By Ebony Carrington of Oowee Sports Nation

Dance Studio: The MoveMeant Project
Coach: Shawn Lawson
Styles: Contemporary, Ballet, Jazz, Tap, Hip Hop
Age: 13
Grade: Eighth  

In sports, athletes are called to maintain a healthy and strong physique or pressured to look a specific way. There are many sports that promote a thin body type — dance is one of them. As a result, dancers are usually faced with a distorted or dissatisfied view of their bodies and self-esteem. 

Recently turned 13-year-old Jensen Harper has experienced this type of pressure. She began dancing when she was five, but has performed competitively in tap, hip hop, jazz, musical theater, ballroom, lyrical, contemporary and modern dance consistently for the past four years. 

During that time, she’s had to overcome the negativity of being told “you’re a big girl”, “big girls can’t dance like that”, “you started too late”, “you’re too nice”, “you need to dance like her”, “you’re this kind of dancer not a superior dancer,” and more, her grandmother Angie Bilbrey shared. 

By Shawn Lawson Photography

“She almost gave up tap, something she loves and is good at, due to the tough criticism,” Bilbrey said. “But [her MoveMeant Project] Coach Shawn saw her desire and worked with her, he reassured her, and now she’s a tapping happy girl who’s getting noticed for her skills.” 

As a young biracial girl, Harper has often struggled with finding her way — in school, with friend groups, in extracurriculars and even with her appearance. Though she may not look like or be what is considered the typical one-size-fits-all dancer, her determination and drive puts her above many. 

“I feel like it takes a lot of hard work, passion, and willingness to do whatever it takes to be a great dancer,” Harper said. “The best piece of advice I’ve received is ‘Never let anyone tell you that you can’t do something or that you have to look a certain way or be a certain size to do what you know you were meant to do.” 

By Shawn Lawson Photography

Now that she’s hit a milestone birthday and officially became a teen, she feels she’s changed a lot, and in a good way — she’s more empowered. She had a birthday photoshoot where she wore her naturally curly hair, which she wouldn’t do before. 

“If I could share one thing with someone else having these struggles, I’d tell them to keep their head up and not always get so down,” she said. “Because maybe the people that are being hard on them are maybe having it tough in some way too.” 

By Shawn Lawson Photography

These days, the positivity is outweighing any bad from the past — she has a scholarship offer to Rhythmic Souls Youth Tap Company, she’s transitioning to homeschool in the Fall to further her dance training and opportunities, and she has a big dream of having a professional dance career.  

You can continue to follow Jensen Harper on Oowee Sports Nation (a network for youth athletes) as she enters the summer season with the MoveMeant Project (Grand Prairie, TX).