Olivia Lang loves to dance. This talent served her well when she participated in the Distinguished Young Women scholarship program, which culminated in a live presentation and performance in Greensboro in January. She was named Distinguished Young Woman of Buncombe County 2023, which netted her $5,350 in college scholarships.
Lang’s accomplishments include 12 years of classes at Asheville Dance Theater, attending the N.C. Governor’s School last summer and participating in Yearbook Club, Habitat for Humanity, a Youth Volunteer Organization club, Girl Up club and serving as a student ambassador at Martin L. Nesbitt Jr. Discovery Academy, the STEM-focused high school she attends.
Distinguished Young Women is a national program for high school girls that evaluates their scholastics, fitness, talent and self-expression. The program was founded in 1958 in Mobile, Ala., and Buncombe County’s first program was in 1985.
Lang plans to focus on dance when she starts at UNC Chapel Hill next fall. “I want to major in some sort of sports science, and right now I’m doing an internship at a physical therapy office,” Lang says. “Just being in that environment has been super exciting for me. I love helping people, and I love the science of moving your body.”
Lang will graduate from Nesbitt Discovery Academy this spring. She says, “I get bored very easily in class settings, but I enjoy the structure. The learning that you’re getting is really in your hands. You’re in charge of your own education.”
Xpress nudged its way into Lang’s busy schedule to discuss dance, how she avoids burnout and the experience of performing in the Distinguished Young Women program.
This interview has been lightly condensed and edited.
Xpress: What’s your favorite dance style?
Lang: Lyrical is my favorite dance style. It’s more of the slow, controlled movement that really expresses the song. I like it because of how expressive I can be with that kind of movement.
Dance has always been something that’s very grounding for me. I’ve had the tendency to get overwhelmed. I find that being able to move my body is therapeutic. It’s a cathartic experience.
Which organization do you enjoy the most?
I’m most involved with my Yearbook Club at school. Even though my school is focused on analytical things, I enjoy seeing the creative side of people and being one of the leaders in that club. It’s nice to see how there are a lot of artists and a lot of people interested in design at my school. It’s nice to see this more creative language and arts-inspired side of the students.
How do you combat burnout?
The winter months are definitely a time where burnout starts to seep in a little bit. But I find a lot of comfort in hanging out with friends. If I’m having a super overwhelming day, I will lean on the people around me for that sense of “life is meant to be fun, life is meant to be enjoyed.” I don’t have to be working and producing something all the time.
What was it like to perform in the Distinguished Young Women of North Carolina scholarship program?
Obviously, I’m used to performing on a stage with dancing. The biggest adjustment for me was the self-expression portion of the program. Public speaking is not one of my strong suits. And it’s something that I’ve had a fear of for a very long time. So, I found a lot of confidence in my ability to do that and the exposure that gave me. Honestly, that was one of the most exciting parts of the program.
I got better with how I wanted to phrase the things I said. I think I’m much more well-spoken now. And I also think that I can ground myself with it. I have the tendency to get overwhelmed when talking in front of people. There was a moment at the state program where I was asked a question. I blanked on what I was trying to say and I tripped myself up. But I took a breath. And I was like, “OK, what am I doing here?” And I got back on it. I was pretty proud of how I was able to still say what I meant to say even after a little stumble.
How did this experience affect you?
I found it really inspiring, especially at the state level, seeing how smart and educated these people were I was surrounded by. It’s just really encouraging to be in an environment where you’re inspired by the people that you’re alongside. It’s just so beautiful to hear about these people who, at such a young age, are already accomplishing so much. I found it really encouraging to come back home to the mountains with that confidence to know I can do something as charitable and inspiring as what they’re doing.
Any ideas on how you’d like to do that?
I’ve always felt that homelessness in Asheville is a huge problem. Our senior project class is called Engineering Design and Development. The project is to innovate a product or repurpose an item and present it to a panel of judges. We’re taking on the removable padding wastes that come from clothing, specifically bra, shoulder and swimsuit padding. As a woman, I know I have so many pads that I take out of bras and I don’t know what to do with them. I don’t want to throw them in the trash. Clothing is not very easily recyclable. So, we’re hoping to take that waste and turn it into something that can be donated, whether it’d be shoe inserts or sleeping pads for homeless people. We have a few other ideas and we’re still developing solutions but we’re hoping that we can turn it into something that we can use to help in the community.
What are your plans for summer vacation?
I’m hoping to travel a lot this summer. Growing up, my mom was always like, “We’re going to travel so much,” and it came last because of the busyness of life. But I’m hoping this summer is my moment to travel. I’m going to Ireland with a friend as a graduation trip. I’m going to be participating in my last dance competition in Myrtle Beach. And I’m hoping to use some of these trips as a learning experience and a last hurrah.
What will you miss about Western North Carolina while you’re away at school?
I love the mountains. I’m definitely a mountain gal at heart. I love going on hikes up on the parkway and watching the sunset. I have a puppy named Ruby. She’s about a year and a half now. She looks like me. She’s a blondie. I love taking her on walks, especially around Black Mountain. I just love living in a small town where I feel comfortable walking around and having a beautiful landscape around me at the same time. I just love being here.
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