Dancer to Dancer

An Inside Peek at the NYU Future Dancers and Dance Makers Program

Savannah Gaillard in tech rehearsal (courtesy Nancy Gaillard)

High school senior Savannah Gaillard has been attending the New York University Future Dancers and Dancemakers workshop at Tisch School of the Arts for the past three years. The uber-focused and dedicated teen chronicled the final three weekends of the 2016 program: Every Saturday, from February through April, she and her mom, Nancy, took the train from their home in Haymarket, VA, to NYC so Savannah could experience life as a BFA dance major at Tisch.

April 16, 2016

My mom woke me up at 3:20 am to get ready for the day. We drove to Washington, DC, from our hometown of Haymarket, VA, to catch the 5:15 am train to NYC. I got to Tisch at 9:18 am—just enough time to change and make it to 9:30 am ballet!

Ballet was very grounded today: We worked on keeping our heels down and making sure our transitions between movements have purpose. Second-year MFA students at Tisch teach all of our classes in the FDD program.

At 11:00 am I went to modern class, taught by Xiang Xu. Carlos Franquiz (one of my friends in the program) and I knew we would be challenged because of Xiang's unique, animalistic style: We were asked to move like a lion or a snake.

In composition and improvisation class, we practiced getting up and down from the floor in four counts, then two and then just one. (It would have been easier if we were allowed to death drop!) After improvisation, we moved into our composition groups.

We've been working on our group composition piece for weeks, and have gone through lots of trial and error—all with helpful feedback and critiques from our teachers. My group used an improvisation game to start creating choreography: One person creates a step and then the next person builds off of it, etc. The process has really helped push me outside of my comfort zone.

From 2:30–4 pm we had repertory, taught by Fairul Zahid Bloom and Yachao Zhu. We're preparing for our final showcase, which will include our composition pieces plus repertory choreographed by our teachers.

Fairul also taught me a short solo. I was a bit nervous because some of his work can be very complicated and I didn't want to mess it up. At this point in the intensive, we're all trying to do things perfectly.

Afterward, my mom and I raced from Tisch to Penn Station to catch the 5:05 pm train back to DC. I caught up on homework and texted my friends about the day.

April 21, 2016

Today we found out that my Auntie Laurentia passed away from breast cancer. Her funeral is scheduled this weekend in Houston, TX, so our weekend plans quickly changed to accommodate my dad attending the funeral. My mom will take my little brother Etienne to his Level 4 Gymnastics State Championships in Suffolk, VA, and I'll travel to NYC by myself. I've been traveling to the city for three years now, so I feel confident.

April 23, 2016

I woke up at 3:20 am as usual. However, this time I was completely by myself and had to get out of the house by 4 am with everything I needed for the day. I arrived in NYC 15 minutes late and then had to wait to catch a taxi. I rushed into class just in time to finish the plié combination.

We had one-on-one discussions with our teachers today during lunch. As I waited, I thought about how to answer questions like "What did you gain from this program?" Before I knew it, Fairul was calling my name. We talked about how important it is to remain humble as a person and a dancer.

We got out late and I had less than an hour to get to Penn Station and catch the train. I called my mom, who was driving my brother back from his competition. She said she would bring dinner home for me. #mysuperhero

April 30, 2016

Today was performance day! I had to be at the studio by 8 am, which meant catching the 3:15 am train from DC. Even though the sky was still dark when I woke up, I reminded myself to focus on the show.

We arrived in NYC at 6:40 am and went to Moonstruck, a diner on Second Avenue, for breakfast. I was so hungry, my eggs, sausage and tea tasted like the best food in the world. While we ate, my mom reminded me to engage with the audience and perform with distinction and technical accuracy.

We didn't find out the show order until today, and every group was hoping to get the coveted spot: performing their group piece as an opener to the finale, choreographed by Fairul and Yachao. My group got the spot!

The dressing room was a mad house as we prepared for the performance. Everyone did their hair and makeup, lending each other extra powder or bobby pins—even Fairul! We were getting ready to leave it all on the stage.

Right before showtime, everyone focused on their own rituals to get the last butterflies out of their system. I found a quiet corner to review the dance in my mind—to visually see every detail I needed to articulate.

After the show, we met up with our families at the reception downstairs. It's always such a mix of emotions, but I distracted myself by taking fun pictures with my friends and asking my teachers for professional advice. I was happy to say "see you later" to a few friends, instead of "good-bye." Now, I have an understanding of what life may be like as a dance major at Tisch.

After the performance (courtesy Nancy Gaillard)

Photo by Joe Toreno

The coolest place she's ever performed:

I'd have to say the Super Bowl. The field was so cool, and Katy Perry was right there. And there were so many eyes—definitely the most eyes I've ever performed for!

Something she's constantly working on:

My feet. I'm flat-footed, so I'm always hearing, 'Point your toes!' And I'm like, 'I am!'

Signature look:

My hair! That, and a pair of leggings with a T-shirt or tank top.

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