

I’ve seen you teach and you don’t baby your students. How do you know they are tough enough to take it? 

They have to take it…it is from a genuine place…it comes from truth, love, and compassion! 

I am a walking billboard of hard work and humility. Being fulfilled in my own truth and providing a safe place for our youth to feel great about themselves in their own truth is rewarding. 

When our department receives emails, text messages, phones calls, and cards from alumni, parents, and grandparents thanking us for ushering them or their loved ones to an immeasurable access to goodness, we are validated. When our students are recipients of outstanding scholarships to well-renowned universities, Bill and Melinda Gates scholarships, Masters and PhD degrees, we receive an extra jolt to propel. 

What should people know about the dance program at Stivers? 

People should know that the dance department at Stivers has grown into an expansive, college preparatory curriculum of humanities and dance history courses, Cecchetti ballet and Pointe techniques, Horton and Graham modern dance technique, improvisation, creative movement and choreography. 

DeShona Pepper Robertson

Academic excellence is the cornerstone of achievement on which Stivers dance students realize their performance potential: they strive to maintain a 3.0 grade point average. From this fundamental academic requirement, all students enjoy the possibility of working with choreographers who bring their varied experiences and encouragement to the wedding of our students’ education to life’s present and future opportunities. 

Such high caliber training and competition lead the students of Stivers Dance Department to notable accomplishments. Our graduates have matriculated through and have been accepted to study in dance programs across the country: the prestigious Juilliard School, University of the Arts, North Carolina School for the Arts, Howard University, The Ohio State University, Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, Wright State University, Skidmore College, Point Park University, Tennessee State University, and Sinclair Community College. 

What do you do when you aren’t teaching? 

When I am not teaching, I concentrate on fulfillment within my faith, family, and friends. 

I go to Five Rivers MetroParks 2nd Street Market every Saturday, arrange beautiful flowers for my home, and often share arrangements with others. I play catch up often as I spend a lot of time in my hometown, Chicago. I love grocery shopping and tackling Wal-Mart runs. Though folding laundry slows me down a bit, I love to multitask and catch up on some of my excellent dramas simultaneously. 

Recently, I have been making a concerted effort to make healthier decisions regarding my well-being. I have been walking every morning around Stivers track and Riverscape on the weekends. Sometimes, I even manage to get a yoga class in. I now treat myself and sleep more than my usual three hours a day. I have reckoned and made peace with the fact that some things just don’t get done. 

I am a wife of 16-years and I am a mother to a 12-year-old. Our son has the monopoly on our weekends with his soccer, basketball, and volleyball schedules. In addition to chauffeuring him to our new Dayton library, Sky Zone, or to friends, we often host his Fortnite hangouts at our home. 

DeShona Pepper Robertson and her husband, Alex Robertson. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

What are some of your favorite spots in Dayton? 

• Our home, which is in beautiful historical Dayton View built over 100 years ago 

• My church, Omega Baptist Church 

• Five Rivers MetroParks 2nd Street Market (Family, friends, and flowers) 

• RiverScape (Years ago when the public was allowed to, I loved to feed the ducks. I still view it as one of my favorites and walk there often and share it with my son.) 

• University of Dayton Chapel (My husband and I were married there) 

• The Dayton Art Institute (We had our wedding reception there) 

• Dayton Library (Its simply gorgeous) 

• The Downtown YMCA (Joined when I first moved here. Now, I share with my son) 

• Carillon Park 

• Woodland Cemetery (The late Jeraldyne Blunden is in its mausoleum) 

• Victoria Theatre and Fraze Pavilion (First Dayton performances in 1992), and The Schuster …looking forward to spending more time at the new Levitt Pavilion 

What’s your guilty pleasure? 

Flowers…picking them from the market, arranging them, & sharing them. 

Adoring breathtaking arrangements from The Flower Shoppe gives me great joy. 

What would you want people to know about Dayton? 

Dayton is what you make it! 

Creating positive and diverse environments take commitment. 

In the past, I was often asked why did I move from the Chicago to Dayton. They didn’t seem to get it. My reply was that Dayton Contemporary Dance Company is located in DAYTON! 

I get the inquiry. In fact, when my intense traveling ceased after I retired in 2004, I asked myself the same question. I took a faithful minute and looked around at the endless blessings, conveniences, and art I have in Dayton. 

Dayton is definitely what you make it. There is an infinite amount of beautiful pleasures. This is my home and I am extremely proud to live here. I feel tremendously lucky. Twenty-six years ago, I initially moved here for an employment opportunity of a lifetime. Who knew that I’d plant roots here, find faith, family, strength, and my artistic voice. 

DeShona Pepper Robertson with her husband, Alex Robertson, and their son William. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

A little more? 

I met my husband Alex Robertson in church 20 years ago and as fate would have it, he is from Chicago also. In fact, one of my aunts went to school with his mother. Alex, a former Dayton Flyer (#24), attended University of Dayton for undergraduate and graduate studies. Ironically, we are both in education. 

Our son William proudly wears his father’s basketball number (when he can) as it is also the date of his birth. When we come back from our Chicago visits, I often ask our son William would he rather live there or Dayton and he always replies, “Dayton, so I can go to UD and beat daddy’s records”.

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