In the Loop
Student Stories : Oct 15, 2014

Sounds of Spirit: UF alumni give back through dance scholarship

By Megan Reeves

Each academic year brings new faces and talent to campus as students return in pursuit of their dreams. The Sounds of Spirit series will tell the stories of several College of the Arts scholarship recipients and highlight the donors whose generosity helps UF students study the arts and brings unique cultural opportunities to the entire campus and community.

Rae Knopik has been dancing since eighth grade, but she never thought it would become her major. And she definitely never thought she would get a scholarship for it.

After applying to a scholarship posting she saw on a bulletin board at the University of Florida School of Theatre + Dance during her freshman year, she was proved wrong. The following February, Knopik received a letter announcing that she was the recipient of the Leonard Family Scholarship in Dance. 

“I was absolutely thrilled,” said Knopik. “This program is my life. I am always here, always dancing.”

Knopik, who is now a BFA dance performance sophomore, said it has been that way since day one of her time at UF. Dancing is a passion she is dedicated to.

“I believe in being the most involved possible,” said Knopik, who is also the vice president of Dance in a Suitcase, a dance group at UF. “This program allows for a lot of ingenuity because we are creating so often. UF takes our creativity and creates geniuses in the dance world.”

According to UF alumni Bill and Melanie Leonard, the scholarship is one they hoped would revive the arts at the university.

“We want to raise the profile and talent coming into the UF dance programs,” said Bill Leonard, adding that as UF strives to become a top 10 university, every college has to be thriving. “We can’t have any second-tier programs. And we can’t let the art realm be forgotten.”

Melanie Leonard, a UF education alumna danced at a very early age and has maintained a lifelong love of the art form. That, coupled with her love of UF and the students, was a perfect match of passions.

The arts are a passion both Bill and Melanie share together. Recently, they took on the role of serving as co-vice presidents of the College of the Arts' Friends of Theatre + Dance group.    

There are three generations and 24 Gator alumni in the Leonard family, including others who have set up scholarships at various colleges at the university. 

Along with the scholarship received by Knopik, the Leonard’s have set up a Dean’s Discretionary Fund. This will give the dean the ability to spend the money where it is most needed.

Currently, the Leonard Family Scholarship in Dance will benefit one UF dance student per year, however, the family hopes to be able to benefit even more students in the future.

“Every year UF accepts students based on talent, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the funds are there for them to fully succeed,” Bill Leonard said. “Our goal is to benefit more than one outstanding student in the coming years.”

His wife agreed, saying the success and support of dance is something they are both very passionate about.

“The thing we are looking forward to the most is going to the shows and ballets this coming year,” Melanie Leonard said. “I think that will be the most rewarding part of it all.”

Knopik said she could not be more thankful for the Leonard’s contributions to the school.

“In the big scheme, we dance to dance, not for money,” Knopik said. “I am so grateful to have patrons of the arts. Without them I don’t think any of this could happen.”

Support the School of Theatre + Dance
See School of Theatre + Dance students like Rae Knopik in upcoming school productions. To learn about giving opportunities, contact the College of the Arts Office of Development staff at 352-846-1218.