ST. GEORGE — Walk into The Vault dance studio in St. George on any given day and you will likely hear the teachers leading their students in cheers of affirmations.
“Say, ‘I’ve got this!'” “Say, ‘I can do hard things!'” “Say, ‘I’m awesome,'” the cheers go.
And the students respond.
The affirmations are part of a culture of positivity that studio owner Tia Stokes has instilled in her teachers and students, as they all strive to use dance for a bigger purpose.
In addition to the dance studio, Stokes is the founder of hip hop dance groups Kalamity and Kaos, which for 13 years have been helping families going through real life calamities by putting on benefit concerts and donating all of the proceeds.
Now dancers, along with family members and friends, are rallying around a new cause … Stokes herself.
Stokes was recently diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia.
“We never thought it would come full circle, when a ‘kalamity’ would hit home with our beloved Tia,” part of a message on the #togetherfortia GoFundMe page, said.
Since founding Kalamity and Kaos, Stokes and her dancers, who live by the slogan “dance for a cause, not for applause,” have helped over 50 families and raised nearly $600,000.
Kalamity dancer Jori Christensen, a family nurse practitioner, said Stokes had been complaining of upper respiratory infections that had been dragging on for months.
“They seemed to come right after the other.” Christensen said. “I think everyone, including herself, just shrugged it off as her working too hard and her immune system being down because of it.”
Stokes was being treated for pneumonia and would seemingly get better only to have it come back worse, so she was advised to go to a clinic, Christensen said.
“I don’t think anybody was expecting that this would be her diagnosis, especially for how energetic and physically active she can be while being sick. It is quite a shock,” Christensen said.
In fact, just days prior to her diagnosis, Stokes was busy planning a virtual concert for the two causes that Kalamity and Kaos are supporting this year.
Christensen reflected on some advice that she said Stokes always gave during their rehearsals which seems to confirm how Stokes lives her life:
At our dance practice, she always said that ‘nothing is guaranteed, you never know when your life can change. You never know if it’s the last time you are going to hug someone, have a picture with them or dance together. So make it count. Dance like it’s your last time because you don’t know…’
As family and friends prepare to support Stokes through her cancer journey, they shared some of the lasting impacts that Stokes has had on their lives, and the lives of others, so far.
“Tia has been serving families facing their own personal life ‘Kalamitys’ since 2007. She has raised over half a million for people in need, most of them she hadn’t ever met before,” Kalamity dancer Holly Axtell, said.
Axtell added she feels blessed to have served alongside Stokes for five of those years.
“Tia goes above and beyond for anyone in any situation: Family, friend or stranger,” Axtell said.
Kalamity dancer and Vault dance teacher Chelsea Judd agreed.
Judd was on the receiving end of Stokes’s generosity in a unique way, when Stokes donated her eggs so that Judd was able to carry children and become a mother.
Judd’s two girls and Stokes’s four boys and one girl have a unique bond, as do the two mothers.
“I love her like a sister because of our strong bond,” Judd said. “I know after Tia beats this cancer, she will continue blessing lives, complimenting strangers, dancing and loving our girls.”
Stokes is starting treatments Sunday, and because of visitor restrictions surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic she will be going through tests and treatment alone at LDS Hospital in Salt Lake City for at least 30 days, Axtell said.
“Imagine going through all of these scary things physically alone. Tia would have been by anyone’s side in a heartbeat if roles were reversed and it breaks my heart that we cannot physically be there with her,” Axtell added.
Stokes’s sister, Irene Ah Quin said that the family has been checking in on her often through the Zoom app and keeping her spirits up. Ah Quin, who runs the Main Ohana Movement dance studio in Hurricane, also called on the Southern Utah community to rally behind her sister who has had such a positive impact here.
“Tia has always been a great server to the community of Southern Utah in helping those struggling with their very own personal life calamities,” Ah Quin said. “Now is that time to come together and unite one big Southern Utah family and be ‘Together for Tia’ and do for her what she’s taught all of us for the last 13 years.”
And Christensen is positive the community will respond.
“I know that the generosity and love she has given will come full circle back to her 100-fold,” she said.
Despite the diagnosis and the isolation, Stokes posted on social media that she plans to fight the cancer and that she doesn’t feel alone.
In a post to her Instagram, she said though she is physically alone in the room, she feels the love and prayers being sent her way.
“We got this,” Stokes said in the post.
Stokes is able to receive letters and packages as long as they don’t contain homemade food or living things (plants, flowers, etc…)
Letters can be sent to the following address:
C/O Tia Stokes
8th Avenue, C Street
Salt Lake City, Utah
“If Tia has made you smile, inspired you, or impacted your life in any way, I encourage you to reach out and send your love,” Axtell said.
Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2020, all rights reserved.