By Diandra Bolton
Howard University News Service

WASHINGTON – The dozens of young black girls dressed in leotards who were the center of a Black History Month presentation in the home of the nation’s president and the first lady, were a chorus of excited chatter and giggles.

Each bobbing bun was attached to one of 51 D.C. students from a variety of dance studios who had been invited to the state dining room at the White House for a special program.

They could hardly contain their excitement, but they all grew silent Monday as first lady Michelle Obama leaned in to give them a personal message she had designed just for them.

“I grew up like you guys,” Obama said, peering into their bright smiles. “Looking at you guys sitting here in your leotards and your buns in your hair and your braids, I was you all.”

Just like them, she said, she also had a passion for dance. When she was their age, she said, she was enrolled in the Mayfair Dance Academy in Chicago and took a variety of dance styles, including acrobatics, jazz and modern.

The woman who would later graduate from prestigious Princeton University, become a corporate attorney in Chicago and marry, support and inspire a young man named Barack told them that as she travelled through life, that passion transformed.

It became one for mentoring young people, and that passion was the reason she decided to host this event.

“I always thought there were so many kids just like me who never got the opportunities,” she said.

“I grew up with kids who were just as smart, but because they didn’t have opportunities or somebody to push them, they were left behind. So, I vowed that the work that I would do would always engage young people. “

Obama explained that she had invited them to the White House to be trained for a day by four of the nation’s premiere dancers — Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Judith Jamison, Debbie Allen, dancer, star of the television dance show Fame and director of the television show A Different World; the Dance Theatre of Harlem’s Virginia Johnson and Hip-Hop choreographer Fatima Robinson.

The theme behind Black History Month celebration this year, she said, “Honoring the Past While Celebrating the Present; Seven Years of Living African American History.”

While the program focused on dance, it also highlighted other issues, including health, self-confidence and hard work.

Then Obama told them what she really wanted them to take away from the experience.

“This house is for you, and you can do anything you want to do, because if I’m sitting here doing what I’m doing, you can too,” she said.

“So, that when somebody tells you you’re not good enough or smart enough or pretty enough, you will remember that you were pretty enough and smart enough and good enough and talented enough to be in the White House. If you can do this, you can do anything.”

Obama told the rapt students of her personal life experiences, of growing up in the Southside of Chicago with working class parents, including a father afflicted with scoliosis.

She told how she had to work hard in school to ensure she had a scholarship to college and how her parents, despite never having attended college, she stressed education, which led her to Princeton and Harvard Law School.

“The president and I are committed to opening this house up to young people like you, because we run into kids all the time that live maybe five minutes away and have never seen the White House and they never cared about who lives there,” she said.

“Some kids don’t even consider themselves part of the D.C. community. They think their neighborhood is where they are from. We want to change that in kids, particularly minority kids around the world, and in this country, city, and we want you to know that being here at the White House, dancing and screaming and doing whatever it is you do, you belong here. “