Seattle’s breathtaking views of Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier and Mount Adams can make anyone feel tiny in stature. Connor Zion, a kid from the Emerald City, had that same quality with his awesome charisma and determination.
Zion was a skateboarder who earned the nickname “Rocket Boy” for his speed on the board. During a sixth-grade track relay, Zion ran his leg of the event so fast the nearest competitor was nearly a quarter of the track behind him.
But his true love was dance.
“At the end of the day, dance is what centered him,” said Kym Zion, his mom.
Dance drove Connor. A gold medalist at the Junior Olympics, he moved to Laguna Niguel, Calif., when he was 18 to work with instructor Yegor Novikov at Londance Studios. Seemingly at the peak of optimal health, Zion started to battle nocturnal epilepsy and depression. On Sept. 24, 2013, Zion died. He was 21.
What Zion left behind is changing how dancers pursue their passion.
Zion was dubbed a studio brat by his mother. He’d be at the studio every time his mother took dance lessons from Olga Foraponova, an international dancer known as the Queen of Smooth. When Foraponova started a kids class, her words to Kym were “Some day you are going to thank me for this.” Kym’s studio brat was getting his chance.
Like his skateboarding and running, Zion approached dancing with a relentless and all-in mentality. Maria Kordit, Zion’s dance partner for years, remained a close friend.
“He literally turned (his parents) garage into his dance studio,” Kordit said. “He was practicing constantly. He’d go for hours, the whole time with ankle weights on. That was one reason why he was so fast. Connor would even practice the tango with Buddy (the Zion’s 50-pound dog).”
The skateboarding, track events and dancing with Buddy are some of the memories that Zion’s mom, Kordit and Foraponova treasure. Two years after his death, Zion’s presence is also felt in the dance community.
Zion kept a dairy and according to Kordit, the pages were filled with Zion’s desire to help children who yearned to dance.
“It was as if he wrote out his vision as if we knew he was going to die,” she said.
Just days after his passing, the Connor Bishop Zion Foundation was established. Its core ideology is to spread the love of dance by providing scholarships to youth dancers, those with disabilities and high-risk youth.
Kordit is executive director of the foundation, which will award scholarships during the Millennium DanceSport competition on ASN.
Scholarship winners have received costuming, shoes, private coaching and the ability to travel for international competitions.
Erik Linder and Rickie Taylor, partners for 10 years, were scholarship winners and have gone on to accomplish much. In addition to appearing on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Dancing with the Stars and America’s Got Talent, Linder and Taylor won on the highest level.
“Thanks to CBZ we have been able to compete in the U.S. and internationally,” Taylor said. “That includes competing in and winning the (under 16) World Championships (for standard) in Paris, France.”
A spin off of the foundation is Dance Enable. It provides programs for wheelchair bound individuals as well as children and adults that have mobility and cognitive limitations.
“There is a big movement today in dance therapy,” Kordit said. “Research has shown that dancing can help cognitive-challenged kids, autistic children and children with mental and physical disorders.”
According to Kordit, dance studios working with the disabled are thriving in New Jersey, Orange County, Calif., and Seattle. In late May, the CBZ Foundation participated in the Gavrilov Dance Benefit in Edgewater, N.J. Alexey Garilov’s studio provides children with physical and mental disabilities a home for creative and physical development.