Nia Bates: can she do it all?
blog by Ben Kirst • November 10, 2012 @ 9:14am
“I’ve been 5’10 since I was in the fourth grade,” said Nia Bates, one of several models slated to caper down the catwalk in tonight’s Cause for Mass Appeal fashion show, in a recent telephone interview. “And when you’re that tall, everyone basically assumes you can play sports or model.”
Bates ended up doing both. The Moon Township, Pa. native was the 2003-2004 WPIAL Class AAA Girls’ Basketball Player of the Year and later played collegiate hoops at Canisius College. After marriage, landing a job as a physical education teacher in the Lockport City School District and settling into life in the Northtowns, Bates found herself ready for a new challenge—she describes herself as “very competitive”—and had always dreamed of a career as an actor or model. Or both.
In April, Bates was having dinner with local stylist and fashion designer Molly Hoeltke, a name familiar to regular Buffalo.com readers from her Shopping with a Stylist blog. During the course of the evening, Hoeltke urged her friend to pursue a path in modeling. After years of dismissing the idea as unrealistic, Bates—buoyed by Hoeltke’s confidence, and strengthened by her positive experiences in an acting class with local coach Frank Rossi—decided to finally give modeling a shot.
“(Modeling) is something that I’ve always had an interest in doing,” Bates said, “but I think there’s this stigma with modeling that you have to be perfect. I didn’t really feel I fit the mold of what a model needed to be. That sort of kept me from pursuing it seriously. It wasn’t until I was had that conversation with Molly, when she said, ‘Have you ever thought about trying it—what do you think?’ I really valued her opinion, and she told me I should go after it and try it. I was really blown out of the water by how much I enjoyed acting, and had this new passion and love for it—(and) modeling and acting are these two outlets that allow me to use my creativity and competition. It pushes me to get better and explore new things.”
Bates entered both acting and modeling without the advantage of formal experience. Her success in athletics prevented her from participating in other extracurricular theater activities in school (“They had three- or four-hour practices, and I played sports every day of my life, 24-7, so there was never room to do both on the schedule”) but she felt that her work as a teacher—and the fact that she is kind of a natural goofball—would be helpful.
“I’m definitely not a shy person,” Bates said. “I always loved doing different characters, and playing pranks. Being a teacher is allows you to do a bit of a dog-and-pony show every day. You are able to use your creativity and make up stories and use weird funny voices. And the great thing is, the kids always think you’re funny. They make you feel like you’re the funniest thing in the whole world. For some reason you tell the same story to an adult, and for some reason they’re not laughing—but my eight-year-old students love it. I guess if you can go somewhere every day of your life and love it, you’re doing alright.”
When Bates decided to get actively involved in the local modeling world, she immediately ran into a conundrum. Here is a person who is, by nature, is very competitive and wants to be the best in all of her work. At the same time, this person is married—Bates raved about her husband, Jeremy— and has a good job that she genuinely enjoys. She understands that if (and this, of course, is a huge if) things work out in the best possible way, it could result in some seriously difficult decisions.
“I am a goal-oriented person and if I set my mind on something, it can be a blessing and a curse,” Bates said. “If I say yes to (a project), I want to give my best effort and I want to be the best. That really drives me. As far as where I see myself, I am taking it one day at a time. Each day, I am setting myself out to better myself and to learn more in this craft. I try to talk to as many people in the business as possible. I try to have great mentors. If a door opens, then I will have a conversation with my husband—and if it’s something that we feel, together, is something we should go after, then we cross that bridge when we get to it.”
Bates has appeared in “some little commercial things here and there, nothing crazy big” and made her runway debut in a summer show at Nektar modeling clothes from Tyori.
“To be completely honest, I was a little nervous,” she said. “I had this vision that I was going to trip and fall and be the next biggest YouTube clip. But you go in there and there’s these beautiful girls, and these wonderful clothes, so I just go in there not stressing out about it. I try to keep things in perspective. This is fun.”
Cause for Mass Appeal, she noted, will be her biggest show to date. As Bates moves forward in the field, she has to continue to keep that perspective—to understand that she may not be the right fit for every opportunity, even opportunities that she really wants. To be tough—“sometimes I have more of a wishbone than a backbone,” Bates remarked. To be fearless. To be herself.
“I’m not perfect and that’s OK,” she said. “For a while, when I was growing up, that was something I was self-conscious about. But now—this is me, this is who I am. And I am able to tell a story from it.”