In Step With Kiki
By Nate Fisher
“I’ve always pushed myself to be at the top or at least do the best that I can do.”
Kiki Givens has seen our magazine before. “My friends have been in them and I love reading them. It’s informational,” she smiles. “I get to learn about what they’re doing and where they’re going.” This is one of Kiki’s favorite pastimes. A self-described people person, learning more about the lives of others and forging solid bonds is how she sashays about the world. As she moves, she makes waves with a near-infinite amount of energy, passion for dance, and commitment to building meaningful relationships. Her presence? Felt. Moves? Celebrated. Ambition? All too clear.
One thing is for sure: she’s a busy girl. “I have always taken academics very seriously. I’ve always pushed myself to be at the top or at least do the best that I can do,” Kiki says. She takes school seriously but keeps her academic rigor from spoiling the fun. “I don’t like to stress myself out about it too much,” she explains. “I have to let myself have fun at school too.” The last thing she wants to do is induce any unneeded anxiety that would make Vandalia High a “negative place.”
Five days a week, she’s at the Vandalia Performing Arts Center (VPAC) as both a student and teacher of dance. Dance is Kiki’s sanctuary, her place of freedom and expression. For 14 years, she has dedicated herself to the art, exploring various styles with a drive for growth and performance. Ballet, with its disciplined elegance, lays the foundation, while jazz brings out her vibrant personality. “It’s super funky and super fun,” Kiki remarks, her voice tinged with enthusiasm.
Her dedication to dance and performance has not gone unnoticed, with judges’ critiques acknowledging her ability to captivate audiences and connect deeply with her art. “I plan to go to college with dance and be in Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville’s dance program,” Kiki says. Her journey in dance is not just about perfecting the moves but also about embodying the emotions and stories conveyed through her performances.
Kiki’s connection with her family is a guiding force in her life. Despite her bustling schedule, she remains a devoted sister and daughter and wants to stay reasonably local after high school to be present for significant moments in her siblings’ lives. Her decision to attend SIUE for college is a testament to her commitment to family, striking a balance between independence and closeness to her loved ones. Her role as a cheerleader further emphasizes this, showcasing a young woman who values the bonds she creates and understands the importance of a supportive community.
One of the teachers that helped Kiki recognize the unique gift of her hometown’s neighborly dynamic is Laurna Knebel, her fourthgrade science teacher and current instructor for the Foundations to Education Class offered through the OKAW Vocational Center. “The teachers that I had when I was younger? Those were my favorite teachers,” she radiates at the memory. “The ones who were enjoying themselves, and you could tell. That’s who I want to be. I aspire to be that teacher.” The Foundations to Education Class is a college credit offering designed to give young teachers-in-waiting the skills and knowledge base to steer their own classrooms. The course’s regimen involves an observational component where students receive in-person teaching experience through job site visitation. Kiki just returned from the second-grade classroom where she observes, and she’s over the moon. This is her age! “It’s amazing,” she beams. “Today I brought them cupcakes and it was my last day to be with them. They were so excited.” The main draw to second graders is their ability to live life in the moment joyously, and that’s right up Kiki’s alley.
As she looks forward to her next chapter at SIUE and throws open the door to her future second-grade classroom as “Ms. Kiki,” she carries with her the lifelong lessons learned and relationships forged as a proud Vandal. She’s a beacon of positivity and proof that when you move through life with passion, grace, and a genuine love for others, the world can’t help but take notice and join in the dance.