CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, Va. -- It's rehearsal day at Elizabeth Davis Middle School and time is running out.
Professional dancer Meghan Tatum knows the first performance of Shrek the Musical, Jr. is just days away, and she needs to teach the choreography to a cast of dozens of students.
Meghan is here as a volunteer. The William & Mary graduate did not hesitate when her favorite teacher from 8th grade called and asked for her help.
The lesson she’ll never forget from long-time theater teacher Martha Stanley was similar to the one told in Shrek. Never, ever judge someone simply on their appearance. You never know what’s on the inside.
Ms. Stanley has a relatively common form of dwarfism called diastrophic dwarfism.
Despite her small stature, she’s an adrenaline-fueled dynamo who demands one thing from her students.
She's loud, proud, and doesn't take guff from anyone.
"It's been like this my whole life," Ms. Stanley said. "You know, pointing and laughing and words that are not the nicest in the world. I correct it very quickly!"
Teaching is in Stanley's blood.
Both of her parents were educators.
They taught her to not let anything hold her back.
"It's just something she ignites in all of her students," Meghan said. "To show them you can do more than you think you can."
"That right there is the key reason I do this," Ms. Stanley added. "There's a vast variety of people up there on that stage. And I just love that."
In between barking instructions, Ms. Stanley will launch the occasional nugget of encouragement to the group rehearsing for the performance later this month.
"Are you having fun?!" she yelled inquisitively. "If you're not having fun, why bother?"
Time flies when you're having fun.
No matter the obstacles.
“They can't pull the 'Oh, I can't do this. Oh, I can't do that.' 'Cause look at this!" Ms. Stanley said pointing to herself. “Right?! They can't play that card.”
You can see the performances of Shrek the Musical, Jr. at Elizabeth Davis Middle School Feb. 21-24.
Building Better Minds airs every Wednesday at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.