“Pretty much like breathing, dance is all I want to do. It makes me feel really good to the point where I want to keep doing it to inspire others to do it. It just makes me happy and alive.”

Stephanie Seda

Photo Credit: Willow Street Pictures

Don't Sleep on Me

Spoken by: Stephanie Seda

Written by: Chelsea Watts

Monday: Work. Tuesday: Work. Dance. Wednesday: Work. Dance. Thursday: Work. Dance. Friday: Work. Saturday: Dance. Sunday: Downtime. Currently working at the Wyomissing Animal Hospital, it can’t be all work and no play for a dancer, but Stephanie Seda finds herself busily balancing her work life and her love of dance, while also finding some time for the other things that matter to her: visiting her mother, spending time with her love, and occasionally watching some Netflix.

At twenty-six days old, Stephanie’s life began with her foster parents, who later adopted her when she was six. Born with drugs in her system, Stephanie has worked hard for what she wants since birth. When she was in the hospital, her name was Kristana Valeri Diamond; Valeri was her mother’s husband’s last name, and Diamond her mother’s last name. When her foster-turned-adopted parents picked her up, they decided to call her Stephanie Valeri, and when they received papers to legally change her name, they gave her their last name, Seda, and kept her birth name as her middle name, giving the world Stephanie Kristana Seda.

As she has grown up in Reading, she began to see the need for change in the city and has used her talents to help bring vibrance back to the once boomtown.

Today, at twenty-five years old, Stephanie sees the city of Reading differently than it had been during her younger years. Like any city, Stephanie finds Reading to have its good day and its bad, but sadly the bad is more often discussed. The constant negativity that was spread about Reading created a fear for those not from the city - a fear that kept them away. Noticing the shift in attitudes towards Reading, specifically from outsiders and longtime residents, Stephanie wanted to know how to change what people thought, but did not fully know how to do so. When she was offered a spot as a dancer in This is Reading, the opportunity arose to help challenge those ideas.

Growing up, Stephanie always had the support of her adopted parents, even when others brought her down for not looking like she belonged to them. Stephanie was born to African American and white parents, although her adopted parents, one another’s first love, are Puerto Rican. After losing a daughter during pregnancy, her now-adopted parents became foster parents and welcomed her into their lives. Along with her parents, Stephanie has nothing but love and adoration for her three older, adopted brothers. In every aspect of her life – uncovering her sexuality, examining her relationship with her biological mother, and fostering her love of dance – she has had her parents by her side. While the best health has unfortunately not always been on her parents’ side, their desire to see their daughter perform has not stood in the way of them being there to show their support of her and her art.

With the unwavering support of her family on her side, Stephanie really began to take shape as a dancer and the person that she wants to be when she started high school and auditioned for the Reading High Dance Team. Even in her middle school days, she knew that it was something that she wanted to be part of when she made it to high school. Looking back at her experiences, she realizes that being on the dance team and constantly being at practice helped to keep her in a positive place, away from the negativity that began to take hold on the streets outside. Her time dancing in high school is time that she would love to relive if she could. Having the space to express her creative self allowed her to feel at home on the Reading High stage and the court during basketball games. She looks back on her high school years fondly, to the point that she returned to Reading High to participate in their alumni dance team and now helps to coach their student team. After she graduated, she took a year off to catch her breath before she jumped back into dancing with the alumni team and helping to coach students.

Stephanie’s dancing resume is extensive. Since she started dancing, she has not been able to stop. She has danced for the Philadelphia 76ers prime time shows four times, appeared in six music videos, and performed in the Atlantic Records, Republic Records, and Terror Squad Showcase in New York City in 2017. Aside from Reading High, she has danced and trained with three other dance teams and took classes at two different dancing academies. During her time at Reading High School, she not only won first place with her team at the Delaware Talent Show, but she also named Reading High School’s Most Outstanding Dancer in 2011.

“Pretty much like breathing, dance is all I want to do. It makes me feel really good to the point where I want to keep doing it to inspire others to do it. It just makes me happy and alive.”

Dancing has truly shaped the person that Stephanie has become, aside from keeping her in good physical form. “I was a little thicker back in the day in high school,” she recalls with laughter. It has given her a way to give back to her community that is mutually fulfilling. Her experience in This is Reading showed just how much of an impact her art can have on others when so many approached her and her fellow dancers to applaud their talents and skill. It also allows her to push her level of passion and discipline, express her fun-loving, upbeat personality, and arguably the most interesting, supports her desire to show rather than tell.

Her personality radiates positivity. Always giggling and smiling, helping others is at the heart of all she does, even if only to share her smile with them. Events that used to take place in Reading, such as First Fridays, brought life into the city that made the same emotional impact on people that Stephanie wants to bring back. Willing to continue with This is Reading or simply dancing in City Park would allow her to bring the joy and excitement to people that dancing brings to her. For her, having those opportunities would also allow her to show those who are not from Reading that it really is not what so many have made it out to be. Reading is not a dangerous city that people should fear. Reading is her home, her life with family and friends, and the city that made her who she is.

Her drive and motivation comes naturally to continue dancing, especially with the strong support system she has behind her from her parents, significant other, and from within herself. Seeing the lives of those around her in Reading and how some let the negativity alter them, she has continually risen above what was expected of her from her family, her team, her city, and herself.

In the future, the idea of staying in Reading is a definite possibility for Stephanie, but she would want someone to see her potential and take her out of the city to show others who someone from Reading can become and be that positive influence for other young people from her community. Stephanie’s parents, on the other hand, can definitely see her dancing on cruise ships. Being able to come back to Reading as a professional, established dancer is what she dreams of, especially being able to give back to the city that has been her home. She has seen the good and bad in Reading, but knowing that the negativity in the past cannot be changed, Stephanie sees the potential for a brighter future, as long as the younger generations willingly choose to be a positive influence on what happens next in Reading.

Her personal future is another story. She wants a future besides dancing, possibly something in forensics. Her greatest professional desire is to do something simply to help others. The future is a difficult subject for her to discuss, because what may be waiting for her around the corner is, more often than not, unknown. The uncertainty is exciting, but it makes planning difficult because the opportunities that may be waiting for her are endless. “It’s hard to talk about the future because you never know what will come up. Life isn’t hard, but there’s things that could be done to make it simpler.” Recalling her own life experiences, Stephanie is no stranger to hard work and perseverance to where she wants to go. “I’ve learned to stand on my own two feet… but I hate cooking!”

Don’t listen to the negativity that you hear about Reading. Go out and experience the city for yourself. Experience it, meet its people and get to know them. Don’t listen, but watch. “Don’t sleep on me!” Stephanie won’t tell you what’s going on, but she is more than ready to show you. Don’t blink, or you may just miss her dancing to the top.

©2018 We Are Reading Dancers and Penn State Berks Writers