You may have seen Michael Yablonski dancing away on Franklin Street, sporting a white shirt, white pants, headphones and a rainbow belt. What you may not know is that he has a bachelor’s degree in biology, a doctorate in biochemistry — and he's a chemistry tutor for UNC students.
But Yablonski wasn’t always the dancing man on the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets.
“Before a year ago, I hardly ever danced at all,” Yablonski said. “Then in March, when the (coronavirus) came around, all the tutoring stopped because the students were afraid to meet in person. I actually started dancing at home in front of the mirror with my music just for exercise.”
The first time Yablonski took his moves to Franklin Street was during the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Chapel Hill.
He found that, in addition to supporting a cause, his dancing at the protests was a way to connect with others.
“When I would stop dancing to take a rest, a lot of people would come to talk to me,” he said. “I discovered it was a good way not only to get exercise but to meet a lot more people than I normally meet.”
To this day, he continues to dance as a way to meet new people, particularly students.
“When I'm not tutoring students for a while, I kind of lose my connections with them," he said. "I discovered it was a really interesting way to get my connections back.”
Yablonski said he plans to eventually return to tutoring. Until then, students can continue to find him freeform dancing on his street corner.
“I’ve probably seen him four or five times whenever I walk down Franklin Street towards Carrboro,” UNC junior Taika Sorjonen said.
Whenever he's dancing, Yablonski sticks to wearing one of his two signature outfits.
“I like his outfits, they’re fun,” UNC sophomore Russel Herrington said.
Yablonski's most common outfit features an all-white ensemble, rainbow belt and cowboy boots.
“I wear the boots just because they look a little bit unusual,” he said. “The all white is because light color will attract people's attention more. The rainbow belt I wear for several reasons. I like having the symbol of diversity. The other thing is because the white is not very colorful.”
Passersby may also see him grooving in an all-green jumpsuit.
“I'm a really big environmentalist,” he said. “The white is mainly to attract attention. The green is a symbol. Everybody knows what green means when they see it. If they take a guess they're probably right, because green only usually means one thing, right?”
Environmentalism and sustainability are very important to Yablonski. He hopes that his use of green clothing can inspire students and other members of the community to look into ways they can make their own lives or businesses more sustainable.
He added that he believes students in all majors can benefit from taking classes on sustainability, since it's important for everyone in the community to be informed on the subject in order for them to make a positive change.
Some students have lauded the positive impact of Yablonski's dancing, saying that his contagiously positive energy has played a hand in brightening their days, too.
“I'm really happy for him," Herrington said. "He seems like he's having a fun time grooving. His happiness exudes.”
Spreading that happiness, Yablonski said, is his main goal.
“My main thing is to make people happy when they see me."
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