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Grad student, dancer leaves lasting mark at PSU - KOAM TV 7

Grad student, dancer leaves lasting mark at PSU

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Christina Aiello, center, dances at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. Christina Aiello, center, dances at the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts.
PITTSBURG, KANSAS -

Christina Aiello was ready to give up on her dream.

Dancing had been her passion since she was a little girl, but life seemed to be taking Aiello in a different direction.

“I was pursuing a degree in dance at the University of Arizona when I got the opportunity to dance with a company in San Francisco,” she said. “So I left school and went to California. While dancing in San Francisco, I fell and injured my leg.”

With a fractured patella, dancing had to be put on hold -- maybe for good.

“I ended going back to school at the University of Kansas,” said Aiello, a Leawood native. “I wasn’t sure if a dancing career would work out, but I knew getting my degree was very important. I had been thinking about going to medical school, and I knew KU would be a good place to get started.

“At that time,” she said, “I was dating a guy who went to Pitt State.”

She couldn’t know it at that time, but Aiello’s one personal connection to Pittsburg State would end up having a significant impact not only on her future, but also on Pitt State.

“Christina was coming down to Pittsburg to visit her boyfriend at about the same time that we were trying to develop a dance minor here at PSU,” said Associate Professor Janice Jewett. “We got to know each other, and when I learned of her dance background, I told her about the program we were trying to get started here.”

Soon after, Jewett said, Aiello was providing important input regarding how the program should be set up.

“Christina was very excited about our program and was more than willing to help provide guidance and input on where we could take it,” Jewett said. “And she wasn’t even a student here.”

#BeAGorilla

Aiello, who was making frequent weekend trips to Pittsburg, took a part-time job with Sodexo to help fund her back-and-forth travel.

“My parents told me that they weren’t going to pay for my gas to travel from Lawrence to Pittsburg all the time,” Aiello said. “I took a catering job here to make a little extra money. We catered a lot of events at President Scott’s house, and Dr. Scott eventually realized that I wasn’t a student at PSU.

“He then pulled me aside and told me that it was going to be his mission to convince me to attend Pitt State,” she said.

Aiello said she met various campus administrators and faculty through her catering experiences, and those relationships began nudging her toward transferring from KU.

“There was just something about the people here,” she said. “Everyone seemed to really care about me and care about what I was interested in. I knew PSU was trying to develop a dance minor program, and everyone here was genuinely interested in getting my input on that.”

By the time Pitt State offered Aiello a graduate assistantship, she was hooked.

“I think that’s when it really hit me that my knowledge and experience in dance was truly appreciated here,” she said. “Everyone made me feel welcome and valuable. You don’t get that at every school. I knew this was a special place.”

It didn’t take long for Aiello to make an impact on the university and its new dance programs.

“Really from the get-go, Christina was helping us develop the courses and curriculum for our dance minor,” Jewett said. “And because we knew she could teach certain dance techniques and methods, we could offer classes here that we wouldn’t have been able to if she hadn’t enrolled here.”

Aiello said the experience of helping develop the program reignited her passion for dance.

“Dance is my first love, but after the injury I wasn’t sure if it would end up taking me where I had hoped,” she said. “But coming to Pitt and being so heavily involved here put me back in the mindset of going after my dreams.”

Center stage

During Aiello’s first year as a Pitt State student, the university was planning the grand opening ceremony for the Bicknell Family Center for the Arts. The event, which took place on March 12, 2015, and featured performances by facility namesake Gene Bicknell, was one of the most anticipated celebrations of the year.

And it called for some dance numbers -- A lot of dance numbers.

“When they asked me to choreograph the dances for the Bicknell Center celebration, I thought we were talking about maybe three numbers,” Aiello said. “Turns out, they needed me to develop 10 numbers. And we had two weeks.”

Aiello said that while “we had no idea what we were doing,” everything turned out wonderful.

“I was very proud of that show,” said Aiello, who also performed solo dances during the event. “The entire celebration was wonderful.”

A year later, Aiello was again working hard inside the Bicknell Center to help develop the first ever Pittsburg State Dance Showcase.

“It’s hard work, but it’s also so much fun,” she said. “A dance studio or a stage is like my second home. I feel at peace when I’m dancing. So being involved in all of this at Pitt State has been incredibly rewarding and therapeutic.”

Dream continues

Aiello’s dancing experience at Pitt State may come to a close on May 7 when she graduates with a master’s degree in Health, Human Performance and Recreation, but her dancing days are far from over.

On April 15, she announced via Facebook that she had been offered a dance position with Storling Dance Theater in Kansas City.

“I took a chance,” she wrote in the Facebook post. “I auditioned for a professional company a little over a month ago not expecting much. I was the one in the corner out of breath every two seconds. Who would want to hire that girl? They did.”

And, she said, she has Pittsburg State to thank.

“I never thought I’d get any recognition for my dancing,” she said. “I didn’t continue in Arizona. I didn’t continue in San Francisco. But then I came to PSU. Everyone here noticed that I had a talent, that I had something special. I put in the hard work, and Pitt State gave it right back to me.

“All my life, I wanted to be a dancer,” she said, “but I had gotten to a point at which I didn’t think that was going to happen. But by coming here, I found a way to continue to dance. And now the dream continues.”

(Press Release via Pittsburg State University)

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