TONGANOXIE, Kan. -- This week marks the culmination of a decade of FOX 4's weekly reports spotlighting young achievers in our region. Our Reaching 4 Excellence stories recognize children and teenagers for accomplishments in any one or more of several categories, including the performing arts. See how dancing has enabled this week's FOX 4 Young Achiever to take steps toward making his life a success.
Whenever he gets a few minutes away from class or activities at Tonganoxie High School, you can usually find sophomore Paul Thompson dancing. Paul loves to dance. He specifically loves to dance animation, a mix of hip-hop-like free-style moves -- popping, cutting, waves, locking, liquid.
"Really, when you dance, it's like you think outside the box," said Paul. "You just lose everything and you just flow with it. You're not yourself no more. You really don't want to think about it because then you start messing up and try to be perfect. You just let it flow."
A friend introduced Paul to it and this rural, small-town Kansas kid got hooked on an art form usually associated with urban America. He's performing now as a member of a young dance crew called Krowd Control that impressed shoppers at Oak Park Mall a few days ago.
"They're a lot like me," said Paul of the other members of Krowd Control. "And really dancing changed their life."
Krowd Control is doing some paying gigs, birthday parties and such, but mostly they dance for free wherever they can find a flat space to turn into a makeshift stage, draw a little crowd and spread their art form.
"We all love dancing," said Paul. "Want to go somewhere with it. It's our dream."
Paul's already going somewhere with animation dance. It's helped him deal with family struggles and challenges that confronted him when his parents split up.
"Really, I was really depressed and sad," said Paul. "I didn't know really what to do. So I found dance. It really gave me something to look forward to."
Excelling in dance has so thoroughly changed Paul's attitude and outlook that he has become a whole new student at Tonganoxie High. Always someone other kids naturally gravitated to, Paul has transformed himself. Once a kid in trouble from time-to-time, and not particularly motivated to do well academically, he's now working hard to get good grades and to be a positive student leader.
"Is it going to be all neat and clean from this point? No," said Tonganoxie High School assistant principal Brent Smith of Paul's new focus. "But he's working at it. And that's what we want kids to do. No matter what, just to be working on it and trying to make your life better. He's doing that. And we're really proud of him."
Smith says Paul's strong new commitment, fueled by dance, has the school really investing in his improvement. And Smith named Paul his Student of the Quarter, a big honor at Tonganoxie High.
"I don't think it's a stretch saying that dance might be something that has saved his life and that will continue to help him be successful," said Smith.
Paul is setting a lot of goals for himself these days to be just that, successful.
"When I started dancing, I realized that I need to do something with my life," said Paul. "I need to change. I need to give me something that I can do in the future that will get me somewhere. So really, I started dancing so people would look at me different. Not as, 'Oh, that kid that's going nowhere in life.' And really giving me something so people would see me as a leader and not just as another kid."
Dance -- a lifesaver.
The dance crew in which Paul performs, Krowd Control, started out as a student club at Turner High School in Kansas City, Kan. The current members along with Paul are co-founders Jesse Hollister and Juan Gonzales who are a year out of high school, Shawnee Mission Northwest High School student Tatyana Brooks, Turner High School student Jorge Rodriguez and Shawnee Mission North High School student Luis Lopez.
Krowd Control is on Facebook where the crew has posted videos of some of their dancing. Go to: https://www.facebook.com/#!/pages/Krowd-Control/341028182699567.
FOX 4 News is Working 4 You to spotlight outstanding young people and their positive accomplishments. In our weekly report called Reaching 4 Excellence we meet young achievers in subjects like academics, the arts, leadership, community service, volunteerism, career exploration, overcoming obstacles and heroism. Watch for Reaching 4 Excellence every Wednesday on FOX 4 News at 9 p.m. and every Thursday on FOX 4 News at 8 a.m. and noon.