By ANTHONY SPAULDING
Director of Communications
Pope John XXIII Regional High School
SPARTA — Olivia Gang is not one to shy away from a challenge.
Whether it is taking a big test, teaching young girls how to dance, leading the cheerleading team, or talking with a person of authority, the Pope John XXIII Regional High School senior stands up and does whatever it takes to get the job done.
How does she do it?
Well, Gang has got one key thing going for her: confidence — a feeling she built through her years of dancing and is trying to pass onto other girls while being a Pope John student and a dance teacher for Reverend George A. Brown Memorial School’s “Strong Minds - Strong Body Through Dance" program.
“I think it is extremely important for girls to have the confidence to present themselves in a positive way for job interviews, college interviews and other things they may face in life,” Gang said. “Performing has definitely helped me come out of my shell and be able to perform in front of people, talk to adults, and present myself well.”
Gang didn’t gain the confidence she had overnight, as she said she was “more shy” when she was younger. But when she was 3 years old, her parents, Michael and Erica, enrolled her into dance with formal instruction.
After growing to like the activity, she began dancing at The Ballet Barre in Andover Township four years later under the guidance of Suzanne Sarlitt. During her 10 years with Ballet Barre, Gang has relied upon the principles that Sarlitt taught her to build her confidence.
“She would talk to me about stage presence and always feeling good about your dance,” Gang said. “Even though you are always going to be a little nervous at first when you get on stage, she said once you start doing it, you will feel happy and believe in yourself.”
Gang has not only gained the confidence to perform in a handful of shows each year, but also gained great enough belief in herself that she can excel in the classroom, on the athletic field and in the community.
Academically, Gang has posted a 4.19 GPA while taking rigorous AP and Honors courses. In addition, she has earned the Society of Women Engineers award and the George Washington University Book award, and is a member of the 1400 SAT/31 Act club, National Honor Society, English National Honor Society, Spanish National Honor Society, Future Business Leaders of America, Key Club, and Pope John Ambassadors.
Athletically, Gang has been a four-year member of the varsity cheerleading team and a captain of the squad this year. During her four years, the team earned back-to-back first-place finishes in Rally Routine at the Universal Cheerleading Association summer camp at Pine Forest and she was named a UCA All-American Cheerleader as a junior in 2017.
In the community, Gang has not only been the program leader for “Strong Minds-Strong Body Through Dance” at Reverend Brown, but has also been a volunteer for the Pope John XXIII Middle School cheerleading team, the Junior Women’s Club of Sparta, the Pope John Track and Field 5K Spirit Run, and other youth organizations. She also represented Pope John at the Center for Prevention and Counseling’s annual anti-bullying summit and was named Homecoming Queen this year.
However, the Reverend Brown dance program is something that Gang holds dear to her heart because the six-week program she created allows her to teach the first- through fourth-grade students not only proper dance technique, but also life lessons such as confidence, teamwork, compassion, poise, communication and listening skills.
“Before I asked (Reverend Brown principal Mrs. Patricia) Klebez to form the program, I had talked with some teachers and asked them, ‘What do some of these girls lack?’ and they said a lot of them lacked confidence,” Gang said. “So I thought it would be fun to combine that passion for dance with building confidence in others.”
The dance program has been a big hit, as it has raised approximately $2,500 for Reverend Brown. More importantly, it is coming back for a third straight year in the spring.
“I’m so proud of the girls in the program,” Gang said. “I love teaching them and I hope they have gained the same knowledge that I have learned.”
While she is looking forward to teaching the Reverend Brown dance students in the spring, Gang still has to tackle the day-to-day tasks of being a senior in high school while also waiting to hear back from colleges. She is looking to attend either Villanova University or Boston College.
No matter what she does, Gang will always use the confidence she gained from dancing to get her through it all.
“Dance has always helped my confidence progress,” Gang said. “Just keeping the principles of dance in mind has helped me take charge of my life.”