Welcome to The Art of Athletes, a blog series showcasing the underrated creative minds behind Pfeiffer’s athletes. In this interview, I will give you an insight into Dontavious Monroe’s story and how art and athletics has helped him grow in his confidence. As a result, I hope to spread awareness of the divided campus, and persuade you to have an open mind about the artists and athletes that surround you.
What sports are you currently involved with?
I am currently involved with the Men’s Track and Field team and I have been competing with them since the fall semester of my freshman year in 2017. I am also a part of Pfeiffer’s newly revamped cheer team.
Luckily in my three years at Pfeiffer, I have been a part of many accomplishments. This past year, I got the chance to compete in the 4x400 relay at the ECAC’s located in New York. This year, our track team qualified in two different events that I am a part of and that is the 4x200 relay and the 4x400 relay. If I qualify in our last two meets for the open 200 and open 400, I will be going to the ECAC’s for my second year in a row. I have done many different events since my time here at Pfeiffer and those include the 4x100, open 400, open 200, 4xx200 relay, 4x400 relay, and 400m hurdles. In cheer, I am mainly a stunter, a backspotter, and I will jump or tumble from time to time at the basketball games.
Dontavious running the 200m dash at the JDL Fast Track.
What art forms are you currently involved with?
While I’m a student here at Pfeiffer, my major is music and worship, specifically sacred music with a concentration in urban church. Also, I am a voice major so that is my instrument and I've been involved musically as far as I can remember.
In Elementary school, I remember being in the music class and I would play the recorder. As long as I feel myself connecting to music, I typically stick to it. Music has become a big part of me. I am heavily involved with my church at home. I was actually the youth choir director working with the kids choir, adult choir, youth praise team and adult praise team.
Currently I enjoy singing along to musical theatre because I like that you can portray yourself as a character and give off certain meanings of the songs you are listening to. It eases my mind and gets me through college. Also, I am a member of an acapella group called Standing Ovation. It is actually their second year here and I am a second year member of the group. In my first year, I started as a tenor and now I sing in the bass section. This group is very interesting, we have so many weird and quirky personalities, but it's as if the music connects all of us in some way. The people that we have become and the people we have connected to through this group is so great and overwhelming. Knowing that I want to go into music long term, this allows me to strengthen that area of my studies, especially the performing side of it. Last year, we competed in the International Championship of Collegiate Acapella and we knew it was very rare to get the chance to go, so we immediately took the opportunity. This year, we performed our second year at a large acapella event called the Acajam. After performing, the director asked us to close out the show for next year. Imagine how amazing that was hearing that with us being in our second year. I love being a part of the group that has this certain energy to it.
My second form of art is the art that I have placed on my body. I like tattoos a lot and I have about 7 currently and 2 more that I am mapping out. Each one tells a different story, whether they are finished or not. It has taken me awhile to get each and every tattoo, it's not just something that I can go and get. It has its own purpose and story. I also like that for me, specifically, that the meaning has changed over time. They adapt and grow as I adapt and grow as a person.
Dontavious performing with Standing Ovation at Pfeiffer's Accepted Students Day.
How has your confidence transitioned throughout your many creative and athletic roles?
I think it surprises me everyday when I step onto the track and get ready to practice or go to a meet and get ready to compete. My confidence level has definitely grown tremendously throughout the years I have been running. Of course, it was not always strong. I noticed I wasn’t the biggest or the fastest on the track. I wasn't the guy with the natural talent.
I think the biggest confidence check that I had, happened my senior year of high school when I decided where I wanted to go to college and continue my sport. One of our biggest meets was taking place and I strained my hamstring mid-race during the 4x200 relay. We were in first place and I was on the last 100 of my 4x200 leg when I strained my hamstring within the last 10 meters of me exchanging the baton off to the next runner. Many things went through my head at the time. I thought this was it for me. I questioned: would I still be able to run? Am I going to run in college? Where do I go next from here? So many things were going through my head that I did not know where to start. I knew I just had to be strong for myself and have faith in God because trouble doesn’t last and I knew I’d get through it.
Once that happened, I went through rehab with the athletic trainers at high school and I got to finish out my season. I was able to continue running in college, but it was hard because mentally coming back to a sport after an injury is tough. I knew the possibilities of it happening again, and it could be worse next time which meant I would have had to pull myself out of the sport. When you fall in love with a sport, every athlete knows that taking yourself out of that sport is the last thing you can think about doing. My freshman year here at Pfeiffer was definitely one of the hardest. I was fighting the fact that I had recently been injured and I did not want to give it my all on the track. I was scared to run at 100% because I knew if I felt an injury coming along, I was done. Eventually, I got out of that mindset and I felt as though I was becoming myself again, that athlete that I always knew. I had to learn to trust my physical and mental abilities.
My confidence throughout my artistic abilities changes constantly, especially because I am a vocalist and performer. For example, my instrument is voice, so when I stand up in front of people to showcase that, I nitpick everything as I go along. I think I am my biggest critic. I’ve noticed that I always have to be humble as a performer, especially while I'm growing. A recent performance at an event on campus made me realize how much I truly have grown as a vocalist. If I would have stopped the first year coming into Pfeiffer, and given it up, then I would have never gotten any of the opportunities that I have gotten thus far. I take a class called Recital Attendance and the main focus of the class is to perform in front of students, professors, and the students who are in my major. It makes me focus on my growth as a performer because I constantly have to question myself if I am hitting the notes right, am I correctly going over my music, and am I growing as a performer. I always tell myself I am going to sound bad, but I try not to project that negativity on others, I just want to tell myself that I have not met my goals yet and I have not reached my highest peak.
Are the tattoos a stamp of you showing your confidence and craft? At what point in your life did you get your tattoos? Do you consider your body to be a canvas?
Tattoos not only show my confidence, but they enhance my craft. My tattoos have helped me learn my body and the more I was able to do that, the more I was able to strengthen my craft. All of my tattoos project my artistic side. On my right calf I have two theatrical masks that I got when I was 18. I thought about this one for about 6 months before I decided on it, so it means a lot to me. I got this tattoo because I am big on music theatre and it ties into my personal side such as the ups and downs I have been through and the ones I am willing to go through to get to where I want to be.
On my left rib cage I have a male and a female facing each other with the word love in red in between their lips. I got this tattoo when I was 19 and began to realize what was happening around me. Growing up, I had to learn what love was, so this symbolized me going through learning the difference between love and lust. I finally realized the difference when I had to figure it out for myself and go through things alone. I did not always have love from both of my parents and I know that people don’t always mean their I love you’s. I got these tattoos to show myself that only my heart knows what it wants and it's only going to get what I give it. My relationship with my parents is a perfect example of this. Initially I grew up with my twin sister, and a younger sister, and my mom. We were homeless at times and we knew we didn’t always have what we need, but we knew that love was the answer to everything. We didn’t need money or flashy things such as people say we do, but these tattoos stamped those meanings on me forever.
I consider my body to be a canvas because I know that everything is not finished, just like a slow evolving art piece. Getting these tattoos stamped on me forever shows that I am willing to place these perfect things on a canvas to create something bigger. I am happy to share these stories with others and I am able to connect with a multitude of people through the stories behind my tattoos.
Dontavious' theatrical mask tattoo located on his left calf.
"I consider my body to be a canvas because I know that everything is not finished, just like a slow evolving art piece."
Do you feel like athletics and art are really that separate? How are they similar?
I don’t think they are separate at all, but I do think the separation comes when people make it that way. Being in both worlds is so great because you can see everything through both perspectives and it's such a healthy balance. My schedule sucks, but I wouldn’t change it for anything else. I think the biggest misconception is the fact that people think they are separate because what people think it takes to do either one.
For sports, people feel like you have to physically and mentally give all of your time for that and same for how people think about the arts when really you can do good and be great at doing both. I’ve had to learn how to do both since being here at Pfeiffer, but I think that is more time management than anything else. I like the fact that I can be able to have friends that support me no matter what I am doing. I will have some people come to my track meets that are far away and I have people that come to my events on campus and these are people who are also involved in both or even one of the things that I do too. The two are only separated when you make them separated. For me, music influences athletics and athletics influences arts. Why would you want to separate the two? Both take a certain type of rhythm. When people workout, they listen to music. In music, you could be seen as an athlete of some sort because you are dancing and relying on the physical capabilities of your body. What is music without dance and what is dance without music?
Dontavious running the 400m dash at Montreat College.
"What is music without dance and what is dance without music?"
As a result of your athletics/art, do you find that people tend to want to assume parts of your identity based on the activities you participate in? How do you respond to the assumptions?
Yes I do. As a young African American male cheerleader, a lot of my identity has been criticized, judged, and talked about whether I’m in the presence of the people who are talking about it or not. Being from the small town of Brown Summit, North Carolina, the meaning of being a male cheerleader that has been created there, is not who I am. For example, when I first told my parents the interest that I had in cheer, they asked many questions and they did not see my perspective on the sport and how there is so much athleticism behind cheerleading. I loved that people were competing for a title based on 2 minutes worth of hard exercise. Obviously, people have asked things such as “is he gay?” or “does he even like girls?” and my favorite one of all (not really) “is cheer even a sport?” Duh, cheer is a sport. You mean to tell me you can lift someone over your head, by yourself, with your bare hands easily? And that’s not a sport? Or being able to physically lift your body off of the ground to do backflips and somersaults? Sometimes even the worst injuries come from cheer, but to some it is still not considered a sport. I’ve gotten several injuries from it, but that’s besides the point, the whole identity thing has always been something that I have questioned. I ask myself if it's even worth it because people always talk about me, but what I have realized is that people are always going to talk whether you do something they agree with or not. I’m interested in it so I am going to keep doing it regardless.
This year at one of the home basketball games, one of my friends on campus came up to me after a dance and said that their friends were saying that I was gay just because I cheered. All I could tell them was “no, I just really like the sport” because I couldn’t believe that they would assume who I like based on the sport that I enjoy. It was so frustrating, but I just kept moving on from there because I could not let it get to me like it used to.
At home, my parents did not give me too much backlash, but I did understand that they lived in a time where cheer consisted of only females, my sister is a cheerleader as well so it was different for them. I would always ask myself if they had an issue with it because they had always watched my sister cheer and pictured me doing the things that she does as a cheerleader. I specifically wanted to do competition because it is so heavy on the body, but in really cool and intensive ways. I don’t think people understand that and it’s not that I communicate it poorly, it just doesn’t register for some people, I guess, which is so defeating sometimes. I feel like if cheer were just another sport that you see on TV all of the time, then gender and, indeed, sexuality wouldn’t be an issue. When people assume my identity, I try not to respond in anger, but I respond to them as if it is my first time meeting them and they don't know who I am. For people that truly know me and support me, they don’t have to ask those questions, but for people who assume they know me, those questions seem to flow from them more so than others.
Dontavious and his teammates posing before cheering at a home basketball game.
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