LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - Cierra Theriot says it best – her eyes may not have seen dancing, but her heart has certainly felt it.
The dancer has wowed audiences for three years now, not simply for her incredible passion – but because she's breaking new ground for blind performers.
It all started when Cierra and her mom went to see the Lake Charles Dance Academy's production of the Nutcracker.
"My mom would describe to me what they were doing when they were dancing, and I just thought it was amazing," said Cierra.
Cierra couldn't see the dancers at the Nutcracker, but she could feel them.
"When I first contacted LCDA, I was little nervous because I didn't know if it was going to work, I thought why am I doing this? I don't think this is going to work, but when she messaged me back I was excited, I was like, 'She messaged me back for real!' And that's where it all started," explained Cierra.
"She told me about her wishes, and she talked to me about her disability, and I thought about it really long and hard because I'm a classroom teacher, first and foremost. I've spent 25 years in the classroom. One of the things as a classroom teacher is that you have to adjust to every student's needs, no matter what it may be," said Colleen Benoit, the director of the Lake Charles Dance Academy. "So I thought, I'll figure this out, so I said sure. We're going to find a class for you. So, didn't know how I was going to do it, because I've never had a blind student before."
Colleen came up with a plan. It wasn't going to be easy and she would need help. That's when Celia Gilbeaux became Cierra's eyes.
"I was like, okay you know, let's do this, let's try this, let's see, you know, what happens and I never knew that it would turn into such a big thing," said Celia.
It wasn't always easy.
"Its challenging at times, because she does kind of get frustrated with herself but like she said, I just tell her to like slow it down, its okay, you know, if she's like having trouble with something that I would have trouble with I'd be like, it's okay, I messed up this combination in class today too," said Celia. "There's nothing to worry about, let's re-examine this from a different angle, and that's what I try to do. Like if she's having trouble with something, slow her down, move her into a different position and try it again."
After months of hard work and practice, Cierra and Celia made the impossible, possible.
"She wanted to be in the Nutcracker, so again, I thought, how are we going to do this? You know what? There's a way," said Colleen. "So we found a part for her, and she was in the Nutcracker. She performed and her dream came true."
Cierra and Celia continued to perform together.
"Celia is amazing, I feel like she's been a big light in my world, in my life because she has given me so much in the last three years," said Cierra.
Their last dance was in May.
"The last recital was the first time I actually really ran across the stage and I was so nervous at rehearsal, but I did it! And when I was little I used to say, I'm running with Jesus, and that's what I did," said Cierra.
For Cierra, dancing goes much deeper than just overcoming obstacles.
"I guess because my twin sister passed away, and it's like when I was onstage at recital, it's like the fear went away. And it's like I ran, and I jumped, and I felt amazing I felt like my sister was with me," explained Cierra.
Dance teacher, Libby Richards, says Celia and Cierra are much more than just a talented duo.
"They are definitely two students that have made an unbelievable impact, on us. We all got more out of it than they did," said Richards.
Cierra graduated from Grand Lake High School in May, she and her family plan to move to Georgia where she will continue dancing. She eventually wants to move to Brazil, to attend the Ballet School for the Blind.