'Miss Monica' moved to New London and hasn't stopped moving

Monica Fish leads her after-school hip hop dance class at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Monday, December 18, 2017. Fish coordinates the TigerEye Dance Team that performs annually at the New London Youth Talent Show. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Monica Fish leads her after-school hip hop dance class at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Monday, December 18, 2017. Fish coordinates the TigerEye Dance Team that performs annually at the New London Youth Talent Show. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

New London — All she had to hear were the words “I don’t want you to dance,” a line uttered last year by a doctor, to ensure Monica Fish would dance again.

The doctor had good reason for his warning. Fish, 36, a dancer all her life, was bedridden with a tumor on her uterus. Dire news to some, perhaps. To Monica Fish? An annoying detail.

And soon enough, there she was again, the masterful maestro of the TigerEye Dance Team, a group of kids from the region who excel at hip-hop and other depictions of dance, particularly every year in the New London Youth Talent Show.

“Monica is one of those quiet, yet fierce people who walks into a room and changes the energy,” said retired New London attorney Sue Connolly, one of the talent show’s coordinators. “Her work with TigerEye has been critical to the mission of the show.”

Indeed, the region has become a better place since Fish and her now-fiancé, Tony Carper, relocated here from New Castle, Pa., 50 miles northwest of Pittsburgh. Fish brought TigerEye here, benefitting hundreds of kids.

“Tony’s brother (Wilbur Mack) was living here always trying to get us to come here,” Fish said. “We wanted to expand and see new things. We visited a few times and we liked it.”

Fish, who also works as a teacher at the Regional Multicultural Magnet School, has always been a dancer, all the way back to her days as one of seven children. When she wasn’t dancing, she was teaching her siblings through watching videos. Now her kids expand all over the region.

“People in Pennsylvania weren’t into (TigerEye) that much,” Fish said. “We did some events around the Pittsburgh area. But here has been much different. I’ve always wanted to make dancing into a career. I can do that now and help kids at the same time.”

Health problems nearly imperiled such plans for the one affectionately known as “Miss Monica.” The tumor wasn’t immediately diagnosed and began to cause an issue with Fish’s blood.

“The doctors wanted to try a lot of different things,” Carper said. “Together, Monica and I went on the internet to find more natural remedies.”

They discovered an alkaline diet, high in fruits and vegetables, that has only changed everything.

“I feel better now than I did when I was in my 20s,” Fish said.

“I’m on it, too, and I feel better than I ever have,” Carper said.

Happily, it helped rescue Fish from bed rest and sent her back to the dance floor. The tumor is far less of an issue, too.

“The doctors didn’t want me to dance, but I’m hard headed,” Fish said. “I didn’t even want to think about it. I’m a really spiritual person. I feel like when you put your mind to something, you can accomplish anything. When they were telling me not to dance, they were wrong. God had more for me. This was just a test for me to overcome. I was depressed, but, no, this wasn’t going to be it.”

Fish’s dance team is about more than dance. Maybe it’s the teacher in her. She understands how dancing helps with memory through learning routines and better focus skills. It’s not bad exercise, either.

“Sometimes I don’t even realize I have an effect on the kids because all my life I’ve been around them,” she said. “My mom had seven kids and I had to help with my brothers and sisters. But when parents start talking to me and start saying how they feel about TigerEye, I can’t tell you how happy that makes me.

“We tell the kids to do their chores at home. It’s about dance, but we also teach them about life. How to treat people. Your parents bring you to class. They pay for the class. So do something nice for them as well. The kids tell me, ‘I did this chore for my mom, Miss Monica!’”

And so northwestern Pennsylvania’s loss has become southeastern Connecticut’s cue to get up and dance.

“I think what attracted us the most to (New London) was the beaches,” Fish said. “I’d never been to a beach before. I felt like a lot of the people around here were spoiled. They didn’t realize what they had. Where I’m from, we only have lakes and rivers. It’s hard to get a job. Lots of low income. People don’t strive to be their best. I feel like here, people are more motivated and more inspired to try.”

m.dimauro@theday.com

Monica Fish poses with her after-school hip hop dance class at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Monday, December 18, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)
Monica Fish poses with her after-school hip hop dance class at Bennie Dover Jackson Middle School Monday, December 18, 2017. (Sean D. Elliot/The Day)

Millennials in Connecticut

Millennials — those between 20 and 36 as of this year — represent the largest population group in Connecticut at more than 927,000. But the group is shrinking. From 2010 to 2016, Connecticut lost 0.6 percent of its millennial population, a migration rate higher than all but 13 states, according to the U.S. Census.

In 2014, more than 17,000, or 7 percent, of young adults in the 20-24 age group moved out of Connecticut, according to the Census.

A lack of a hip urban center and the social life it offers, and a dearth of good-paying jobs, particularly in technology, are often cited as the reasons. Some just don't like snow and cold.

Others, though, have decided to stay in Connecticut or relocate here. This week, The Day will profile seven millennials who are drawn by the area's diversity, small-town feel, activism, creative energy and noncorporate job opportunities.

Read other articles in the series at www.theday.com/2017millennials.

WHAT GENERATION ARE YOU?

Millennials: 1981-1997

Generation X: 1965-1980

Baby Boomers: 1946-1964

The Silent Generation: 1928-1945

The Greatest Generation: Before 1928

Source: Pew Research Center

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