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Mercedes Lewis, Class of 2008

Posted: 7/12/2019

Since graduating from Holy Spirit Prep in 2008, Mercedes Lewis has earned her MFA in Choreog-raphy and Dance, and works at the University of Roehampton in London. We catch up with her about her passion for dancing and research.

Tell us about your experience as an undergraduate student. 
I had a pretty packed schedule, from philosophy courses to weekly dance rehears-als. I was the president of both my Philosophy and Arts in Motion Dance clubs. Not only was I constantly studying, writing papers, and spending most of my free time in the library, I was also choreographing and performing in multiple dance pieces for the annual Dance Now production at WVU. Every year a choreographer was selected under a panel of judges to present an original work at the concert, and I had the opportunity to present my work each year I attended WVU. I am proud to say that some of my influential work was created on that stage and my choreographic techniques evolved tremendously during those years. 

I also had the great opportunity to study under some of the best professors - Yoav Kaddar (who danced with and studied under Paul Taylor), General Hambrick (who danced and studied under Alvin Ailey and American Ballet Dance Theatres), Barbara Yurick, and Maureen Kaddar. Shortly after I graduated from WVU, I was accepted into an apprenticeship with Amalgamate Dance Company in New York. I studied under Alana Marie Urda and I was taught to use dance as a purpose through choreo-graphic works, documentaries and site-specific projects. 

Tell us about a recent experience that you will always remember.
A few years ago I was able to study and perform in Sorrento, Italy. While there, I studied ballet, contemporary, batsheva, choreography, and improvisation under George Staib, Gavriel Spitzer, Jennifer Salk and many more renowned choreographers and performers. It was an incredible experience to learn and grow as a movement artist. 

I was also encouraged to create collaboratively, embrace my spontaneity, build foundations for life-long connections, and to create an authentic, and unique voice. The tools I learned through the history, customs, and cultural exchange while I was there  prepared me to present my own choreographic work at The Royal Academy of the Arts KASK, in Ghent, Belgium, in February of 2018.

How do you hope to serve God and others through your field? 
I recently created my own business, “Two Step,” which is a three-step movement series course geared towards senior citizens living in senior care homes, aged 65+. My research includes documenting the health benefits dance movements have on those dealing with loneliness, dementia or Parkinson’s disease. Some topics that I would like to research include how dance may affect functional mobility, how experiences of dancing may affect everyday lives, and what motivates people to dance and keep dancing. Through the use of participant observation, one-on-one inter-views, workshops, questionnaires, participant diaries and film footage, I have been investigating how the dance affects people socially, within their everyday lives, and how participants engage artistically and technically with movement. I hope to serve God not only through my field but also by being a positive influence and giving back to the community daily. 

What are your plans for the future?
I’ve learned over the years that any plans I may think I have are not up to me, but all in God’s hands. I am hoping to begin my PhD studies in the future, undertaking research which examines the relationships between community and elderly dance. I am particularly interested 
in studying dance for people who are marginalized by society and the benefits they gain from incorporating dance movement in their everyday life. I am passionate about sharing dance with people of various age, gender, and abilities. In research and teaching, I will focus on the skills and issues connect-ed with delivering dance in community settings.

Tell us about choreography school. Why did you choose that field?
Teaching dance and choreography has been my passion since I was a little girl. I enjoy giving back to the community and helping people of all ages, and dance is a wonderful outlet for me to do just this!

How did your experience at Holy Spirit Prep help form you into the person you are today? 
My experience at Holy Spirit Prep created a solid foundation for my values in life. My Holy Spirit Prep experience instilled within me compassion, confidence, independence, and respect for others. These traits have been relied upon time and time again in my adult life, and I am grateful that I gained so much from my time at Holy Spirit Prep.

Academically, Holy Spirit Prep taught me the values of time management, work ethic, leadership skills and created a safe environment for my happiness. The rigorous curriculum at Holy Spirit Prep prepared me not only for my Bachelor of Arts degree, but also my Mas-ters in Fine Arts in the top school in the U.K. for choreography and dance research.

Spiritually, my time at Holy Spirit Prep taught me to seek God in all things and nurtured my love for God, through retreats, religion classes and weekly Mass. I was also able to receive Confirmation with my classmates, access the chapel in time of need, and sing in the choir during daily Mass. 

Socially, I was able to make life-long friends during my time at Holy Spirit Prep, and cultivated relationships that I will cherish for a lifetime. Holy Spirit Prep allowed me to form precious memories of bonding experiences, including class trips to retreats. I’m still in touch with many of my classmates, and see them whenever I am visiting Atlanta or if they come to visit London. 

Athletically, Holy Spirit Prep taught me to never give up even if you are the least experienced athlete on the team. Although, I was not the best athlete on the basketball team, I had amazing teammates who kept encouraging me to do my best. Ms. Rombalski (now Mrs. Rondeau), my coach and art teacher, always pushed me to put forth 100% in anything I did.

Do you stay in touch with anyone from Holy Spirit Prep?
The close-knit environment Holy Spirit Prep provided allowed me to form friendships that became more like a family. I keep in touch with many of my Holy Spirit Prep friends and some of them are my best friends today! Most of them are still living in Atlanta, so it’s always nice to see them when I come to visit. Sinead Carson attended my MFA graduation in London in July 2018 and we also traveled to Belfast and Dublin, Ireland. This spring, I will be the Maid of Honor in Morgan Prime’s wedding. Marilyn Buamah will be visiting me in London this July. I recently saw Nigel Deen, his wife Jordan Deen, and sister Indira Deen, while they were visiting London a few weeks ago. I also spent time with Anna Bussone, Emily Esposito, Max Jones, and Joe Maranville this past August while I was visiting Atlanta.

We just had our 10 year high school reunion this past August, and it was lovely to see, chat, and laugh with my classmates, some of whom I had not seen since graduation day in May 2008!

Was there a specific experience or particular teacher at Holy Spirit Prep who kindled a desire in you to go into your field of choice?
Each and every teacher I encountered at Holy Spirit Prep taught me skills and practices that have enabled me to accomplish my life’s goals. Some of these include discipline, strength and perseverance. They were truly invested not only in my academic career, but also molding me and my classmates into well-rounded adults. 

Dr. Deen, my history teacher, expanded my passion for learning and exposed me to a deeper understanding of past events. Mr. Radosta, my English teacher, with his energetic and motivational teaching style expanded my literary appetite. Mr. Holly and Mr. Pietrantonio, my Latin teacher, helped me discover my love for learning and appreciating other cultures. Ms. Kenyon, my math teacher, with her no nonsense approach taught me to be disciplined. I can only thank Holy Spirit Prep for all the knowledge, opportunities, and intellectual conversations that were offered to us daily. 

What is your favorite memory from your time at Holy Spirit Prep? 
I have so many amazing memories from my time at Holy Spirit Prep, that it is hard to just pin point one: football games, spirit days, homecoming and prom dances, class trips, house competitions, playing cricket, and cookie breaks. I remember being one of the first students to get to campus at 7:00 am for Greek class, and one of the last to leave because I was either studying or participating in Sea Cadets, basketball, track, cheerleading, Habitat for Humanity, Beta Club, or Thespian Club. 

Our senior class trip to Rome was incredible and life changing! One of the most impactful experiences, was becoming the House Captain for House of Chalcedon my senior year (Lets go Purple House!). I originally started out in House of Nicaea - I remember our House selection day like it was yesterday. The leadership, teamwork, and the House System at Holy Spirit Prep are also fond memories of mine! 

What else show we know about you?
Some of my other hobbies include crocheting, traveling, hiking, and researching. I am currently working at the University of Roehampton and also teaching ballet to little girls and boys.

Mercedes Lewis earned her Bachelor of Arts in Philosophy (and minor in Dance) from West Virginia University. This past July, she earned her Masters of Fine Arts in Choreography and Dance from the University of Roehampton, London. She currently lives in London.