Humans of Harker: Beyond the spotlight

Sofia Fernandez dances through life with a smile

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Anika Mani

“My goal is to bring a positive light to everyone. I’ve always been the kind of person that if you need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll be that person for you, and even if it’s people I’m not super close to, my door’s always open,” Sofia Fernandez (12) said.

At the age of 3, Sofia Fernandez (12) was first introduced to ballet when she watched the Nutcracker and was amazed by the skill and grace of the dancers on stage. She decided at that moment that she wanted to become a ballerina, and since then, she has devoted hours and hours of her time into dancing. After 14 years of hard work and rigorous practices, Sofia has finally achieved her childhood dream. 

Throughout Sofia’s dancing career, from her first ballet lessons as a toddler to her advanced dance classes as a senior, Sofia’s love for dance has carried her through difficult times and acted as a respite from the pressures of daily life. She started to consistently dance in Harker as a sixth grader in lower school dance group Dance Fusion and continued along that path in the subsequent grades as she advanced into Showstoppers, the junior varsity dance team and the Harker Dance Company (HDC). Although she tried dance outside school, she preferred performing in shows rather than dancing competitively. Now, as a dancer and choreographer for HDC, Sofia focuses on a contemporary style, drawing inspiration from traditional ballet.

For Sofia, the Harker dance team is a second family. Having performed with Harker every year since sixth grade, Sofia appreciates the supportive environment that Harker fosters. Above all, her positivity and openness help her relate to her teammates, even when they are discouraged or feeling down.

“There are a lot of moments in dance [when] you can feel really upset about yourself,” Sofia said. “Whether that’s not making an audition or not getting called back or not being put in the front or having a solo, I try to encourage all the other girls on the team to look at how this is trying to help them be better dancers rather than focusing on what they didn’t get.”

Close friend Emma-Leigh Stoll (12) appreciates Sofia’s kindness and compassion, which have been an integral part of her personality since kindergarten.

“She’s definitely one of the most selfless people I know. She’s always putting others before herself, and she’s very conscious about what she does [and] how it affects those around her,” Emma-Leigh said.

Yet, Sofia’s journey with dance has not always been easy. Looking back on the ballet classes she used to take early in the mornings, Sofia realized these classes were much more intense than they originally seemed. Even in lower school, she had to face the exacting expectations for ballerinas.

“The environment of being a young dancer, especially [in] ballet, is really toxic. My teacher would tell us to suck in our stomachs, and he once told one of the girls to shave her armpits because it’s not beautiful enough, and ballet is all about looking tall and skinny,” Sofia said. “I remember always being really confused by that and kind of disgusted, but I think what made me continue was I love performing.”

Having been troubled by the lack of inclusion in the ballet community, Sofia seeks to create a kinder atmosphere and share her experiences with others to lift them up through the Latinx affinity group at Harker. She is excited to reach out to the other members and hold conversations with them.

I’ll be able to talk to other people about what my experience was and what their experience was and hopefully relate to the other students who are of Latinx or Hispanic ethnicities and just get to know them better,” Sofia said.

Although Sofia has struggled at times in the past to embrace her culture, she believes that by leading the Latinx affinity group, she will be able to form a greater connection not only with her culture but also with her fellow Latinx classmates. 

“I definitely embraced my culture, and I’m trying to do my best with learning the language and trying to really connect with it. I think by leading the Latinx affinity group, I will be able to connect with others who share the same experiences that I had growing up at Harker,” Sofia said.

Close friend Bayden Yazalina (12) appreciates both her ability to light up a room and her willingness to help and identify with others.

“She’s always in a good mood, which I really appreciate, and that’s the greatest thing about her; it’s contagious because she’s always the one who helps others see the fun in certain things, the silver lining a cloud so to speak,” Bayden said.  

Sofia’s empathy extends to not only her friends but also her teachers. Upper school mathematics teacher Jane Keller believes that Sofia’s compassion is one of her greatest strengths.

“Her kindness [and] her ability to accept people for who they are, to see everyone as equals [make Sofia] an extremely genuine person. I think that she has matured into an incredibly strong young woman. She knows who she is, and she’s developed a really great community of people around her,” Keller said.

Even though Sofia acknowledges that not being happy is completely normal, she still strives to bring friendliness and acceptance wherever she goes.

“My goal is to bring a positive light to everyone. I’ve always been the kind of person that if you need a shoulder to cry on, I’ll be that person for you, and even if it’s people I’m not super close to, my door’s always open,” Sofia said.