Although at first glance Zachary Jeppsen looks like your typical teenager, he's quite extraordinary. A junior at The Chicago Academy for the Arts, he travels from his farm near Whitewater, Wisconsin, to Chicago six hours a day, six days week. Yes, you read that correctly: six hours a day, six days a week!
Defying most of the usual suspect stereotypes associated with your average teenager, he seems to be ingrained with the dream trifecta—an abundance of discipline, passion and talent. He's the kind of student any dance teacher craves to have in their classes. But where does all that motivation come from?
DT talked with Jeppsen about his love for dance, his supportive parents and why that grueling commute has been worth it.
Dance Teacher: When did you know you wanted to pursue dancing as a career?
Zachary Jeppsen: I started dancing when I was 4 years old. I would ask my father to make me music playlists, and I would dance around the house. Whenever guests came over, I would always ask them if they wanted to see me dance. My mother's friend used to be a dancer, and when she saw me dance, she told my mother that I needed to be signed up for dance classes. I've danced ever since. There was a long time where I didn't know whether or not dance was something that I really wanted to invest in as a career. As time has passed, I've always continued to look into more and more dance opportunities, but I don't think I was completely sure that I wanted dance to be my future until around a year ago.
DT: Did you have to convince your parents to go the Arts Academy or have they always been supportive?
ZJ: My parents have always supported me in whatever my interests have been. When I first looked into the Chicago Academy for the Arts as my high school, I wasn't entirely sure that it was what I wanted to do, and my parents would tell me that it was OK, and that if it wasn't what I wanted, we could look into more options. However, after I saw one of the school's performances, I knew that CAA was the place I needed to be, and once I told my parents that this was what I wanted most, they made sure it became a possibility.
Photo courtesy of The Chicago Academy of the Arts
DT: You live a unique life compared to most teenagers. Do you ever feel like you're missing out on regular teenage activities?
ZJ: I attended the public school in Whitewater, Wisconsin, so I've experienced some of what it was like to be a "regular teenager." However, I never quite felt like I fit in, and near the end of middle school I was bullied. I'm actually incredibly glad that I get to live this unique and amazing life as an artist. I wouldn't give it up for the world.
DT: Was there an influential teacher you had before going to high school who inspired or encouraged you?
ZJ: There wasn't any specific influential teacher who I had growing up to inspire me, however there was someone. His name is Garth, and he went to the same small studio as me called The Dance Factory, in Delavan, Wisconsin. He is also an alumni of the Chicago Academy for the Arts. He was the one who inspired me to go to CAA, and from there my inspirations and motivations have sprouted form every corner of my school life.
DT: In general, what motivates you?
ZJ: In addition to my friends, fellow dancers and teachers, the two things that motivate me to get up in the morning are the community that I get to experience, and the pure joy that I feel when I dance. There's no other place like this one, with all of my friends having the same dedication and interest in art as myself, and there's no place I'd rather be. Lastly, dance is the most incredible thing that I've ever done. The feeling of performing and moving my body to music is incredible, and there's no other feeling like it in the world. When I dance, time freezes, and all that matters in the moment is the dance.
Check out a video of Zachary dancing below: