A week in the life of six college dancers
Ah, college. Your first four years of independence. Want to miss class for the beach? No one’s stopping you. Want to stay up all night partying on a Tuesday? Go ahead. But if you’re smart—and serious about dancing—you’ll consider this: College can be your first taste of the professional dance world as an adult. You’re breathing, eating and sleeping dance in technique and composition class, rehearsals and workshops—not to mention working with pros in residencies and learning about the production side of shows.
Savvy dancers also know that all schools are not created equal, so you have to ask yourself what you hope to get out of dancing in college. Do you want diverse training, or a specific focus, like musical theater or ballet? Would you prefer an emphasis on performance, student choreography or academics? What kind of jobs do alumni get? To give you a glimpse of the variety of options available in college dance, DS followed six driven sophomores and juniors from five outstanding programs—University of Cincinnati, Wesleyan University, CalArts, Bennington College and Oklahoma City University—for a week last April. No more hand-holding for these dancers—it’s time to see what they can do!
This week, Cincinnati Ballet is focused on learning Carmina Burana for upcoming performances. Sarah Bek, 21, a junior at University of Cincinnati, won’t just be attending opening night—she’ll be performing in the production! Sarah’s time spent with the company in rehearsal and performance counts toward her college degree. As a budding ballerina who couldn’t bear the thought of missing out on college, but who didn’t want to wait four years before starting her career, she found a way to do both.
Monday, April 14
I head off to company class at 8:30 a.m. after a hard fight with the snooze button. I usually have rehearsal after class, but some days, as a trainee [one level lower than an apprentice; Sarah performs corps roles], I go on outreach programs to schools and get to mess around with little kids all day (fun!). Missing two hours of a day when a piece is being set is a bit of a drawback; I’ll have to study the video tomorrow!
I normally have rehearsal until 6:10 p.m., but today I have a half day, so I head over to the library to watch some assigned ballet videos. I promptly fall asleep. Oops.
Monday nights, my Bible study group meets—they keep me sane. Not only do we eat way too many Rice Krispie treats and talk about God’s word, but we also play Guitar Hero. I’ll admit it: I am obsessed with Guitar Hero! And I’m awesome at it.
Wednesday, April 16
My night class, Art and Archaeology of Ancient Greece, is amazing. I’ve taken Latin, Archaeology, Norse Mythology and a few others, and I’ve decided that I’d like to go into Classics if I ever make it back to school for a master’s degree.
Thursday, April 17
We’re almost done with the Spring section of Carmina Burana, about 1⁄3 of the ballet. We always work quickly—we learned Balanchine’s Serenade in three days last week! This version of Carmina Burana, choreographed by Mauricio Wainrot, is turning out to be on the more contemporary side, which is right up my alley. After I finish, I head to the roof to nap in the sunshine.
Teaching is a new addition to my life this year—I never realized how difficult it is to teach little girls ballet! I work 10 times harder than they do, after a full day of rehearsal, no less!
Around 9:00 p.m., I stop by a café to do homework and listen to a friend’s band. Coffee houses, indie music, conversation and a solid book—there’s nothing better.
Friday, April 18
We officially finish the Spring section today and spend some time polishing it. My body is not happy with me.
At 8:00 p.m., I attend a showcase of local choreographers and write a critique for my Modern class. On the whole, I genuinely enjoy the show. There’s a sense of freedom, of abandonment, in contemporary dancing that can sometimes be lacking in the world of classical ballet. I don’t mind writing papers, but the problem is that I do most of it on the computer and I am a Facebook junkie. Don’t ask me how many times a day I log on; you really don’t want to know.
Sunday, April 20
I love that I’m 45 minutes away from my family, who are my closest friends. This way, I don’t have to miss my niece Jocalynn’s 2nd birthday—so cute! Next year, I’m going to miss my family so much when I move farther away to dance with another company.
The Scoop: University of Cincinnati
Dance degree offered: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Ballet Performance from College–Conservatory of Music of UC
Ballet Performance population: 50, about 30 of whom fulfill their dance credits with professional companies
UC’s professional partnership: After two years on campus, juniors and seniors can fulfill their dance credits rehearsing and performing with professional companies, and take academic classes by correspondence. In addition to CB, UC Ballet majors have danced with Louisville Ballet, Kentucky Ballet Theater, Nevada Ballet Theater and BalletMet. Sarah hopes to be in San Diego or Austin next year, continuing to study at UC by correspondence and dancing to her heart’s content.
Danté Brown, 21, seems like your average premed major. He’s enrolled in Chemistry Symposia and Human Diseases this semester, reads scientific literature and knows a thing or two about benzene. Oh, and he discovered modern dance as a freshman at Wesleyan without any formal dance training. Then planning to major in music, he joined Precision Dance Company, a student-run group, where his new friends exposed him to the world of concert dance. Now a junior double majoring in chemistry and dance, Danté choreographs for Precision and dreams of performing with his favorite company, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, and incorporating his interest in public health with his passion for choreography.
Tuesday, April 22
I wake up at 8:30 a.m. to go to the gym before my Intro to African American Lit class. After lunch, I have Ballet II at 1:00 p.m. Because I started training only three years ago, my greatest challenge has been learning how to take a technique class. I love ballet—it inspires me to learn more.
After ballet, I stop by the costume shop for a fitting for dance professor Katja Kolcio’s piece. Then I head to the Dance Department, where I’m an administrative assistant.
At 4:00 p.m. I go back to my room and read articles for Human Diseases. Besides dance, I’m premed, studying chemistry. The two are more compatible than you would think—chemistry helps me think analytically to process and organize information, which is essential in dance class and choreography. I want to help people and incorporate my choreography, somehow. I also want to learn about the behind-the-scenes aspects of the dance world—I have an internship with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago lined up for the summer.
After tech rehearsal for Katja’s dance, I meet up with friends in the library to work on my African-American Lit paper on the blues aesthetic in the works of Sterling Brown and Langston Hughes. I finally go to bed around 1:00 a.m.
Wednesday, April 23
After Anatomy and Kinesiology and Mod III, my modern technique class, I meet up with friends around 2:30 p.m. and relax outside because it’s a beautiful day. In American Dance History at 4:30 p.m., we discuss postmodernism and watch films of Yvonne Rainer, Steve Paxton and all the Judson Church people. My favorite postmodern choreographer is Bill T. Jones, who said, “All dance is political, whether we plan so or not.” At 9:30 p.m., I rush over to the theater to catch the rest of the stop-tech run of Katja’s faculty dance. At 10:30 p.m. I go to my meeting for Precision to discuss our upcoming show. My style is a mix of contemporary and modern, with a dash of hip hop.
Friday, April 25
I wake up at 11:00 a.m. feeling rejuvenated and go to lunch with friends before my Mod III class, which is currently taught by guest artist Lynn Brown, the co-director of the New York–based dance group FREEFALL.
After Chemistry Symposia, where guest lecturers speak about their work in the chemistry field, I hang out with friends until the call for the first of three performances of Katja’s dance. After the show ends, I meet up with friends to celebrate a great night, and go to bed at 2:00 a.m.
Monday, April 28
My presentation on low back pain in Anatomy and Kinesiology goes well. After class, I go back to my room for a nap. American Dance History is cancelled due to the Spring Dance Production, where the sophomore dance composition class performs its ensemble pieces. I’m the sound board operator, and so I meet the rest of the crew at the theater in order to start “teching” the dances. A new week, a new project—it never ends!
The Scoop: Wesleyan University
Location: Middleton, CT
Dance degree offered: Bachelor of Arts in Dance, with a focus on Experimental and World Dance
Number of dance majors: 30-40
Performance opportunities: The department presents 19 performances every year. Dance majors perform in at least five of these.
Fun fact: The first incarnation of the Broadway hit In the Heights was performed at Wesleyan—creator Lin-Manuel Miranda started writing it his freshmen year!
Twenty-two hours of class, 16 hours of rehearsal, plus six hours at work, and Kristi Tornga, 19, still finds time in her week to break for a game of hopscotch. (It keeps her sane!) But it wasn’t always like this—during her first year at CalArts, Kristi was all work, no play, and quickly burnt out. She moved closer to home to attend the University of Michigan, but after two months there she missed CalArts and the craziness of dancing 24/7. Back in California for the spring semester, Kristi is thriving. Her self-choreographed solo was chosen for the prestigious Spring Dance Concert performance at REDCAT theater and her piece for the all-student-choreographed Last Dance Concert is waiting in the wings. What’s different this time around? For one thing, she makes time for between-class shenanigans (like hopscotch!). “It comes down to time management,” Kristi says. “Be selective in what you commit to.”
Monday, April 14
A fire drill interrupts my 1:30-3:30 p.m. composition class, and a water balloon fight breaks out on the soccer field—I get soaked! One of my favorite moments ever at CalArts happened when the power went out, and all of the artists—dancers, musicians, singers and actors—went out on the grass and started improvising. I love the random acts of collaboration that happen on campus.
After a full day of class and a quick dinner, it’s back to the studio for my 6:00-8:00 p.m. rehearsal. Stephanie Nugent is setting a piece on seven of us for the Spring Dance Concert next weekend that uses text and singing as well as vigorous dancing. Her collaborative way of working really suits me.
At 10:30 p.m., I take a break from homework to meet up with a couple friends for coffee. It’s a busy time of year and we’re all stressed out—it feels good to laugh.
Tuesday, April 15
Dance students participate in weekly Dance Showings, a great opportunity to receive feedback at every stage of the choreographic process, on anything from a short movement phrase to a full-length piece.
Wednesday, April 16
My alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m. I get ready and have breakfast on my stoop with my roommate before walking to yoga.
Wednesday is known as Critical Studies day, when we take our general academic classes. I have Modern Dance History from 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. with the other BFA-2s (sophomores). I’m minoring in Humanities, concentrating in Women’s Studies.
From 6:00-9:00 p.m., I go to my work-study job as a technical production assistant in the Sharon Disney Lund Dance Theater. I’ve learned so much about theater lighting, set design and general backstage maintenance. It’s helped me feel more comfortable speaking with lighting designers and other collaborators for my own work. Tonight, I hang lights and cut color gels for the Spring Dance Concert. Being a part of the preparation will make the performances that much more meaningful.
Saturday, April 19
Day two at the theater—at 3:40 p.m. I set the cues for my solo with my lighting designer, Garth Belcon, at lighting tech. Then I go right into rehearsal for my piece for the Last Dance Concert. I’m still in the beginning stages, but I’m very excited about where my ideas will lead me—I want to explore the moment when a dream is interrupted by an abrupt awakening.
From 5:30-9:00 p.m., I have two back-to-back rehearsals for pieces that my friends are choreographing. Even though it’s the weekend, my schedule is still crazy! Need to find some time to fit in laundry tomorrow…
The Scoop: CalArts
Location: Valencia, CA
Dance degree offered: Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance
School of Dance population: 81 undergrads
Student Life: Don’t be surprised to see students blowing bubbles or goofing off with sidewalk chalk between classes—the campus is full of
creative artists. There are 8–10 performances each year, including two at the REDCAT theater in downtown. Off-campus, CalArts students can take advantage of all that L.A. has to offer, from great restaurants in the many ethnic neighborhoods to the paparazzi-stalked nightclubs of Hollywood.
Kristi’s Spring Classes: Ballet and Modern technique, Pilates, Yoga, Composition, Dance Showings, Contact Improvisation, Modern Dance History, Buying and Selling the Fantasy of Los Angeles, Concepts for Lighting, Film Today
Kristi’s Top 3 “Best about CalArts”:
“The diversity of my classmates—their backgrounds and experiences; having four years of composition class to learn in and grow from; the faculty support of student choreography, which is overwhelming.”
How are you doing? No, really, how are you? At Bennington College, caring faculty seem to be everywhere—at least for Owen Henry, 20, who is having a great week. First there’s the guest teacher in his Dance Language of 3 Traditions class, Tania Isaac, who sits down with Owen for a one-on-one chat about dancing professionally. And then there’s Plan Day: Classes are cancelled, and the faculty sets aside time to ensure that you’re on track. Bennington opened Owen’s eyes to the possibility of dance as a career, and now, this sophomore creates movement inspired by everything that he has learned—which is quite a lot!
Tuesday, April 22
Ballet is by far my worst technique, but my teacher, Peggy Florin, is brilliant. Class was particularly tough this morning, but it will only better my dancing in the future.
My choreography course, Projects in Dance at 4:00 p.m., focuses on creating and developing a piece over the term. There are only five students in the class—we get lots of individual attention.
From 6:30-10:00 p.m., I’m at my job as the soundboard operator for this week’s Senior Dance Concert. (Students taking four or more dance credits are required to tech productions.) To wind down afterward, I cruise the internet on StumbleUpon, play Mario Kart 64 with my friends or watch “Lost” on DVD. I try to get to sleep before 1:00 a.m.
Thursday, April 24
One of my best friends is enrolled in Advanced â€ˆProjects in Recording and from 2:00-4:30 p.m. we work on recording an album for our band. I love music, and am fortunate that Bennington encourages students to collaborate.
Every Thursday from 4:30-5:30 p.m. is Dance Workshop, where Bennington students and faculty show pieces to be critiqued by the larger community; while I’m shy about showing my work, the critiques have greatly impacted my piece. It’s always interesting to see what other students are creating.
At 6:30 p.m. I go to my spectacular History course about disasters, called Night of the Johnstown Flood.
Friday, April 25
After a great ballet class, I went to the gym and then did homework. There are a lot of parties on campus on the weekends, so later, I made sure to get my move on.
Saturday, April 26
My girlfriend and I are really into exploring Vermont. Today we went to a nice chocolate store in Shaftsbury. From 10:00-11:30 p.m., I listened to the other acts playing at an open mic night before my band performed. Our medley went really well!
Sunday, April 27
From 7:00-9:00 p.m., I rehearsed my piece for the biggest dance concert of the year. We’re currently filling in some final choreography and cleaning other parts of the piece.
I’m a House Chair (kind of like an R.A.), and so at 10:00 p.m. I help lead Coffee Hour where the members of each house come together to make campus announcements and address in-house issues.
Monday, April 28
My 8:10-10:00 a.m. Developmental Psychology course helps me think about the origins of movement and influences my choreography. After class, I watch 3:10 to Yuma—amazing. I love the feeling I get after experiencing a really good movie or song—it inspires me to dance!
The Scoop: Bennington College
Location: Bennington, VT
Dance degree offered: Bachelor of Arts in Dance
Dance concentration population: 14 undergrads
Student Life: While Bennington is a small town, there are charming cafés and the nearby Lake Paran for swimming. Shopping in Albany is a 45-minute drive, while NYC and Boston are three hours away—perfect for weekend trips. The proximity of these big cities means that a lot of guest artists come to Bennington. (Owen has studied with Paul Matteson of Nugent + Matteson, and with Kota Yamazaki and Mina Nishimura of Fluid Hug-Hug, both in NYC.)
Cool requirement: All undergrads must complete fieldwork every year; last fieldwork term (between January and February), students went to 41 states and 29 countries through field opportunities. Owen completed a seven-week internship with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, where he worked and took Horton, ballet and West African classes for free! This past summer, Owen continued his work for Ailey as an information technologies intern.
Touring Oklahoma and wowing crowds with their amazing singing and dancing ability is just another day on the job for Chaz Wolcott, 20, and Kim Fauré, 21, BFFs at Oklahoma City University. A competition kid and a Kirov Academy ballerina who met at orientation and have been inseparable ever since, these sophomores want to see their names in lights someday! They had a taste of the life last summer, when they both worked for the Music Theatre of Wichita in Cats. Having your best friend to laugh with, compete with and dream with at one of the best musical theater programs in the country means there’s never a dull moment.
Monday, April 14
Chaz: After dinner with Kim—we love to catch up and spend time, just the two of us—I head over to the studio to rehearse my sophomore piece for next Monday. (The dorms and dance building are both brand new this year and are only about three minutes walking distance from each other!) Dance performance majors perform a self-choreographed solo for adjudication by the entire dance faculty. It’s a halfway checkup point to find out if we’re following the right program and progressing accordingly. I’m also doing a minor in History.
Wednesday, April 16
Kim: I have a packed day of class and rehearsal—we’re doing one of my favorite songs ever, “Cell Block Tango” from Chicago, and I’m playing Velma, one of my dream roles! At 6:00 p.m. I get ready to go to Chelino’s Mexican restaurant in downtown Oklahoma City for my roommate’s birthday. I then rush back to campus at 8:00 p.m. for work at the tutoring center in the liberal arts school. Tonight, I help a Korean international student with grammatical errors in her paper. (Chaz is also at work, teaching tap at the Dance Unlimited Performing Arts Center.) I always do yoga and sit-ups before bed.
Thursday, April 17
Kim: After my iced soy latte and a full morning of class, I go over to the music building for my 3:00 p.m. private voice lesson, which is always inspiring. I then check out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from the library to research the character (Mary Jane Wilkes) I’ll be playing this summer in Big River at Music Theatre of Wichita.
Chaz: As two of the nine American Spirit Dance Company dancers selected to perform at The Flo-bert Awards, a tap event in NYC, Kim and I polish our dance in rehearsal from 4:00-6:00 p.m. For dinner, we head to the Big Event in downtown OKC, a really fun night of free stuff—food, movies, you name it—for OCU students.
Friday, April 18
We wake up at 7:00 a.m. for our tour! Forty-three members of the ASDC board the bus to drive to Enid, OK, about two hours northwest of Oklahoma City. We have class in the theater with our amazing director, Jo Rowan. After lunch, blocking and tech rehearsal, the curtain goes up at 8:00 p.m. on numbers like “Footloose” and “Billion Dollar Baby.” It’s a full house and an absolutely great show. Everyone feels so good about it and the audience enjoys it, too.
Saturday, April 19
Kim: I sleep in after getting back so late last night and head straight to the cafeteria before it closes. Chaz calls and says a bunch of people are over at Lake Hefner enjoying the weather. I put on my new bathing suit and drive over! We spend the entire afternoon soaking up some sun and all come back with nice tans.
Chaz: It’s absolutely gorgeous outside! It’s been an exhausting month with performances, a busy Spring Break, auditions for summer work, midterms and tour, on top of normal schoolwork—so it’s nice to get out for a day!
The Scoop: Oklahoma City University
Dance degree offered: Bachelor of Performing Arts in Dance Performance
Dance Performance population: 140 triple-threats make up the American Spirit Dance Company
Cool alumnus: Kristin Chenoweth, of Wicked fame
Chaz and Kim’s Spring Classes: Tap, Honors World Civilizations, Ballet (every day!), Theater Dance, Acting, Jazz, Intro to World Religions, Biblical Lit, Voice and Pointe (Chaz is taking it to strengthen his feet and arches!)
What they love most: Learning about all facets of the biz, from networking to marketing themselves; the brand-new, $28-million facilities; the opportunity to stay with members of the OCUNY family—alumni working on Broadway—
during Spring Break.
Fun facts: Kim was an extra in the opening sequence of Step Up, while Chaz was a DS Future Star Award Winner!
Photo: Peter Mueller