The last time we wrote about Vako Gvelesiani, 14, he had just beat out 500 contestants for a coveted spot on the Brooklyn Nets Kids dance troupe.
In anticipation of the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend, the Bensonhurst native – who was diagnosed with hearing loss as a toddler and has used hearing devices from age 5 – was honored as a HearStrong Champion Thursday night, for inspiring others with disabilities to overcome their challenges. In attendance to present Vako with a medal and plaque, were former Nets players from the New York chapter of the National Basketball Retired Players Association.
“People with hearing difficulties can have trouble hearing music, so for Vako to accomplish becoming a dancer for an NBA team, it doesn’t come as easy,” said Ed Keller Founder and President of the HearStrong Foundation. “That’s exactly why we are telling this story. The public sees it as a handicap, and we are breaking down those stereotypes.”
Vako, now in 9th grade at Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School of Music & Art and Performing Arts (where he majors in dance, obviously), has been practicing around the clock in preparation for this coming weekend.
But despite his rigorous schedule, Vako agreed to sit with us and chat about dancing for the Nets, his plans for the future, and why he loves Bensonhurst.
How do you juggle dancing for the Brooklyn Nets with your intense school schedule?
Most of the time I practice every Wednesday, for three hours, but now that it’s the All-Stars Weekend, I have rehearsal every day.
It doesn’t interfere with school because I do all my work and I don’t complain. This whole week was a hard schedule, I had rehearsal until 10 at night and then I had to do homework and leave at 7am for school.
I even have dance for three hours in school. Sometimes I’m sore, but I just stretch it out, eat breakfast, and go to school. At first it was hard, but now I’m used to it.
How does it feel to be recognized a role model for other kids who have hearing loss?
I felt really honored and I felt like I could inspire more kids and tell them if you have disabilities, it doesn’t mean you can’t do anything. I have a disability, and I wanted to dance since I was 2 years old, and here I am dancing in the Barclays Center for 10,000 people.
How has your life changed since joining the Brooklyn Nets Kids?
My life didn’t really change. I’m just a regular kid who goes to school. Even before joining Brooklyn Nets, I went to dance after-school and had dance in school too.
What do you want other kids who are struggling with hearing loss or other disabilities to know?
I want them to know that if they have a dream, and if they think they can’t do it because they have a disability, that it does not mean anything. All you have to do is step up and say, “I want to do this and I can do this.” And that’s what I did since I was 2 years old. It will be a little bit hard in the beginning, but it will get easier with time.
What’s next for you after Nets Kids?
My dream is either to become a choreographer, a dance teacher – but a good one – or a performer for Beyonce and Usher – those people.
What’s your favorite thing about living in Bensonhurst?
It’s quiet and calm, not crazy like Manhattan. There are no fights outside, and everyone is kind. My neighbors and I always play outside together.