In March 2018, Jennifer Knostman got a call from her son, Harrison. When she picked up, all she could hear was sobbing on the other end. After a brief second of anticipation, she finally heard him exclaim "Mom! I got into Juilliard!"
It was everything she could have dreamed of, not just for her child but for her student, as well. "You invest so much into taking your dancers as far as you can—it meant so much to see him reach this goal," says Knostman, the owner of Studio West Dance Center in Fort Collins, Colorado. "For years people told me that I should send him away to train, and I said, 'No, darn it—I get my 18 years! I can continue to challenge him myself.' I knew I could do it, and I didn't want to miss out on any part of his journey."
In 2005, the 40-year-old, stay-at-home-mom of three decided to fulfill a longtime dream and open a dance studio. Her 9-year-old daughter Noel (who recently graduated from Point Park University's dance program) and 5-year-old Harrison were the driving force for the kind of training she wanted to provide.
"They started showing a lot of promise," Knostman says. "By the time Harrison was 8, it became extremely evident that he could go somewhere with this. When he was 13, I knew I needed to expose him and all of my dancers to outside teachers." Knostman says that meeting Joe Lanteri was the turning point in Harrison's future. "He saw Harrison in the back of the room during his first-ever convention class, and immediately came and asked us who we were and where we had been all these years," she says. "I told him we were still a relatively new studio and that I didn't think we were good enough to come to NYCDA before. He said that everyone is always welcome, and from there, doors began opening."
To date, Harrison is a YoungArts 2018 alumnus, the 2018 NYCDA National Senior Male Outstanding Dancer, and an NYCDA Foundation scholarship recipient of $15,000—an amount his mother says has made all the difference. "Harrison would not be at Juilliard today without this scholarship money," she says. "We are a fortunate middle-class family—my husband has always had a good job—but we would not have had the means to pursue a lot of the things that we have been able to without the help of NYCDA. From regional scholarships to Juilliard, they've meant the world to us."
Harrison says he is forever thankful for the training and guidance his mother provided him at her studio. "She is my mom and my dance teacher all in one," he says. "She has watched me dance since I was 3, and to be able to share all of this with her—I'm getting emotional just thinking about it." While he's loving his time at Juilliard, he misses his first-ever dance teacher every day and is always eager for the chance to bring the things he's learned in college back to his hometown studio. "My mom made such an incredible program in such a short amount of time," he says. "She is the reason I am where I am today. No one will ever understand me better—as an artist, and as a person."