As she watched her son take the stage at Cathy Roe’s Ultimate Dance Competition in February, Cyndi Taylor fought back tears.
“I was a nervous wreck,” Taylor admitted. “He was dance number twelve, and I cried all through dance number eleven. I was so scared for him.”
She needn’t be. Taylor's son, 9-year-old Matthew Mason, took the stage with confidence and did a rousing tap number to a mash-up of two versions of “Runaround Sue.” As the audience applauded, Matthew came off stage and told his mother, “Mommy, I nailed it!”
Apparently the judges agreed. Matthew, a fourth-grader at Green-Fields Elementary School, won the title of “Junior Mr. Ultimate Dance” that afternoon, a moment he calls the highlight of his dance career.
That “career” started four years ago, soon after Matthew was diagnosed with ADHD by the district’s Child Study team. Taylor, herself a special education teacher, knew that Matthew would need an activity that would engage him and focus his energy.
“Once he was medicated, I decided that gymnastics would be a good way for him to get some energy out,” Taylor says. At the advice of family friend Samantha Thomas, Taylor enrolled her five-year old in a gymnastics class at Royal Dance Academy in National Park.
Matthew thrived in the school’s environment, and when prodded by one of the dance teachers to take her class, he decided to give it a try. He signed on for a tap class. Then the school’s director, Theresa Lapetina-Pietrowski, spotted Matthew and told him he should give competition a try.
The following year, Matthew, a second grader, danced jazz, ballet and tap as a trio with two little girls. “I was afraid he was holding the girls back,” Taylor admits. “He was relatively new, and they were dancing since they were two or three.”
But Lapetina-Pietrowski and Samantha Thomas, now Matthew’s dance teacher, assured her the boy was holding his own. In fact, one of Matthew’s favorite dance memories came out of that first year. “It was one of my very first competitions, and the music stopped on our jazz song while we were dancing,” he says.
“We kept dancing anyway, and we scored a platinum (the highest scoring level),” he recalls.
The following year she took him to the next level, giving Matthew his first solo, a novelty jazz routine to the Beatles’ classic “Yellow Submarine.”
“We constructed a giant submarine for him to dance around, and he wore a wet suit. For the first 30 seconds of the song, the child danced in flippers,” Taylor says.
“I won the Flippingtastic special award at Nationals,” Matthew adds.
As a male dancer, Matthew knows he’s a bit of a rarity, but he’s okay with that. “I feel like I’m special, being one of the few boys,” he says.
Plus he has company. Currently, there are three boys on competitive lines now at Royal Dance Academy, although the other two—Christopher Pietrowski and TJ Koger—are on a different dance line than Matthew. Still, the three are buddies, and have recently begun competing as a tap trio with the song, “The Boys Are Back.”
“And Christopher won Petite Mr. Ultimate Dance the same day I won,” Matthew shares. “That was great. We both got trophies, certificates and a hat with a pin on it.”
A good student, Matthew also feels his classmates at Green-Fields are supportive of his dancing. He brought in a video of his performance with the Broomall String Band in this year’s Mummers’ Parade, and the class was excited for him. They also celebrated when he brought in the trophy he won with his title.
Although he has a heavy schedule of dance—four to five days a week, with practices and student teaching—Matthew knows that school work comes first. “He’s really good about coming home and getting his homework done so he can be at Royal. He knows if his grades slip, we’d have to cut back,” Taylor says.
So far, his schedule at Royal keeps Matthew focused and on track. “(The ADHD) seems to go away when he’s dancing,” Taylor says. “It gives him something to focus on. The electronics at home, the computer the TV, the Wii, all seemed to irritate Matthew and make the ADHD worse. But now he’s at Royal four to five nights a week, and that seems to be really good for him.”
Matthew’s future goals include attending the GCIT dance program, majoring in dance at Rowan, and opening his own studio someday. “He’s really driven, but he’s also nine years old,” Taylor says. “If his plans change, I would be supportive.”
But his plans for the summer are set in stone—dancing in Disney World in June, then Nationals in July. He’d also like to participate in a West Deptford Little Theatre production this summer—his first, again at the urging of “Miss Sam.”
Though he’s excited about the prospect of dancing down Main Street USA, he’s also thrilled to be taking his first trip to Disney. “My mom is going to get me a 'First Time Visitor' pin. I’m going to wear it the whole time,” he says.
And he plans to keep working hard to perfect his dance moves. “I’m going to be doing 'Runaround Sue' at Nationals this summer,” Matthew says. “The moves are really hard, but I’m hoping to get a platinum!”