Class of 2020
Exercise Science and Dance Performance
You’ve probably seen Davian (DJ) Robinson. Perhaps in the dance studio where he works on choreography. Maybe you’ve taken a cycling class he instructs in Belk Gym. Or, maybe you’ve simply noticed him walking across campus with his loyal guide dog Charley.
No matter where you’ve seen him, Davian wants you to know one thing: When you see him, he is not the person you might think.
“When you see me with my cane, when you see me with Charley, I’m not who you see on the surface. I am a student, a person of resiliency, tenacity, encouragement, selflessness and love. And I want to bring that to you and anyone who wants that,” Davian says. “I want to be the rainbow in someone’s cloud, and I want you to know that the first thing you think about might be negative, but if you look again, I want you to see strength and confidence and courage. Also, I just want you to see a person.”
Davian arrived at UNC Charlotte in spring 2016 as a visually impaired student with a lifelong passion for fitness, athletics, dance and exercise.
“I’ve been moving since I can remember; since way before I lost my sight. My mom said I have just never stopped moving,” he jokes.
Davian began losing his vision at the age of 7 as a complication related to being born prematurely. He first lost sight in his left eye in 2000, and then at age 11, he had a cataract develop on his right eye.
That did not stop Davian from formal dance training. From the ages of 12-16, he studied ballet and tap at a local dance studio while attending The Governor Morehead School for the Blind in Raleigh, moving on to various other forms of dance such as jazz, modern, and hip-hop. Later, he was introduced to goalball, an adaptive sport invented after WWII for veterans blinded by mustard gas.
“I did adaptive track and field and cheerleading as well,” Davian says. “I’ve been an athlete since I can remember.”
Through the years, that desire to keep moving only grew stronger, and he eventually became a national champion Paralympic cyclist.
“When that happened, I got a hunger and out of that hunger birthed more because now I wasn’t just the person named Davian who’s blind. I no longer was my disability; I’m just a person.”
Now, at UNC Charlotte, Davian found a way to combine his passions for dance and exercise by double majoring. Two visual majors is not easy, but he has found ways to adapt.
“There have been times when I want to quit, but the thing that stands out to me is why I’m doing what I’m doing,” he says. “I’m breaking down barriers and bringing inclusiveness, and it’s allowing others who come after me to have a better experience. It’s also leaving a lasting impact on the student body and friendships I’ve made. If I can help to change one life at a time and make them smile, then I feel purpose.”
As the first blind student in the Dance and Exercise Science programs, Davian worked with the Office of Disability Services as well as the Dance and Exercise Science departments to find ways to learn visual material as well as understand the anatomy of the body and how the body adapts to training and exercise. They created 3D models and tactile graphics to assist Davian in learning the various muscles, joints, ligaments and tendons of the body. For dance, they were able to find dance mentors who help Davian learn choreography through hand-over-hand teaching with movement.
“We work one-on-one to fine tune things. There’s a lot of give and take in this process,” he says. “The dance department has never turned me away. They have given me the space to be creative, to take risks, to explore my craft and find mind and body connections.”
As someone who openly rises to any challenge, Davian also excels academically and was offered a spot as a Martin Scholar.
The Martin Scholars Program is housed in the Honors College to support high-achieving students with the highest level of financial need. With around 20 scholars in the program, the scholarship helps to relieve students of financial concerns, allowing them to pursue academic excellence and personal development.
A Natural Teacher
As a student, Davian shares his love for cycling with University Recreation.
Three years ago, he began teaching indoor group cycling classes in Belk Gym.
“I got my certification in cycling when I was 21. I had taken cycling classes and I wanted to teach. I just wanted the experience, and I love being able to motivate people,” he says.
Teaching was also a way for him to bridge the gap between himself and the abled-bodied community.
“I wanted to show the able-bodied community that it’s not the disability, it’s the ability of the person. I wanted people to see that this is what I have and this is what I can do, and my blindness doesn’t have anything to do with it.”
During his time at UNC Charlotte, Davian also created a workshop to help dancers, professionals and educators develop a deeper understanding of body awareness.
Called “Sensory Beyond Sight,” Davian blindfolds participants to show them how using their other senses brings about better use of ourselves in space. That, in turn, allows them to understand their body from the inside out, rather than the outside in.
At the end of June, Davian traveled to New York City where he was invited to lead his workshop at Columbia University.
Davian won’t graduate until spring 2020 but says he has big plans between now and then.
Even though he no longer competes at the national level in bike races, last year Davian took up running and began competing in half marathons. He is currently training to qualify for the Boston Marathon.
He is also working on his personal training certification, his Arts and Architecture Honors thesis, leading his workshop a couple times each month, teaching cycling several times a week and will remain as the president of the student organization Exercise is Medicine.
While that might sound like a lot, Davian says he is actually trimming back the number of obligations he commits himself to so he doesn’t spread himself too thin.
“I cut down my load so I can put more into my personal training and cycling, put more into being a Martin Scholar and put more into my dancing and running so I can leave a greater lasting impact on the student body of this campus,” he says. “I’m just looking to help grow the community and unify the student body to become more of a close knit university and family.”
Growing a sense of community at the University is his ultimate goal and he says everything he’s already doing on campus will hopefully have a natural, positive impact.
“What will it look like for something positive to happen to bring our campus together? That’s what I want to work on. I don’t know what that looks like yet, but I think it’s all encompassing in the things I’m doing with Exercise is Medicine, the dance program and the exercise science program,” Davian says. “I’m just going to continue to put out new ideas, be me, do the things I’m doing and just say hey to everyone I meet to bring a smile to their face.”