In December, Bandeja Munir, 17, of South Los Angeles was named a 2013 Posse Foundation Scholar and as a result, will receive a Merit Leadership Scholarship valued at $240,000 from New York State’s prestigious Hobart and William Smith Colleges, where she has been accepted and will attend as a freshman in the fall. The gifted dancer, humanitarian, and emerging community leader will be pursuing a dual major in both Dance and East Asian Languages and Cultures.
A scholar/artist, Bandeja also plans to pursue a Masters of Fine Arts degree in Choreography with a minor in International Relations, “hopefully working one day as an ambassador,” she said. It’s her heartfelt belief that the arts can bridge any communications gap between cultures, both here and abroad.
The Los Angeles County High School of the Arts (LACHSA) senior has amassed a number of academic and dance centered honors. Elected for a second term as LACHSA’s Student Body Dance Representative, Bandeja is regularly on the Dean’s List, a current member of the California Scholarship Federation National Honor & Merit Society, and the National Society of High School Scholars. Last year, Bandeja was selected as LACHSA’s Dance Department MVP, and the NAACP ACT-SO Regional Gold Medalist.
Bandeja’s choreography has also been selected for presentation at the National High School Dance Festival in Miami, Fla., and has been invited as a candidate for the Most Outstanding Choreography Award, to be determined in April 2014.
Achievement did not come without sacrifice for the talented teen. Accomplished in Modern, Ballet, Tap, Jazz, African, Hip-Hop technique, Bandeja has been described as “diligent, dedicated and delightful,” by LACHSA Dance Chair, Gina Buntz. Still, according to Bandeja, she is sometimes met with skepticism because of her shapely body and the prejudices that exist when dancers don’t fit the ideal standard.
“I’ve been told ‘no’ more times than I care to remember,” Bandeja says. “But I know that I love to dance so I keep dancing anyway.”
Lula Washington Dance Theatre (LWDT) Associate Director, Tamica Washington-Miller who also heads an outreach dance program at Dorsey High School, says that LWDT strives to provide every student with an opportunity to experience dance and develop their own path through this art form.
“Access, opportunity, and nurturing is required for young dancers to achieve. When we invested in Bandeja, we knew we were investing in the community and the future,” she said.
Bandeja has attended LWDT (located at 3773 Crenshaw Blvd.) since age four, where her mother, Astrid Munir, volunteered before Bandeja was born. When the current recession led to Munir being laid off—at which point she could no longer afford to pay her daughter’s tuition—LWDT provided Bandeja with a scholarship to support her continued journey in dance.
“We gave her a scholarship to help broaden her dance education and experience; she evolved from a shy little girl into a well trained, confident teenager, who began teaching at LWDT at age 14,” said, Lula Washington, artistic director, “Her family was so appreciative that they expanded their roles as volunteers to the organization. It was their way of saying thank you because they could see the benefits that Bandeja was getting at the studio,” said Mrs. Washington.
“I am a divorced single mother dealing with a struggling economy, but I believe in supporting my daughter’s dreams and educational opportunities,” Minur said.
This South Los Angeles resident is also a spirited and emerging leader in the community. After taking an entrepreneur class at the Tavis Smiley Leadership Conference, Bandeja created a language-learning service called “SPEAKEASY.” Prior to that, she was chosen to represent LACHSA for two weeks in China during a cultural exchange visit, sponsored by the Chinese government and the UCLA Confucius Society.
Bandeja shares her feelings: “All I know is that this is God’s plan for me. It is my dream to educate people about the impact art can have in our lives. I want to make others happy, and to be happy as well. Dance is my happiness.”