A Life Taylor-Made for Dancing
A famous philosopher once said, “We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.” This statement stirs something inside the heart of even the most dedicated wallflower. Whether for fun or romance, in worship or in performance, there’s just something about dancing that takes stress and worry and sets them aside for a brief moment and replaces them with joy. As a 9-year-old dancing in church, Travawyn (Tray) Taylor stumbled upon that joy and has determined to never waste another day.
Nine short years later, Tray is an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Houston pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree and is an elite dancer. He first discovered his passion for the art form naturally when he noticed, “I did it all the time and looked to it for a stress reliever.” Tray, recognizing the financial burden of dance school tuition, used all the tools at his disposal to begin honing his craft. “I just used YouTube, and I looked up stretching videos. I would try to copy their moves and technique,” he said.
This is how Tray’s training progressed for the next two years. As his talent for dance became obvious to those around him, a very generous lady at the Boys and Girls Club where Tray regularly spent time recognized the special abilities he possessed and wanted to help him continue to progress. She offered him a scholarship to any dance school in Shreveport, where he lived. “I went to the dance school called Power and Grace, and she paid for everything,” Tray said. It was at the Power and Grace School of Performing Arts, where Tray began his formal training under experienced teachers in state-of-the-art facilities. There was no turning back for this highly motivated and extremely talented boy, and now he had the extra help he needed to excel.
After a couple of years, Tray’s family moved to Texarkana. While Tray continued to use YouTube videos and other online resources as vital training tools, he also enrolled at Joni’s Gymnastics, Dance and Cheer Centre, which “involved intense training that pushed me a lot,” he recalled. Whether contemporary, ballet, hip-hop, tap, jazz, modern, jazz funk, musical theater, or others, it was at Joni’s that Tray began working to master them all. “My favorite would have to be contemporary because it’s ever-evolving and I feel so vulnerable creating anything in this style, whether it has a meaning or not.” “Tray has so much rhythm, musicality, and natural talent. He expects a lot of himself and never gives up. He loves learning technique correctly and practices it daily. Through the years he was at my studio, he rose to an incredibly advanced level. He has an amazing mother and twin brother who encourage and cheer him on every time he is on stage,” said Joni Wright, owner of JGDC.
Tray now lives in Houston, where he is majoring in dance and training at a studio called DanceZone. “My biggest challenge with dance would have to be believing in my process and seeing my growth because sometimes I beat myself up about how well I think I’m progressing,” he said, but “moving to Houston to continue my craft has really pushed my artistry.” Tray has won many awards, and he recently received over $3,000 in scholarships through the New York City Dance Alliance.
It’s the constant support from his family that has made all the difference in Tray’s pursuit of his dreams. His family includes his mom, his stepdad, two older sisters and his twin brother. “My Mom would have to be the main person who inspires me,” he said. “For many years, she was a single parent and even had three jobs at one point. Fast forward, she has decided to go to college at 54 and continues to support my brother and I in full.” It’s her example which has encouraged Tray and his siblings to dream big and to pursue their goals wholeheartedly. They do that knowing they have a loving and supportive family behind them. They are a close family and spend time playing games and even dancing together, which is often chronicled for all to see through Tray’s social media. These often viral videos show the deep appreciation he has for all of them.
Dancing is not the only place where Tray shines. He has also become a social media phenomenon, with his Instagram account @tray.taylor1 having 147,000 followers. TikTok, however, is where he really stands out as a social media powerhouse. He has a verified account, @schoollunchtray, where he posts dance and comedy content for his 3.1 million followers and where he has received over 147 million likes on his videos. “I don’t really know how I blew up on Instagram/TikTok,” he said. “I just posted what made me feel good and people love when people are authentic to themselves.” Putting yourself out there for the world to see requires that authenticity and a vulnerability, in addition to the creativity and dance talent, which make Tray’s videos so entertaining. “I would consider myself a mix of an introvert and extrovert, because on one hand I’m really outgoing and love to meet new people, but I also love being by myself and having ‘me-time.’”
While the notoriety of internet stardom was not planned, there can be many benefits for those like Tray, who have stumbled upon it accidentally. Connections with people of influence in companies and corporations are a real asset and highly valued for people heading into a career in the performing arts. “I think social media can be a jump starter to getting those connections, showing who you are and what you represent, and figuring out how you want your career path to go, [which] in my case specifically, [is] content creating. The pay is also nice,” he adds with a laugh.
Tray is an obvious star. The potential for his future is immeasurable, and he has big goals. “My future plans will be to travel to Los Angeles to become a professional dancer and choreographer and also continue content creating,” he said. “In ten years, I see myself in L.A., thriving not only as a dancer, but as an activist for any people unsure about what path they really want to take. I feel like high school, and society in general, can be so toxic in saying how people should live their lives. I want to dance. That’s it.” That’s what he wants, so that’s what he’s going to put his whole heart into, and not stop until he’s reached his goals. “I do believe in backup plans because dance careers are short-lived, but I believe that me giving my all for dance right now will pay off in the end.”
Talent, motivation, exposure and connections added to a strong family foundation, create the perfect recipe for a delicious future. “My motto,” said Tray, “would be to ‘Learn from experiences and be willing to change for the better.’” If what that old philosopher says is true and dancing really does enhance every day, Tray Taylor is leaving nothing to chance. He is putting in the work and developing the perfect conditions to make each day a success. We could all learn a lot from Tray. In a world where chaos and stress can sometimes be overwhelming, why not, even if just for a moment each day, set it all aside and take the time to dance?