WEST PLAINS, Mo. – A soldier with PTSD. A student in a motorized wheelchair. A girl who aspired to live in a safe neighborhood. These students are among those whose inspirational stories will be portrayed in dance by Missouri State University’s Inertia Dance Company at 7 p.m. April 16 in a free event called “Undeniable Victories” hosted by Missouri State-West Plains’ University/Community Programs (U/CP) Department.
“Five local students with incredible stories of grit and determination spoke with the Inertia dancers over a series of internet video sessions. As they told their stories, there wasn’t a dry eye on either side of that video connection. Their courage is truly inspiring,” said U/CP Theater and Events Coordinator Jennifer Moore.
“These five brave students have looked issues like severe depression, poverty and gang violence in the face and have chosen to succeed, despite the odds being against them,” she added. “Their powerful stories of victory will be told through the art form of dance.”
The idea for the performance, which will take place at the West Plains Civic Center theater, came after Moore attended an arts conference, where she learned about a professional dance troupe doing a similar project with students at a military college, many of whom had juggled school commitments with the trauma and scars that accompany war.
“I realized we could do that in West Plains. We have students in our TRiO Student Support Services program who have equally powerful stories of overcoming obstacles and resilience,” Moore said.
One student, William Hatcher of West Plains, served two tours of duty in Iraq with the U.S. Army. He was in a Humvee when the Humvee in front of him, which carried several of his friends, drove over an improvised explosive device that detonated. Hatcher and others in his Humvee scrambled to save their follow soldiers, but two died on impact and the other two died shortly thereafter. A few days later, he lost another close friend to the war.
He struggled to recover from the trauma and grief and eventually sought treatment for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Going to college has been a struggle for him, but he has stuck with it and now is a successful student on the path to graduation.
Hatcher said he decided to share his story to help his fellow veterans. “My one story is not as significant as the sum of all the veterans who choose to reintegrate into civilian life and move onto college so they can do more in life after their time in service is over,” he said. “The pain of loss never goes away. We just find the best possible healthy way to manage the pain.”
He said he lives each day making sure he does not forget the names of his brothers in arms who did not come back from the war – Ian Wiekel, James Ellis, Santos Armijo, Justin Jarrett, Kristopher Walker and George Obourn. “There were 18 total we lost across the squadron, but these are the men I knew and served with regularly,” he said.
The Intertia Dance Company promotes cultural literacy through performances and workshops, and provides service learning opportunities for Missouri State students, according to the troupe’s website. The company develops public service initiatives for public schools that enhance learning through movement. These initiatives include dance technique and creative movement workshops for high school students. Inertia also offers workshops for high school teachers that explore how dance can enrich and support current curriculum.
The mission of Inertia Dance Company is to increase awareness about dance by presenting live dance performances in high schools and the regional community, to introduce high school students to various forms of dance and creative movement, and to bring an awareness of the learning potential inherent in dance and movement to the public school community. Prior to the performance, the members of Inertia Dance Company engage in a variety of dance technique and creative movement activities with the students. During the performance there are several moments where the students actually become part of the development of the performance.
For more information about this and other U/CP events, call 417-255-7966 or visit the department’s website.