When I graduated from high school, I was a ballerina burned out. Let’s face it! Aspiring ballerinas do not have typical teenage lives. My daily routine consisted of getting to school at 7:30am, missing my last two classes to make 1:30pm ballet technique, dancing until 8:00pm, and getting home around 9:00pm only to do my homework for the next few hours. A good night was bed by 1:00am. By graduation, I was spent and had turned down a professional dance career for college, looking desperately for a change of scenery.
I knew Princeton had a dance department with a primarily modern focus, at the time run by Ze’eva Cohen. And I knew it offered free daily ballet classes open to all students. What I didn’t know was what existed outside the dance department. When applying to college, most dancers only ask questions about what a school can offer them dance wise in the academic sense. I myself was guilty of this. We fail to realize that there is more often than not a world of dance outside a school’s academic program: student-run dance companies.
I arrived as a freshman at Princeton burned out. Within months, however, I had reignited and redefined my passion for dance. It was, much to my surprise, a student-run dance company that allowed me to do this. The student dance groups held open auditions the second week of school. The moment I walked into the audition for diSiac Dance Company, I was hooked. I could feel the infectious energy of this enthusiastic family and knew I wanted to be a part of it. A few days later, less than 10 of the over 100 auditionees were accepted…and I was one of them!
I immediately began to learn what made student dance groups such as this so special. Everything is entirely student-run. At my first “proposals” I watched as “diSi” dancers got up in front of the entire company and presented the two student artistic directors (ADs) with their piece ideas. I was amazed as I watched one talented individual after the other – some ballet dancers, some hip-hop dancers, some African dancers – share their creativity. One week later, we all received a list of the 15 pieces that had been selected for our 2011 fall show and the dancers cast in each piece. I was even more amazed our first weekly company rehearsal, where each piece that had begun rehearsing would be run for the rest of the company to see. It wasn’t even how talented the dancers were that impressed me. It was the show of support. Company members at the front of the room cheered and shouted for their friends dancing. And it was FUN!
Before I knew it, I had become part of a company filled with my friends and I was actually looking forward to rehearsals. No rehearsal can compare, however, to the first time I stepped on stage with diSiac. Let’s just say I wasn’t prepared for it. The lights went up for the opening number to the roar of over 400 audience members screaming, “Aphro!” “diSiac!” I had experienced nothing like it. At first I couldn’t even hear the music. But the energy was electric and it quickly became the most incredible time I had ever had performing. We performed three more times over the next two days to screaming sold-out audiences. It was an amazing high that I will never forget.
So here is my advice to dancers who attend college or will attend college in the future. Do not forget to look at your campus’s dance world beyond the academic. Student-run dance companies can give you opportunities to perform, choreograph, and explore new styles. Most importantly, they can be fun. And even lead to a professional career in dance…
Take a look at this performance video of diSiac Dance Company get a feel for the kind of talent, creativity, and electrifying enthusiasm I am talking about.