How These High School Students Joined Misty Copeland and XQ to Create Artivism through Dance

See the power of dance and movement expressed through the winning student submissions of the #XQMistyChallenge and learn how movement lets you speak when words aren’t enough.

By Hana Beach

Describing the power of dance, the first-place winner of the XQ Misty Challenge Mahalaya Tintiangco-Cubales explains, “Dance is a way of healing and liberation for me…Regardless of the health, social, political, and economic challenges plaguing our world, dance gives us hope.”

 These words resonate as we wrap up our third and final Arts + Activism Challenge and celebrate the spectacular student winners, reflecting again on the power of the arts in education. The arts help students respond to big, complex problems and experiences. They build creative thinking, problem solving, and perseverance. Maybe most importantly, the arts help students imagine and create the world they want to live in, and help them outline their bold visions for a better future. Simply put, the arts are crucial to high school education. 

The XQ Art + Activism Challenges

This past year, in the midst of the pandemic and racial reckonings, we listened as students expressed the need for a space to process and give voice to their feelings. We also watched arts programming in schools plummet, due to budget cuts and shifts to virtual learning. In response, we launched XQ’s three-part Arts + Activism series: first with our Music + Activism Challenge, led by hip-hop and R&B quartet SOL Development, and then with our Visual Arts + Activism Challenge, led by artist BMike. (Read about the winners of the Music + Activism Challenge and watch BMike react to the winners of the Visual Arts + Activism Challenge.)

Now, for our final challenge in the series, we are joined by world-renowned ballet dancer Misty Copeland in our Dance + Activism Challenge! Join us in celebrating the amazing student submissions, and learn how the power of dance uplifts student voice. 

Dance and Activism

Dance and movement embody powerful aspects of learning, like social and emotional skills, problem solving, and cognitive development. Through dance, students can feel and express their way through complex issues, like identity, power, and representation—and build affirming, empowering communities

Student submissions for this challenge embody these powerful potentials of dance. As Misty explains in her introduction to the challenge, “The technique of dance, the technique of movement, is a language of telling stories. Artists are leaders in that we can help shape what the future looks like.” Our challenge leaders embody this artistic leadership and place it in action. 

Challenge Winners!

Please join us in celebrating the winners of our Dance + Activism Challenge! Out of all the amazing submissions we received, these five dances received the most upvotes from the challenge community. Each winner is totally unique—but together, their dances tell a powerful story of finding resilience, claiming space, and practicing self-love. 

1. Mahalaya Tintiangco-Cubales, 17, Balboa High School & Westlake School for the Performing Arts

Our first-place winner, Mahalaya Tintiango-Cubales, started dancing at the age of three. What started as a hobby quickly became a passion, as Mahalaya fell in love with dance and began dancing competitively through her school. “Despite how diverse our dance community is,” Mahalya says, “it is beautiful how movement brings us together, simultaneously letting us tell our own stories.”

Describing her experience of navigating her identity within the dance world, Mahalaya explains, “As a young woman of color without natural facilities like height and turnout, to be seen in the dance world, I had to work so hard to compensate for my shortcomings by building my technique and strength. It meant so much to me to have Misty recognize that along with the passion and nuance in my submission.” 

Title: Movement is a Language of Telling Stories

Artist Statement:  

“The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.”—Toni Cade Bambara

As an aspiring artist during this pandemic, I felt like my dream to become a professional dancer was shut down. As an aspiring activist during this pandemic, I felt like the world was falling apart. The violence imposed on Black, Brown, Indigenous, and Asian bodies was magnified. I honestly felt unsafe and silenced. I felt like dance was the only thing that allowed me to be free.

As an ARTIVIST my goal is to embody how “movement is a language of telling stories,” (Misty Copeland, Introduction video to the XQChallenge). The stories that I want to tell are the ones that are often overlooked or suppressed, the stories that are left out of textbooks, the stories that show the struggles of people of color but also the stories that show our survival, a survival that is revolutionary, a survival that is irresistible.

Instagram Handle: @mahalayatc

2. Grace Wiebe, 15, Walter Murray Collegiate 

Grace was inspired to dance while watching Dance Moms as a child, and learned to dance by imitating the dances on the show. This past school year, Grace took her first official dance class, which fueled her dancing passion.

Grace uses dance to tell stories and express emotion. “As a dancer, the art of interpretation and conveying any story definitely inspires me,” she explains. “Dance provides a new form of expression, where I am able to embody and release my emotions, whether that be frustration, joy, disappointment, or excitement.” 

Title: The Mind Set

Artist Statement: 

This piece is designed to emphasize the power of a present and positive mind set. Oftentimes, we doubt and overlook our capabilities, creating barriers towards achieving success. Developing the habit of acknowledging and relishing in our skill creates an ideal mind set where we refrain from limiting our potential.

Instagram Handle: @thegracewiebe

3. Minh-Anh Dang, 16, Alexandre Yersin French International School

When Minh Anh moved to a new neighborhood at age five, she found community through dance classes at the studio next door. With her parents’ encouragement, dressed in “a sparkly tutu paired with beige ballet shoes,” Minh Anh began the dance journey that inspires her as an artivist today. 

Minh Anh takes inspiration from “everything that surrounds [her],” and uses dance to tell stories. “A storyline unrolls whenever a dancer exposes themselves to their audience,” Minh Anh explains. “That story doesn’t require an ending, the retelling of the climax with its storms and hardship suffice.” Minh Anh hopes that the story expressed in her submission will bring joy to viewers. “I hope that I have helped at least one person come to a realization that happiness comes from things that often go unnoticed.”

Title: To Cause A Commotion

Artist Statement:

In a society where you’re expected to be someone else, it isn’t always easy to be proud of yourself.

You’ve made it this far, but will you make it? You doubt your ability. Is everybody ready for the commotion that you will cause? The turbulence might rattle the boat, drowning the old ways of doing. But maybe, that’s just what the world needs.

Instagram Handle: @minhanhdng

4. Victoria Sepiashvili, 16, Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts

For as long as she can remember, Victoria has loved to move, with music or without. She officially started dancing at age six, and since then, has trained and competed in many different styles of dance, from ballet to hip hop to ballroom dance. 

“Dance is the most beautiful form of expression through which you could channel all your feelings and emotions,” Victoria explains. Through her XQ submission, Victoria hopes everyone watching can “believe in themselves, and be confident no matter what.”

Title: Embrace your Authentic Soul!

Artist Statement: 

We only have one life on this beautiful planet. No one will ever be like you. Embrace every part of you. You are special and extraordinary, truly one of a kind!!!

Instagram Handle: @victoriasepiashvili

5. Ciena Yang, 13, Liberty High School

Ciena has always loved dancing, but as a kid, she didn’t love dance classes. Watching dances on YouTube helped her realize her love for the art, and now she loves being in dance classes and exploring her passion. “I love learning every day,” she explains. 

For Ciena, participating in the Misty Challenge was a challenge. “I was scared to do this, but I wanted to challenge myself so that I could get out of my comfort zone as a performer,” she says. Ciena hopes her participation will inspire others, too. “I wanted to show people that it doesn’t matter when and how you started as a dancer. That with love, passion, and dedication you will continue to grow.”

Title: You’re Gonna Make It

Artist Statement: 

I was amazed by everyone who participated in this dance challenge! I’ve only been dancing for 2 years and to win something, I’m extremely proud of myself. I’m thankful to everyone who voted for me and honored to receive an award. 

Instagram Handle: @cienayang

Before You Go…

One more time, congratulations to Mahalaya, Grace, Minh-Anh, Victoria, and Ciena! Be sure to check out Misty’s reaction to the our five winners, plus other top-voted dances. We’re proud of every student who has joined us for our Arts + Activism Series. 

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