Francesca Axam-Hocker (Shoccara S. Marcus Photography, courtesy Axam-Hocker)
These days, Francesca "Frankie" Axam-Hocker and Ahren Victory are doing great: Axam-Hocker, who graduated from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in 2014 with a BFA in dance, is now senior manager of visitor services at The Paley Center for Media; Victory, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 2017 with a BA in arts, media, and entertainment, is now playing Sillabub in the national tour of CATS. But ask these dancers about the past few years, and it's clear their current successes don't tell the whole story. Yes, even the most talented and motivated dancers struggle with postgrad life—but there are ways to ease your fears, stress, and uncertainty.
Back in the fall, when you applied to your dream dance programs, May 1—aka College Decision Day—felt very far away. But now it's almost here, which means it's time to decide where to dance for the next four years! To help you narrow things down, DS asked Molly Newman (Idyllwild Arts Academy's director of college counseling) and Denayia Miniex (currently a freshman in the Ailey/Fordham BFA Program) for advice on making the right choice for your dance career.
Anna McEvoy-Melo on the Columbia University campus (courtesy McEvoy-Melo)
Where do I go next?
It's a simple question so many dancers face as they approach high school graduation. Yet it's also a decision that takes a whole lot of time, introspection, and fortitude to make.
When I was a wide-eyed little girl, ballet was pure, ethereal magic. The control and strength of these dancers seemed to defy physics—they took my breath away. From the costumes, to the movement, to the storylines, to the masterful classical compositions, I fell in love with ballet.
But what 11-year-old me realized after her first classes is that ballet is, to put it mildly, very difficult. It took immense determination on a daily basis to push through the soreness, constant criticism, and exhaustion from training every night after school. I had to give up a lot of high school "normalcy"; I was never able to go to school dances, football games, or parties, or stay home during the summers. Instead, while my peers were doing all of these things, I had to train.
But I wasn't deterred. On the contrary: I had a dream, and I chased it.
At 15, I moved away from home to study 40 hours per week in NYC at the Ellison Ballet professional training program. By then, I'd become completely consumed by ballet. There were many points where I had felt like I was missing out on all other aspects of teenage life. But whenever I stepped out onto a stage—including the Lincoln Center stages where I was lucky to perform—every worry disappeared. It was just me and that moment.
My senior year of high school was a whirlwind. Should I audition for ballet companies? Should I take a traineeship or job with a second company? Should I go to college for dance? Should I go to college for something else and dance recreationally? I was torn. I kept thinking to myself, "Yes, you want to dance, but what else can you be? What else do YOU want to be?" Those questions weren't going to go away until they were answered. I had to step back and envision what different paths would lead to in the long term.
Chanel DaSilva (left) and Nigel Campbell (right) are longtime friends and consider their peer mentoring relationship invaluable. (Lelund Durond Thompson, courtesy Campbell and DaSilva)
Nigel Campbell wants to let you in on a secret: College is finishing school. "You're meeting the people you'll know for the rest of your artistic life," explains the co-director of the Gibney Dance Company. "You never know if the person next to you at the barre will be the next director of a big company." Translation? Now's the time to build meaningful relationships with classmates. As Campbell and Chanel DaSilva—longtime friends and founders/artistic directors of MOVE(NYC)—know firsthand, the peer mentoring relationships built during your undergraduate years can make or break your postcollege dance career.
Who among us hasn't daydreamed about finishing college a semester or two ahead of the class? But as tempting as it may be to get started on your dance career ASAP, this isn't a decision to take lightly. So DS had a dance department chair and an alumna who finished ahead of schedule lay out the case for—and against—graduating early.