POY RJI | Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute

Category: Multimedia Daily Life

First Place

Forough Alaei / Freelance
“Let Me In”

Second Place

Katie Klann / Colorado Springs Gazette
“Learning from the Land: Women in Ranching”

Third Place

Ora DeKornfeld, Taige Jensen and Cora Engelbrecht / New York Times
“What a Soldier Killed in Niger Left Behind”

Award of Excellence

Kristen Zeis / Norfolk Virginian-Pilot
“No turning back: A transgender sailor’s journey”

Award of Excellence

Guy Wathen / San Francisco Chronicle
“The Regulars: The Dancer”

Award of Excellence

Jennifer Gonzalez / NBC Bay Area – KNTV
“Beyond the Fields: Farm Workers Excel Academically Through Cesar Chavez Program”

Award of Excellence: Guy Wathen / San Francisco Chronicle

Award of Excellence

“The Regulars: The Dancer”

Angela Rose Dorantes, owner of Steppin’ Out Dance studio in the Mission, was teaching a class for young children when she noticed a student’s younger sister dancing along on the sidelines.

“I noticed Olivia dancing off on the side of the class in her big sister’s shoes,” says Dorantes.

Olivia Byers-Straus, who has Down syndrome, was two-years-old at the time. The following season she would join a class for little sisters. That was over twenty years ago. She hasn’t stopped dancing since.

“I love it because it’s who I am,” says Byers-Straus.

She describes feeling alive on stage and it’s obvious. During a recent season-ending performance at Everett Middle School her freestyle dance elicited cheers from the crowd. The joy on her face was unmistakable.

“The reason I feel free and alive is because I just want to show the world who I really am and I want them to be part of that,” says Byers-Straus.

While continuing to pursue her love of dance as a student, the twenty-five-year-old is now also teaching a class for young dancers with disabilities at the studio. An opportunity given to her by Dorantes.

“When I decided to start the new generation of danceABILITY dancers I wanted to give them a role model that they could look up to,” says Dorantes, “It’s awesome to have a teacher that is like you and successful at doing what she’s doing, and I think that’s really cool.”

In addition to a love of dance, the fiercely independent Byers-Straus is also pursuing her passion for fashion. In October she will travel to Denver in order to participate in the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Fashion Show, a fundraiser for the Global Down Syndrome Foundation. She has advice for people with special needs who have talents they would like to explore.

“Just be yourself, just follow your heart and dream big,” says Byers-Straus.