My name is Kihannah (Key-on-ah) Perala, I was born May 17, 1998 at McKellar Hospital, to parents Lori-Anne and Jonas, in my hometown of Thunder Bay, ON. My mother is currently an SSP for the local Catholic School Board, and my father continues his 30-year career as a welder/pipefitter with Local 628. Initially, when my mother became pregnant, she was expecting twin girls. However, for uncontrollable circumstances, my sister did not make it past the first trimester. Uniquely enough, upon my birth, I had an extra finger on my outer left hand, approximately the size of a pea. To this day, even after the initial removal of the extra finger, I still have a small bump in the location it sprouted. I like to think, as per the advice of my family doctor, that this, in a way, is me living for both of us. Aside from my parents, my family is quite large. My mom, Lori, being the youngest of nine siblings, and my father the youngest of two boys. Just two and a half years, to the day, after my life began, I was introduced to the most challenging, yet rewarding experience. The birth of my younger brother, Kohl. As children, he and I fought tooth and nail, as most siblings do. However, no matter how much, often, or brutal those fights were, we both ended up with a friend for life. On January 6, 2001, just two short months after my brother was born, my grandfather (mothers father), 87-year-old George Edward passed away. This event was traumatic for me in particular, as I was with him previously to his death, when my mother had to call for an ambulance. After this incident, I was terrified of hospitals, ambulances, paramedics, and doctors for the following 5-8 years. A little over a year later, in October of 2002, my Varri (grandfather) on my dads’ side passed away. This was far more devastating for me, due to the fact that our bond was unlike anything else I have ever experienced. I still feel as though I carry a hole in me that will never be truly filled due to his loss.
Following the traumatic events of my early childhood, I was finally able to find a passion. I begun take dance lessons when I was eight years old, I never truly took them seriously until I got closer to the age of 10. I’m not quite sure what changed inside me, however, I started taking classes at the competitive level, and before I knew it, I practically lived at the studio. The opportunities offered to me through my dance career were countless, travel, workshops, classes, scholarships, lifetime friendships, the opportunity to be part of a team, and so much more. I think the most important lessons I learned while taking dance involved self-discipline, working hard to get where you want to be and achieve your goals, and certainly determination. Now, dance is not a cheap sport, there’s costumes, shoes, tights, practice wear, hair products, makeup, props, travel costs, competition costs, food (raising a dancer is worse than raising a football player… we never stop eating…), photo fees, the actual cost of classes, solos, duets, trios, productions, did I mention food ?Fortunately we had many opportunities to participate in fundraising to aid with these costs, I also begun working at the studio to teach kinder-dance (ages 3-6) and my paycheck used to be put toward my fees. I was a die hard. The year I turned 14 became increasingly difficult. Teenage hormones were everywhere, and when you put 8 or 10 teenage girls together all of the time, there’s bound to be drama. As far as my adolescent brain and body were concerned I looked fine. Maybe some acne here and there, but I thought that it was totally normal, I was pretty just the way I was. I then began to experience something that is fairly common in dancers. It has to do with the fact that we are constantly looking at our bodies in mirrors to ensure that our technique is proper and making progress. I just remember thinking to myself one day, “wow… you’re fat”, and at this point I may not have been wrong. I have never been and never will be a 120lb Barbie doll, even at 14 years old I had womanly curves, and was a little on the chunky side. Thus began my obsession with reaching a specific goal weight. This quickly and not to my immediate knowledge turned into an eating disorder. I was obsessed with counting calories, measuring myself, weighing myself, restricting foods I could and could not eat, starving myself for certain lengths of time… I remember one specific instance where the dance team was doing summer stretch and workout class. It was probably about 90F outside at the time, and I found the heaviest sweatpants and sweater I owned to wear to class, keep in mind that this is already covering tights, a leotard, shorts, wool socks, warm up leggings, and a loose-fitting shirt. I worked out wearing all of those layers for probably three hours.
The following year, I started high school (I was homeschooled from grades 7-9 from severe bullying). This change in environment for me was initially a positive experience. However, it was overwhelming trying to balance my dance life and school. This further impacted me, as high school comes with drama, and that drama coupled with dance studio drama, as well as, an existing anxiety disorder, ended up making everything too much to handle. Thus, I decided the best choice for me was to discontinue with dance. After this decision, I began to feel much better, but was diagnosed with clinical depression a short while later. I found attending school extremely difficult, making friends was hard, and I always thought that everyone around me was staring or judging. After three long years of misdiagnosis and psychological assessments, I was finally presented with a formal diagnosis. This felt like an elephant removed from my chest, as I had finally been heard and presented with options to treat my symptoms and overall well-being. Although, mental health is a struggle, I have learned may ways to cope and aid others. These experiences I have had throughout my life so far, have helped shape me into the person I am today. I have experienced heartache, trauma, hard times, and success. Although it is not an easy path, I would not change any of it.