Watching L.A. Dance Project's Rachelle Rafailedes travel the world with mesmerizing movement quality, it's hard to believe she's ever had aspirations of anything but a professional dance career. Surprisingly, though, the Juilliard alum didn't even consider dance as a career until she was well into high school. "I just wanted to do it because I enjoyed it," she says. "I didn't realize I could do it to make a living."

Rafailedes attributes her longtime love affair with dance to the late Theatre Dance Centre teacher, Richard Moore, in Canton, Ohio. "He inspired a love for dance without pressure or high stakes. He taught with encouragement and led me to believe that there wasn't anything I couldn't do." Moore passed away in 2000 when Rafailedes was only 13. Here she shares a favorite memory and an emotional shout-out to her beloved teacher.

A favorite memory of him:

"I remember one time when I was 7 years old, I wasn't working as hard as he knew I could, and he said to me, 'This could be the last day that you dance. Do you want this to be the last thing that you do, or do you want to really work hard and do well?' I might have taken it a little too literally, because now everyone says that I'm really full-out all the time, but I just always have that memory of him in the back of my head. I feel like, 'We're doing this, so why not do it the best we can every time?'"

If she could say anything to him now:

"If I could talk to him right now, I would just say, 'I'm beyond grateful, and I hope I made you proud.'"

See Rafailedes perform with LADP this week, February 16–17, in Miami, Florida.

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