Gina Pero knows her spine is her lifeline.
My spine is what allows me to sit, to stand, to look side-to-side, Pero told a collection of dancers at a master class Saturday.
It’s what carried her from youth dance studios in Batavia to a BFA from the University at Buffalo, to stages at the Tropicana in Las Vegas, Radio City as a Rockette and fashion runways — all after spending five years in a back brace with Scoliosis.
“Dance is more than just steps ... dance for me is how my spine stays healthy,” Pero said.
Properly maintained, your spine is something that is both structural and symbolic of the strength you have to carry from within your self and sources of personal power. Speaking to classes at the Divine Studio studio, Pero describes life as knowing the vertebra of your soul. God is a strong one for her, while her teachers and family were others. I can be one for you, she told students, because I believe in you.
Pero lives in Las Vegas, where she leads a dance studio, models and hosts “The Gina Pero Show: Living Life Full Out” podcast. Coming back to Batavia, where her family still lives, and speaking to young dancers came with a mission.
“I want to be the example that any small town girl can live their dreams, and to give back to the community I grew up in,” Pero said.
After running flights of girls through an active but precise routine with hand-claps and encouragement, she urged them not to think of dance as a short-lived hobby.
“You can dance forever,” she told them. “You can do anything with that three-letter word: And. And money. And family. And whatever it is you want.”
Pero said that’s possible when you know why you are dancing, to walk into every class with a clear idea of what you want to get out of it.
“It doesn’t matter what your intention is, but you have to have one,” Pero said.
Divine Dance Director Erin Martin agreed. Whatever reason you have for dancing, if it goes beyond just showing off the motions can take on real meaning.
“When you have a reason behind it, (dance) can be very inspiring. It’s freeing to know that there’s a purpose behind it, that you are dancing for something beyond yourself,” Martin said.
She began Divine Dance as a ministry within City Church. Martin said she had always danced growing up and saw it as gift she could share.
The program has grown from five people to a full studio of around 100 youth. They moved into a classroom at the old St. Anthony’s School in March, one that has been repurposed with a wall of large mirrors and some sound-proofing foam above the studio’s windows.
More upgrades are coming.
“We’re going to be adding bars for ballet,” Martin said.
Her students and those from Dance Images in Lockport took in Pero’s master class, ending up tired from the routine but energized by their teacher. Several asked for selfies while picking up pieces from The Gina Pero Collection she curated for the Sugar and Bruno clothing line.
While they were taken in by her story and celebrity, Pero didn’t let them put her on a different plane. I still dance in my living room every night, she told them, dancing for the heavens.
“It connects me, to every cell in my own being, and every cell in the universe. It allows me to hear what I need to hear from God, and from my own spirit. It allows all the energy in my body to feel expansive. And when I’m expansive, I know anything is possible, that I can live in the infinite possibilities.”