What a super and touching read this is! If you go to New You, you can read Tony Dovolani’s story in overcoming the darkest circumstances to who he is today. Below is just a sample to get you started…
IT ALL BEGAN THAT FATEFUL DAY IN Pristina, the capital of Kosovo, when Dovolani heard a commotion outside his classroom window. “They threw smoke bombs through the windows, so we went out and protested that we wanted freedom of speech and a republic. But they kept shooting bullets at us,” he recalls. When he returned home from school that day, his father, a political figure in the country and the only one with a diplomatic pass, was advised by the chief of police to leave the country within 24 hours. “We drove to my uncle’s house in neighboring Macedonia where we switched the car plates so that they wouldn’t recognize our car as we drove through enemy lines to the Italian border,” he recalls. From there, Dovolani, his father, his sister, and his brother traveled on tourist visas via Canada to Mexico. By the time they reached the actual border in Tijuana, Dovolani’s father used their remaining funds to get his family across the border while he used his diplomatic pass to cross and wait for them on the other side.
“To this day, this journey has carved me to be who I am, because I know I’m living on borrowed time,” says Dovolani. One of the hardest conversations he says he had was when his father told him to quit school after his first day in order to help the family earn a living. Seeing the despair wash over his son, his father sat him down and spoke of the importance of having his children safe and the opportunities that lay ahead in America. “That was the last time I ever felt sorry for myself,” says Dovolani. “My dad instilled in me values about making the right choices, how our life meant more than the average person because of what we went through and our need to protect it. So I picked myself up and went to work.”
At 15, that work translated into washing dishes 70 hours a week in a restaurant. Within two years, Dovolani graduated from dishes to waiter to managing the restaurant to learning how to be a cook. One day he saw one of the other cooks in the restaurant toss an invitation to a Fred Astaire dance studio in the trash. As a young boy, Dovolani used to watch classic MGM musicals with his father and recognized Astaire on the invitation. “I took it out of the trash can and asked the cook if he minded taking me to the studio as I did not have a car at the time.” Little did the cook realize that he had actually chartered Dovolani’s course: The minute he set foot in the studio he fell in love. “I had done ballet, jazz, and hip-hop dancing back in Kosovo, so when I came into the ballroom, it was like ‘bing,’ a light went on and I knew this was what I was supposed to do for the rest of my life.”
More at New You.