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CORI GRAINGER is BLSYW's introverted but driven valedictorian, who has so excelled academically that admission to her number one school, Johns Hopkins University, seems within reach ' but can she afford to dream about a school that costs $50,000 a year? The eldest of six children in a blended family, Cori takes her position seriously, trying to set an example for her siblings. But when she is stepping she gets to feel like a freer person for a brief but vital moment - and it becomes a sustaining release for her.

Lipitz says the same competitive spirit that drives Cori in the classroom infuses her stepping. "There's this fire inside Cori that you see academically but it also manifests itself when she is stepping ' it transforms her. She also loves being part of a team and I think she needed that in her life."

Grainger's mom, Triana, was 16 when Cori was born, and Cori seems to strive as much for her mother as for herself. "My mom is like a magic wand in human form," she says in the film. "I never had to worry about where my next meal would come from or where we would be staying. At one point we were homeless and I actually didn't know it."

There was no hesitation on Cori's part about letting her life - both highs and lows -- be seen on screen. "I don't think any of us held anything back in the film," she says. "We lived our lives the way we normally would. Nobody's story is picture perfect, you know? We all have struggles. But we all go through them, so why not share them with others?"

As a self-described "bookworm kid," Grainger's instant love for stepping admittedly took her by surprise. She was stunned to find an ebullient, emotive part of herself she didn't know was waiting to be discovered. "In my everyday life, I hate being the center of attention. I don't like it when all eyes are on me. So step truly seemed to be all that I'm not. But what I found is that it could be fueled by big emotions," Cori reflects. "For instance, just being in the midst of what was happening in Baltimore during the Black Lives Matter protests fueled me, and it fueled a lot of us."

Now majoring in Computer Science at Johns Hopkins, Grainger continues to take on big challenges. "The academics here are way different from BLSYW," she laughs. "At times, I've doubted myself. I've wondered, am I really fit for this? Do I really belong here? Is computer science really for me? But decided I have to believe in myself."


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