Tension and Dancing

by Maggie Segale, 4th- year dancer

As a fourth-year dancer, I am constantly auditioning. Whether flying to Europe to be seen by company directors, or simply taking ballet class here at school, some potential employer is generally watching. With so much focus on getting a job, one might expect that I would be a nervous wreck during this time. Thankfully, the opposite is true. I have found a refreshing sense of groundedness.

While nervously doing pliés at one audition in January, I finally realized what teachers have been telling me all along. I would be happier and dance better if I just relaxed! I took a breath and decided just to dance as myself, and not try to dance like anyone else. As a result, I was able to pick-up combinations faster and to be more expressive.  This has come to be one of the most important discoveries I’ve had while at Juilliard.

Below is an illustrated narrative based on this beautiful realization. 

Maggie 1

Raymonda is a high school senior auditioning for a college dance program.

Application: sent!

Essay: completed!

Solo: prepared!

“Okay, cool! I got this! Now all I have to do is dance!”

Maggie 2

“HOLD UP!

I forgot to burn a CD of my solo music!

I spilled hot chocolate all over my favorite leotard!

I’m going to have to introduce myself to the faculty????? Suddenly, I cannot remember my own name. Rebecca? Rachel? Ronald? RAYMONDA! That’s it! Raymonda is my name.”

Maggie 3

“PHEW! Alright, got it sorted out.

I burned 25 CDs of my solo music.

I poured hot chocolate all over my leotard, so you can’t even see the stain! Genius.

I wrote my first, middle and last names on my arm in case I forget. “

Maggie 4

“Here I am at the ballet barre! I can’t believe I made it to this point!

Okay, ‘plie, stretch, releve,’ got it!

Eek! I can’t move my legs! I mean it! I can’t even bend my knees! This is it for me, this is the end. They’ll have to send in a rescue team to remove me from the ballet studio!

I can see it now: ‘Girl freezes in dance audition, never moves again.’”

Maggie 5

Auditions can be DAUNTING. It’s no secret.

There are so many details to remember,

Bobby pins to consider,

Warm-up techniques…

It’s easy to get TENSE

Maggie 6

HOLD UP!

Maggie 7

Remember that dance is art. Sure, it requires technique, but the truth is that dancing is joyful, emotional, and beautiful. Tension gets in the way of artistic expression, and makes you feel like you’ll have to be wheeled out of the studio on a stretcher.

SO…

Sure, prepare your necessary materials, plan your outfit, and practice your introduction…

BUT…

DON’T lose sight of your unique voice!

DON’T compare yourself to others or worry that you’re not worthy!

DO take a moment to exhale, listen to the music, and remember why you love dancing.

SO…

BREATHE and try to enjoy this special time of your life. You will become a better artist because of it, regardless of whether you make the callback.

Maggie 8

These are a few of the countless things I have discovered during my tenure at The Juilliard School.

My Juilliard Dialogue

by Victoria Grempel, 2nd-year dancer

 

“Hello, President’s Office, this is Victoria.”

“Is the leg croisé or écarté on count 5?”

“What’s the status of the new Juilliard in Tianjin?” 

“Is that in the sagittal or horizontal plane?”

 

The above sentences have one thing in common; they’re all spoken by me throughout the course of a single day! Here at the Juilliard School, you’ll rarely find a student who engages only in her field of study. As a second year dancer, I try to make the the most of my Juilliard experience. With great perseverance and a knack for scheduling, I have been able to expand my education beyond the boundaries of the dance studio.

Not only am I currently studying ballet, multiple modern techniques, taking a liberal arts class, a music class, and learning repertory, but this year I hold several work-study positions throughout the school. I am a Special Assistant in the Office of the President, a Senior Assistant in the Evening Division Office, and I was recently elected as a Student Ambassador. Seeing the school from an administrative standpoint not only allows me to understand how the school functions, but has opened my eyes to the business and management sides of the performing arts; it’s like I’m double majoring in dance and business! In order to be a well-rounded artist, I believe that training in the arts, along side entrepreneurial skills and the understanding of how the arts are managed, are all of equal importance.

At Juilliard, I have made the most of my opportunities. Within the intense dance schedule, I have made time to maintain these positions. I think that the Juilliard experience is what you make of it. The possibilities are endless; it’s up to you!

Practicing *Other* Things

by Jenna Pollack, 4th-year dancer

Do you remember being told, “Oh dear, if you keep crossing your eyes like that they are going to stay that way”?  Though I must defend funny face-making and the great GIFs they become, I do try to keep my own to a minimum.  Why?  Because the underlying, hard truth behind your Grandmother’s scare tactic is that habits stick.  I believe that the same rule applies in the studio: if you glue your eyes to the ballet mirror- or the script, or the score- they will stay that way.  Well, not your eyes per se, but the intention behind them.   And, contrary to popular belief, in order to reach your artistic potential you must stop practicing once in a while . . . and practice other things.

I have found teaching to be one of many excellent outlets for this. While everyone at Juilliard works hard to get better, The Office of Educational Outreach provides opportunities for students to work hard at bettering the lives of others.  I’ve found this to be one of the school’s secrets to making some of the world’s most talented performing artists. And not only does the teaching fellowship give me crucial skills to better market myself upon graduation, but the stipend lets me take out much smaller student loans.

On Saturday mornings I join one of my dancer classmates to The Children’s Storefront in East Harlem.  We arrive to a handful of the most adorable fourth and fifth graders, and for two hours we lead them through ‘dance class’.  But they aren’t like Juilliard classes. While certainly used, we keep codified French terms to minimum.  We explore new physical coordinations, play games, improvise, and create movement together.  We go across the floor improvising what it feels like to be different animals and different seasons.  We speak complete conversations to each other with our own created movement vocabulary, like the South African gumboot dancers.  We talk about the idea of ‘theme and variations’ and, after watching George Balanchine’s version, ask them to create their own contemporary remix. We watch Beyoncé’s ‘Countdown’ music video and learn the real Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker choreography. We ask the students to work together to generate movement phrases that are put together for a performance for their friends and family.  And week after week, I learn what it means to be a successful dancer from these students.

At the end of last semester one of our students asked about the upcoming winter break:

“So when do we come back to dance class?”

“After the holidays, in January!” I replied.

“What about when school ends in the spring?” her voice a near shrill.

“Well, dance class will go on a summer vacation with school.”

“Ugh, NO!  I want dance class to go on forever!”

I share this not to toot our horn, but to illustrate just how much a weekend activity- whether it be dance or basketball or a music lesson- is a vital outlet for young minds, and especially those targeted by Juilliard’s outreach programs.  They are so important in developing one’s identity, and with different standards from the regular classroom. Extracurriculars refresh what it means to learn and, more importantly, to be successful.

Dance class, as with most extracurricular activities, is a way for our students to express themselves, to push their own boundaries in a safe space, to try out new skins and voices.  Our students make important discoveries about themselves as their confidence grows with exercises big and small.

One of my favorite moments these past two years as a Children’s Storefront teacher was at a student performance last semester.  The father of a girl named Chyna had just returned from prison. He had been locked up for almost the entirety of his daughter’s life.  Chyna was still on cloud nine from his arrival the week before, and performed the best I’ve ever seen her dance knowing he was in the audience.  She has always had a phenomenal work ethic and attitude, and I am so happy that her father could be there to witness her success.  I am deeply moved to think how important of a moment that was for their relationship, and I love seeing him pick Chyna up from class every week now.

For me, teaching these students also solidifies what I (think I) know about dance.  I am re-inspired when they make their “different music can change the same dance!” epiphanies.  I am reminded of the importance of patience when a girl builds coordination to turn in the matter of a few weeks.  I am grateful for our diverse individuality when I give the boys their own steps.  And so I’ve begun to build better habits, habits of character, that I can bring back to the practice room.

Before coming to Juilliard I already knew that the arts were wildly underestimated as a crucial part of a child’s development.  But what I’ve learned since is that teaching them is also wildly underestimated as a crucial part of an artist’s development.

Take alumnus Adam Driver from HBO’s hit series Girls who, in addition to being a total rock star, co-founded Arts in the Armed Forces while at Juilliard.  In an interview last month with the Juilliard Journal Adam talked about the compatibility of his school work with his nonprofit organization: “In a way, it’s [entrepreneurship] the most gratifying thing to work on because not only is it beneficial to have a project where the focus isn’t about you, but it’s also about using the craft as a service. As an actor, there’s nothing that sucks more than feeling that what you’re doing is irrelevant, and I feel like I’ve been fortunate enough to work on a lot of projects that seem very relevant and active and have a point of view and that reminded me that it’s a service.”

So though you don’t have to believe me, you should definitely believe Adam Driver.  I mean, just look at his goofy face.