Senior prospers on dance team despite disability


Walking around town with his friends, it was a normal Friday afternoon for senior Gianni Mitchell. But the second he was hit, his life changed forever.

“Back in eighth grade, it was June 8, I was hit by a speeding car. It was me, my friend Gosha, and another friend of mine,” Mitchell said.

“As soon as the car hit me that’s when Gosha heard the thud and then he looked up and he saw me like flying through the air. From there I ended up spending the rest of the summer in the hospital.”

Mitchell’s leg was amputated a month  after he was admitted to the hospital. Despite losing his leg, he remains optimistic. “I’m usually in pain but [my disability] opened so many doors for me. I’ve met so many great people: the nurses, the staff at the hospital. I also now qualify for the paralympics, so it’s not all negative.”

Mitchell hasn’t let his disability get in the way of his love for dance.

“I still find myself being able to do certain [dance moves] and then I put what I can do together,” Mitchell said.

Dance team adviser Melissa Dyal, also referred to as DJ Dyal, has come to know Mitchell very well during the course of his time with the dance team.

“Over the last year and a half Gianni has been open to learning new dance skills and incorporating them into performances. Gianni is an inspiration to all and we were able to experience this first hand at this year’s Neshaminy’s Got Talent,” Dyal said.

In spite of his hardships, Mitchell has continued to bring others up.

“As we [the dance team] have gotten to know Gianni, we see that his joy is infectious. He has an innate happiness that is magnified when he is dancing,” said Dyal.

Mitchell works hard to motivate others as well as himself.

“From the beginning we have always known that he is a team player. He motivates and encourages others on the team to try new things and, in his words, ‘Fake it till you make it’,” said Dyal.

Mitchell is so confident while he dances that the dance team even created a nickname for him. “We call him ‘center stage’ because he loves the spotlight and as a viewer your eye is drawn to him,” Dyal said.

Mitchell’s disability has not only affected his physical abilities but also his emotional abilities, in particular, his ability to connect with others.

“I’m definitely more accepting of others and I would say more [accepting of] flaws because I have an understanding. It makes me more aware of other people’s disabilities because I have my own,” Mitchell said.

Despite the challenges Mitchell has faced, he remains optimistic. “I would say I think everything happens for a reason so I probably wouldn’t change [what happened to me].”

Mitchell, like many high schoolers, is not quite sure what he wants to do in the future.

“Dance has obviously crossed my mind, that would be good to own my own studio. One dream of mine was to open a studio for kids who have disabilities so that they know it’s not the end of the world for them.”

Another option, Mitchell said, is traveling because it’s something he has never done before and would love to do.

Accepting himself for who he now is took him some time. Dyal has seen his efforts firsthand and agrees that he has come very far.

“Although life has thrown challenges at Gianni, he has not skipped a beat. It has been beautiful to watch everything he has overcome!” she said.

Mitchell’s advice to others who are struggling to accept themselves and overcome life’s many challenges is nothing short of inspiring.

“At the end of the day, everyone is going to judge you. You’re going to get looked at differently, but you just have to embrace it. It makes you stronger in the end,” Mitchell said.