Jody Goellner, 36, a Raintree resident, attended Miss Donna’s School of Dance annual recital in June to support a friend’s twin 6-year-old daughters.
But there was a boy onstage who kept grabbing her attention.
Goellner looked up his name in the program: Tion Gaston.
“I couldn’t believe how many dances he had to memorize, and he was perfect the entire time. It was unbelievable. He’s going to go far,” said Goellner.
When she was told his age, Goellner said: “I can’t believe he’s only 14.”
Tion has been wowing audiences since he first started dancing at age 7. His interest was piqued by watching his younger sister, Enchantis, take classes.
In his second year at Miss Donna’s Harrisburg location, Tion joined the Competition Team; then Miss Donna herself suggested he move to the main Sardis Road location, where he could have more dance opportunities.
Donna Mitzel, 75, grew up in the Plaza Midwood area and has been running dance studios for 58 years. She currently lives in Monroe and has 1,500 dancers studying at her four studios.
“Tion is one of my top dancers … he’s really good in every genre. It does come natural to him,” Mitzel said.
Tion, a rising ninth-grader at Hickory Ridge High School, dances four days a week after school. He gets off the bus, changes quickly, and his mother drives him the 20-plus minutes from Harrisburg to the Sardis studio.
The effort is a labor of love for Lesa Gaston, 37, who drives her son not only to practices but to competitions, often held over weekends.
“It’s hard because I’m a single parent, and it takes a lot of weekends away when I could be doing something else. But I love watching him dance … so it’s not that hard,” Gaston said.
Tion’s dedication, family support and natural skill have helped him succeed at regional dance competitions. Last summer, he won first overall among several hundred soloists at Showstopper Nationals. He was only 13 and dancing against older performers.
Jana Grey Smith, 30, is Miss Donna’s main competition jazz, lyrical and hip-hop teacher for age 9-18 and has been teaching Tion for the past five years. Smith said Tion is a remarkable dancer because of his dedication, humble nature, God-given talent, cross-genre skill and his overall ability to make dance look effortless. He also helps with younger dancers at the studio.
“Every choreographer would be so happy to work with a dancer like Tion,” Smith said. “He is someone who literally can bring life into any piece of work or movement.”
During a recent car trip to the Sardis studio, Tion discussed by phone his experiences as a dancer. At the recital where Goellner saw him perform, he estimates he was in 14 dances. He said Miss Donna likes to split up his eight specialties into different shows, but he performs in 18 total.
“I really like all the styles, but my favorite to get into is very emotional lyrical,” Tion said. “I like sad pieces because you can make someone else feel your emotions. Tell your story through dance. Give them goose bumps through your face and the way I move during that dance or piece.”
He counts among his possible goals going to Juilliard and becoming a choreographer.
However, “His exceptional talent has not gotten in the way of him growing up as a normal kid,” said Smith. “Tion is your typical fun-loving teenager who is obsessed with clothes, technology and girls.”
Like a normal teenager, Tion said he loves hanging out with his friends, which he often gets to do at the studio. Many of his friends are girls, and while he’s a top athlete, he admits he’s not into sports. When asked why he thinks more males don’t take dance, his answer illustrates his sense of humor.
“Guys think doing things besides school sports isn’t that masculine; but I say to them, I’m around girls all the time, and you’re around sweaty boys.”
His “wild and bubbly” personality is part of what Smith said makes Tion an “all-around great person.”
“I am lucky to say that I have taught Tion. I can’t wait to see what the next four years will bring.
“He will go on to do great things, mark my word,” Smith said.
Jodi Werner Greenwald is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jodi? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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