A Dancer’s Life at Juilliard

By: Mary Ellen Beaudreau, Third Year Dance Student

On August 20th 2004, I arrived at Juilliard, nervous and excited – greeted by a group of beautiful, energetic Orientation Leaders. Posted all over the walls of the dorms were signs that read: “Juilliard: You think you know but you have no idea.” It’s true. No one really understands what he/she is getting into when they come to Juilliard so I asked some fellow dancers about their experiences here. I found that many people had similar observations about the dance program and life at Juilliard. Here is what we wished we had known before coming to this school:

1. Juilliard: the Dance Program

Schedule

Our schedule is pretty intense. We usually start with an academic class, such as Humanities, that starts at 9am or even 8am if you have Alexander Technique. Then, after a 20 minute break we have ballet class, then a modern technique (Limon, Graham, Taylor, Horton, or Cunningham) followed by a Pas de Deux or Choreography & Composition class. Our lunch is about 40 minutes long and then we plunge into either another academic class or an elective such as Voice or Jazz and then into rehearsals held by guest or peer choreographers. Some dancers and choreographers stay well into the night – until 10 or 11pm, but this is only if you want to do extra independent projects.

Performance Opportunities

Although there are many opportunities to perform and choreograph, not every dancer will be cast in a piece. Freshman year is very slow as far a performing goes except for the opportunity to choreograph in studio workshops and performing Missa Brevis by José Limón in May. Choreography is not the focus at Juilliard although you do have the opportunity to choreograph in workshops and in the 3rd and 4th year shows.

Freshman Year

Be prepared to be overwhelmed by life in New York, new friends, roommates, the labyrinth of staircases and halls at Juilliard and new dance concepts and techniques. I was a little scared and unsure after my first few weeks at Juilliard and from what I know, most everyone feels this way. I remember standing at the barre and wondering why we were talking about the mechanics of a plié or the space between our shoulders and head. I panicked. I know now that there is a rhyme and reason for the slow pace in the first year of training. Try not to get impatient with yourself when gaining new concepts. Try to listen and learn from the teachers – they have been doing this a long time. Also, feel free to have an open dialogue with the teachers.

2. Outreach and Finding Community at Juilliard

There are many programs at Juilliard such as Art Reach that allow artists at Juilliard to collaborate and do outreach programs. Recently Art Reach raised money to perform in New Orleans. Art Reach is a great way to meet people in different divisions.

The Gluck Community Service Fellowship, another program, provides funding for you to form your own group of artists from Juilliard to perform in hospitals, homeless shelters and wherever there is a need. It is an eye opening experience to say the least.

3. Living in New York City

Dorm versus Apartment Life

I lived in both the dorms at Juilliard and in various apartments in Manhattan. Personally, I found the dorms to be quite smothering because the rooms are very small and you have about eight suite-mates. It’s hard to find your own space and those quiet moments we all need. I also found the cafeteria food to be somewhat monotonous after a while, and we did not have any access to a kitchen. The great thing about the dorms is that you are right at school. You can literally hop out of your bed and be in class within 5 minutes.

Apartment searching in New York City is draining, especially if you are looking for roommates at the same time. The prices vary, but I have found rooms in Manhattan, mostly in the Harlem district, that cost anywhere from $550 to $800 per month. I currently live in Hamilton Heights and I enjoy the diversity as well as being around so many families. It’s important to get to know the area that you live in and be responsible about how you get home at night even if you feel safe in your neighborhood.

4. Survival

Take care of yourself. Make sure that you get enough sleep and nourishing foods – plenty of well-balanced meals! Juilliard is rough on your body, mind and spirit. Take time to meet people and get out into New York City with your friends. Explore different neighborhoods in all the boroughs in New York City. Take the time to clear your head and have some quality “you” time. Read a book, stare into space, or go to the park. Counseling is also available for free at the Juilliard Health Office if you just need to vent. Find those people in your life who support you and will be with you no matter what. Mostly, have confidence in yourself, explore new concepts and ideas and never EVER label yourself or let anyone else put you in a box, artistically or otherwise.

There are many Juilliard dance graduates who have defined what “success” means to them. There are dancers who have joined major ballet and modern companies or freelance in various cities around the world. There are some who have gone on to receive degrees in other fields and some who have dedicated their lives to spreading art and dance around the world. Even those who have graced Juilliard for just a year or two take the experience with them forever.