“For me, dance is not just physical or recreational, it’s spiritual. Dance is a form of creative and cultural expression that gets my blood pumping and makes me feel alive,” says Shanita Gopie Liu ’07, who traces the source of that feeling right back to Wheaton.
Liu, who was born and raised in Queens, N.Y., discovered her passion for dance at Wheaton, where she was co-director and choreographer of the multicultural dance group Trybe.
Since graduating, she has continued to dance. In September 2013, she performed in the New York International Salsa Congress, an annual dance and music festival, with her semiprofessional salsa team, Lorenz Latin Dance Studio’s Mambo Clasico.
In her professional life, she was recently promoted to director of college programs at KIPP Through College New York City, which is part of a network of free college-preparatory schools created for students from underserved communities.
Liu describes her career after Wheaton as a circuitous one. “I see it is as a crooked-straight path because I always knew I wanted to empower young people and find a way to incorporate dance into my life, but had to try a lot of different avenues to get to where I am today. The common thread was helping youth,” she says.
After graduating from Wheaton as an English major, she spent a year teaching English and multicultural dance in Hong Kong as a Fulbright Scholar. Returning to New York City, she enrolled in the New York University Wagner School of Public Service and earned her M.P.A. in nonprofit management and policy in 2010, while teaching youth gym classes that incorporated music and art at Gymboree.
A member of Wheaton Posse 4, Liu worked for three years on the national development team at the Posse Foundation, an organization that encourages high school students to succeed in college by placing them in supportive, multicultural teams. She then transitioned to college advising and program management at KIPP.
When did she make the time for dance?
“At first, I let go of that dream after graduation for fear of never having the time or resources to create and share my talents again. However, I took the plunge into salsa at the age of 24, and it reminded me that once you take a risk and start on the path that makes you happy, all kinds of support follows. I’ve even been able to integrate dance into my work with youth, teaching salsa to students during end-of-semester stress-busting workshops.”
Reflecting on the importance of dance during her college years, she sees that her experience with Trybe affected her in many ways.
“Trybe was an outlet for me to tell my stories as a student of color and nurture the magical energy I felt when I performed,” says Liu, who is Indo-Guyanese. “If it weren’t for Trybe, I might not have developed my thriving passion for dance, and my confidence, strong work ethic, and team-player attitude that I share today with my salsa team.”