Hana C.

Morgan Family YMCA

For 13-year-old Hana Carlson, dancing is more than an outlet for her creativity – dance has given her a community and taught her how to be resilient in the face of loss. For four years, Hana has participated in dance classes at the Morgan Family YMCA in Tacoma, Washington and performed in the Y’s dance company. Hana has a deep, emotional connection to movement and music, but also to her classmates and teachers, who’ve all helped her learn, grow, and thrive.

On her very first day of intermediate ballet at the Y, Hana was nervous, but when she walked into the classroom, the instructor and other dancers made her feel welcome. She could tell that this was a safe place to let loose and be herself. A lifelong love of dance was born.

“I felt like that was where I was supposed to be and that my heart had finally found its calling,” Hana said. “I felt so confident in myself not just in dance, but in school. I felt that my academics were so much better, and I was able to express myself more as a person.”


Hana was born in Ethiopia. Along with her two sisters, she was adopted by a family in the United States at a young age. When she was 11, she finally had the chance to travel to Ethiopia to meet her biological mother. She was grateful for the opportunity to reconnect. After the trip; however, she was devastated by terrible news.

“When I got back from that trip, about a week later, I had found out my mom died and that was soul-crushing. It felt like a little piece of me had gotten taken out.”

To deal with the pain, Hana threw herself into dance and found that it helped her express her grief. So, she enrolled in more dance classes. As her skill and experience grew, so did her desire to help other young dancers, leading her to volunteer as a teaching assistant, too. Slowly, Hana started to feel better.

“It was clear from the moment I saw her dance that a passion for movement was inside of her ready to shine,” said Arts Director Theresa DeGennaro. “There is not an instructor on staff who has worked with her that has not been impacted by her artistry and maturity. We are fortunate to provide a program where Hana can reach her goals and potential.”

A year later, Hana performed in a piece for a friend of hers who was leaving the dance company. The prospect of losing touch with someone whom she considered a close friend and a role model brought back all of the feelings of losing her mother. She broke down crying in the middle of rehearsal and walked out. The other dancers came out sit with her and listen to her. It was then that Hana realized that she was a part of something bigger than a dance company – this was a community that loved and cared for one another.

“The company director, Kelly Lynch, said: ‘If there is anything you need; we're here for you.’ Those words I will never forget. Those are the words that describe what the dance program is,” Hana said. “No matter what, they’ve got you and they’re not there because they must, but there because they want to.”

Learn more about performing arts at the Y