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Tanya Crist is my Hell’s Hero. A leader in the community, she runs the Manhattan Plaza Clothing Exchange, is a mother of three growing boys, is a devoted daughter and wife, classical singer, pianist, teacher, composer, and all the while never lets cerebral palsy get in the way of living her life to the fullest and giving to the world.
“The doctors said I shouldn’t be able to do what I do,” she says. She was told she shouldn’t have the strength to be a singer, let alone be able to have children, but she excelled at both. Tanya never saw herself as having a disability. And whenever someone said “no” she saw that as an opportunity to prove them wrong.
A soprano and composer, she holds her BM in Voice Performance from the Juilliard School and an MM in Voice Performance/Pedagogy from Ohio University, where she graduated Phi Kappa Lambda, Summa cum Laude. She made her professional debut as Yniold in Debussy’s Pelleas et Melisande with the Opera Company of Boston. But even before that she performed with the children’s chorus at the Met since the age of eight. She speaks about the crystalizing moment when she performed in La Boheme at age nine. Looking out into the audience and knowing definitively that was what she wanted to do with her life she thought: “This is making people happy. I want to bring people joy.”
She’s written 20 solo songs and song cycles and is currently writing a musical called Me about a girl with cerebral palsy who fights to find her place in the world.
She is also the fearless leader and chair of The Manhattan Plaza Clothing Exchange, the longest running tag sale of its kind in NYC. Initially a child-centric event, Tanya had the brilliant idea to expand it to include adult clothing of all sizes, to meet the needs of the community.
I’m proud of the way our community has pulled together to help each other during this crisis. I know that we will pull through stronger and wiser.
She’s faced plenty of discrimination in her career, from those who just didn’t know “where to put her” or “what to do with her.” And while, for many years she fought against using a cane or assisted device, she now gets around the neighborhood more easily on her scooter. “I fought so long against help, because I thought it made me less,” she says, “but I realized that being able to do things and not be in pain still makes me me, and doesn’t make me any less capable. I don’t have to make any apologies for who I am. I am OK and comfortable with myself.”
Tanya Crist is more than OK. I would say, for all this and more, she’s a Hero.
I checked in with Tanya to see how she was coping with social isolation and she reported that she and her boys are doing well. They went to Hanover, Pennsylvania, before things got too severe. “I have family here and we are able to get some fresh air and sunshine. The boys are able to play outside a little bit and I’m teaching all of my clients remotely.”
Out of necessity, the April Manhattan Plaza Clothing and Toy Exchange was postponed. Tanya sincerely hopes the situation improves enough to allow the event to be rescheduled before the end of the season, most likely June. Still, her thoughts are back in Hell’s Kitchen: “I’m proud of the way our community has pulled together to help each other during this crisis. I know that we will pull through stronger and wiser.”
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