Christi Lappin has touched the lives of hundreds of girls and young women since opening her dance school in 2000. A lifelong Person County resident, she graduated from Person High School in 1991 and then enrolled at East Carolina University, from which she received a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree. Upon graduating college, she began teaching dance to local youth and it led to a lifelong career. Her story teaches us that our biggest dreams can become our reality.
Q) What was your upbringing like in Person County?
A) I was raised on a farm. My dad was a tobacco farmer, so we grew up in tobacco fields, riding horses, with cows in the pastures. At a young age I began working in tobacco every summer and had the privilege of actually getting paid. Although I didn’t realize it then, it really taught me the value of a dollar, the value of hard work, and the value of family. I wish my dad was still farming today so my kids could have the opportunity to work for him as I did. It was a wonderful upbringing.
Q) What is your career path and what are your proudest achievements?
A) As soon as I graduated from ECU, I came back to Roxboro to live and I taught dance for five years in Roxboro and Durham. But my dream was to own and operate my own studio. Local parents began to encourage me saying, “You need to do your own thing.” And, of course, I had huge encouragement from my husband telling me, “You can do it.” So, I did. And this will be my twentieth year of owning my own dance school.
I can remember sitting down calculating how many students I would need in order to pay the rent and pay the bills. So, I was pleasantly surprised when I had my first registration and over 90 kids enrolled for the season. My first studio was a one-room rental uptown. Since then we have moved to a bigger studio, we have a staff of five instructors, we have two dance rooms, a secretary, and more than 300 students at a time for many years now. It’s just been a blessing and an honor to teach so many kids in such a small town.
I’m still so surprised that I could take my talent and my passion and make it a career—that I get paid doing what I love to do. Ever since I was little, although I was in the tobacco fields in the summer, I was in the dance studio year-round, and teaching dance is what I have always wanted to do.
I would say my school is probably 70 percent recreational and 30 percent competitive. I have dancers that compete but it’s not like some schools that travel every weekend. We do one or two competitions a year, and I’m always pleased with the awards. But to me, attending a competition is not about what you receive, but rather the preparation and commitment that goes into being ready to present your best self. It shows the girls that you do have to be strong and technical dancers, commit to your performance and be cohesive as a group. To me the process of competing is more valuable than me telling you that we received the high score of the day. Yes, we do have a trophy case full of awards and all that’s great, but it’s the process that means the most to me.
Q) What organizations or community endeavors do you participate in?
A) There is a program called Distinguished Young Women, formerly Roxboro Junior Miss, and it’s been a part of our county for ages. It’s something that I grew up attending every year and had the opportunity to participate in when I was in high school. It’s a scholarship program for local high school seniors and I have been the choreographer for the program for 22 years. It is a great program for girls in our community as they are entering into their next step, whether that be college or a career. The participants are judged on fitness, talent, interview and scholastic achievement. One of the most valuable things they learn in my opinion is interviewing and public speaking skills. It’s truly a great program that I love being a part of.
Another program I participate in is through my church, Oak Grove United Methodist. We have a monthly food pantry and I thoroughly enjoy being a part of that team as we serve the community.
Q) Why is it important that women be recognized for their foundational work in our community and our nation?
A) When I look back, some of the biggest influences in my life are women and I don’t know that those women are always aware of the impact they have. I look at the women in my church who give selflessly of their time and their energy, and don’t do it for the acknowledgement. I have so much admiration for them and I think it’s important to pause and acknowledge that they are appreciated. Being a dance teacher, I’m primarily surrounded by girls, so I think it’s incredibly important for girls and women to celebrate each other and encourage each other.
Q) What do you envision for the future of Person County?
A) Person County is a small town and I do see it growing in many ways. And I also see businesses leaving as well. As small as it is, the sense of community is strong. And I know that if anybody in this town ever needs anything, the community will be right there. Of course, I would love to see other businesses come in and grow. But I’m happy about the fact that you know you can always count on your peers in your community in Person County.
Q) What is your advice for girls and young women who look to you as motivation?
A) Believe in yourself and believe in your dreams. Set goals and work until you see them fulfilled. If they are fulfilled, then set a higher goal. You’re capable of anything so continue to do what you need to do to be where you want to be. I feel like I’m proof of this. Honestly, I’m still amazed that my dream has become my reality but what a blessing.