Samantha Stewart is taking the same approach to learning to dance as she has in coping with the loss of her father — one step at a time.
Samantha was an infant when her dad, Dillon Stewart, an NYPD detective was killed in the line of duty at age 35 on Nov. 28, 2005, while in pursuit of a driver who had run a red light in Flatbush. The gunman, Allan Cameron, fired six bullets into the officer’s patrol car. One struck Dillon Stewart in the heart. Cameron was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison in late 2007.
To help get to know her father, Samantha says she has relied on memories and music: She regularly watches a video of her dancing with her dad and listens to reggae tracks he enjoyed.
“When I was younger, my dad used to dance around the house with me, and it means so much to have that connection with him, because now that I’m dancing, it feels like I’m doing something for him or something with him,” says Samantha, 12, of Elmont.
On Tuesday, Samantha will be among 100 or so participants to grace the Great Stage at Radio City Music Hall as part of the Garden of Dreams annual talent show, following in the footsteps of her older sister, Alexis, who was 6 when her father died and danced in 2013. Samantha will perform a contemporary dance to Lady Gaga’s “Million Reasons.”
Founded in 2006, Garden of Dreams partners with 30 organizations throughout the tristate area including wish networks, hospitals and support groups to reach children facing a range of adversities — from poverty and homelessness to illness and the death of a loved one — in an effort to celebrate their talents in grand fashion. The nonprofit works with the Madison Square Garden Co. and MSG Network. The Stewart family was put in touch with the organization by the NYPD. Admission to the showcase is free and open to the public.
Samantha started dancing at age 7, learning the basics such as ballet, tap and jazz. Her proficiency has grown to include ethnic, hip-hop and contemporary styles. Song — especially tracks by Jamaican singer-songwriter Bob Marley, one of her father’s favorite musicians — and dance, have proved crucial in helping her to express her feelings and to stay in tune with him.
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“Dancing helps me connect with his spirit, and it helps me feel purposeful . . . it helps me remember him as the amazing person he was,” Samantha says.
The Elmont Memorial High School seventh grader has practiced at least three times a week since February in anticipation of Tuesday’s show. She says she is more excited than nervous to perform and to feel she’s sharing this experience with her father.
“It makes me feel just a little bit better to know that I get this chance to show my dad the great person that I’ve become,” Samantha says. “And that even though he’s not in my life right now, that I can still carry on.”
WHAT “Together We Dream” Talent Show 2018
WHEN | WHERE 7 p.m. Tuesday, March 27, Radio City Music Hall, 1260 Avenue of the Americas, Manhattan