The two things junior Scarlett Ellingson used to balance her University of St. Thomas activities and her work as a Houston Rockets Power Dancer was her day planner and her cell phone – to call her mom for support.
Ellingson, a double major in international development and international studies, maintained her studies as a full-time student, was captain of the UST Cheerleading Club, vice president of the Presidential Ambassadors, public relations officer for the International Students Association, treasurer for UST’s Model United Nations, vice president of Celt Crazies (the UST fan club) and she worked in the UST Office of Undergraduate Admissions. Not to mention she was one of only 14 women on the NBA’s Houston Rockets Power Dancers. Somehow, she was even able to get a full night’s sleep.
“It was difficult – I’m not going to lie,” Ellingson said. “I made commitments though, and I told myself this is what I want and this is going to work. If you want something, you do anything to make it work.”
She kept up with school work and clubs, while attending two to three Rockets games a week and Power Dancer practices. She weathered the long Rockets season, which included All-Star Weekend in Houston and a brief run in the playoffs. Ellingson said she was going 24/7.
“I had to learn time management very quickly,” she said. “In a way, it made me really organized because I had a very limited amount of time to study and have free time. No one sees the hard work behind it, and it’s not all fun and games. We have our personal trainer, our practices and deadlines to meet. Just because you have a pretty face and you can dance doesn’t mean you can do it all. We always say, ‘Only the strong survive.’”
Ellingson used her experience with the Rockets to impart a professional work ethic to the women in the University Cheerleading Club. Because of her busy schedule, the girls were practicing at 6 a.m. on Thursdays and midday on other days. Ellingson helped the student-athletes understand that diligence is a must, regardless of one’s skill level.
“I’m at the professional level, but I always told them that they can be, too,” she said. “I would tell them, ‘You should take this just as serious as I take my job.’
“I think they got the bigger picture because we worked very hard.”
Ellingson has a special place in her heart for the fortitude it takes to be a dancer and entertainer. At the end of her senior year in high school, she planned to become a ballerina in New York. Three days before prom, she broke her collarbone in three places and shattered her shoulder. She lost her full ride to the school in New York and had to rebuild. Ellingson went into panic mode when she realized she had deferred all her other acceptance letters but wanted to take advantage of her St. Thomas acceptance. She said UST welcomed her with open arms.
“My classroom was going to be a dance room, so I didn’t know what I wanted to study,” she said. “The last two years of high school, I was preparing myself for the dance world, not for a solely academic world. But the vibe at St. Thomas was like family. I want my education and to pursue my career, and I couldn’t let one distract from the other.”
Ellingson’s internship with World Refugee Day Houston helped her understand the journey of a refugee. This inspired her new plan – to go to law school and eventually work with refugees.
Not even realizing it, Ellingson inspired a fellow UST cheerleader, junior finance major Alessandra Scotto, to follow a similar path. Scotto is a Dynamo Girl with the MLS team the Houston Dynamo. Scotto is a part-time student who is now in the crux of Dynamo season.
“This past semester took me by surprise,” Scotto said. “I knew Scarlett was a Power Dancer, so I thought I would audition for Dynamo Girl tryouts. I was so proud when I made the team. Game days are long hours and there is no rest, but I love my experience with both so far. I hope to continue on both paths, and I’m happy I can make both work in my life right now.”
Scotto, who is also in the UST Cheer Club, plans to get her masters and continue to be a good example for her three younger sisters.
Ellingson and Scotto will continue to motivate the other women in the UST Cheer Club and show them that endurance and ambition will go much further than a pretty face and cool dance moves.