It’s 2013, and this week’s episode of Dance Moms is about to start. The dancers prance onto the stage, flaunting their intricate costumes and preparing to present routines they’ve been eagerly rehearsing. The crowd applauds. You only wish that you could be one of them. Or better yet, compete against them.
Now, the original Dance Moms stars are either nearing or well into their twenties, much like students in our junior and senior classes at Penn. Rebecca Nadler (C ‘23) spent 16 years of her life competitively dancing—and frequently competed against the girls on Dance Moms while enjoying short features on the show with her dance team, Studio L. After the show would air, her classmates would rush up to her in the halls, yelling that they saw her dancing in the episode last night and just had to take pictures to show her. She was living the dream.
Her endurance and strength with her dance team proved to be a foundational experience that equipped her with guiding principles of perseverance, adaptability, and cooperation. “On weekends, we would be together for eight to ten hours a day, all in the same sweaty room together,” she says. “It makes you think a lot about what it means to come together and support one another, which is important in everything you do. It taught me about making necessary sacrifices for the greater good of the group, and how to relate to people on a personal level.”
Though the lessons she learned in dance may sound trivial to some, she acknowledges how dance was “the most important thing to all of us on the team growing up.” For Rebecca, she wouldn’t be the person she is today without it.
Although the show may lack insight regarding the arduous work and stress experienced behind the scenes of competitive dancing, Rebecca says it comprises much of her identity, especially in learning how to be a “team player,” a message that she would commit to throughout her entire college experience and beyond as she embarks on a selfless career path.
Rebecca is a pre–med student majoring in biology—and more formatively a transfer student from Boston College. During the initial outbreak of the pandemic, her first year of college, Rebecca realized she needed to make crucial changes in her college experience and decided to apply to Penn.
Penn’s Transfer Student Organization (TSO) “made everyone feel part of the community—[it] was incredible that they were still able to achieve that [through] online [orientation].” Inspired to contribute to prospective transfer classes, Rebecca applied for the TSO executive board. For her first year on board, she was vice president of internal communications and alumni relations, where she started the first alumni young career panel for TSO. Now she serves as co–president of TSO.
“In all of my time at Penn, the transfer community [was] so special to me,” she says. “Even though we come from a million different backgrounds … we all took that leap of faith that makes us so tightly knit.”
Last year, transfer students were confused about Penn’s housing policies. “Residential services did not really consider the impact of COVID–19 on transfer students with the new second–year housing requirements,” she says. Rebecca took to the podium in front of Amy Gutmann and top administrators, sporting her Elle Woods–esque blazer, to rectify the situation herself, advocating that sophomores and juniors should be able to make their own decisions regarding their future housing. Rebecca persisted with her message to much success. Now, the policy only requires transfer students to live on campus for the duration of their first year, permitting greater flexibility.
Additionally, questions arose about financial aid support in the case of taking an extra semester or perhaps year due to transfer credit discrepancies or the impact of the pandemic on academics. Again, she enacted change through her eloquent and well–researched speech at University Council; she was the only female speaker that night across the undergraduates and was able to receive direct responses from the President and Financial Aid Office to make financial aid available for all transfers to ensure that transfer students obtain equitable resources. “Even if it’s for only a handful of students, it is still a tremendous amount of money in loans and debt that they have to take on and something that we were all passionate about getting resolved,” Rebecca says.
Continuing her dedication towards upholding her teammates during times of struggle, Rebecca launched “The Invizibles” in 2020 after the outbreak of the pandemic. The organization aims to raise awareness for a wide range of hidden disabilities and illnesses, including chronic conditions, rare diseases, and mental health issues. “The Invizibles” took to social media outreach to foster a community and share research while highlighting personal struggles of patient advocates.
“These are conditions that so many people are dealing with, and we fail to recognize that. We can provide more centralized resources and build a community, something I would have valued when I was first diagnosed with my condition,” she says. “A lot of personal stories cannot be captured through statistics. There are a lot of misconceptions—the word disability comes with a negative connotation, but that is certainly not the case.”
Rebecca currently battles mast cell activation syndrome—a chronic inflammatory disease that induces episodes of allergy symptoms, including anaphylaxis, among other symptoms because of release of inappropriate quantities of chemicals. She struggled immensely to locate a proper diagnosis, and when initially diagnosed, there wasn’t much research available regarding Rebecca’s condition. This drives her to provide much–needed information for others by pursuing a path in medicine. “I want to learn as much as possible and discover more through the revolutionary research world,” she says. “It’s been a long, challenging journey, but I suggest doing what you are passionate about, what is meaningful to you.”
“Dance taught me what it actually means to be on a team,” Rebecca says. Now, she’s excited to continue working with others to accomplish her next goal. Next time we see her, she’ll be at the top of the pyramid, wearing a white lab coat in her portrait. Sorry Maddie.