by Ashley David
Until about two years ago, dance meant taking class at my small studio, preparing for the Nutcracker, participating in dance competitions and practicing for the annual recital. However, I was unsure whether I wanted to dance or not after I graduated high school because I was always told dance was just a “hobby” and not something that I could pursue as a career.
I applied to various schools, some with dance programs and some without, but ultimately chose the University of Maryland, College Park, to pursue a communication degree in public relations. This was a sensible degree that would get me a “real job.” The entire first year of college I did not dance at all— the worst decision of my life. I went from dancing six days a week to nothing. I lost my creative outlet, stress reliever and passion. I realized during that time I needed to dance, so I added dance as a second major and began my journey in pursuing a B.A. in Dance at the University of Maryland, which I am still currently completing.
I had no idea what I was getting myself into and was skeptical I had made the right choice. The program was described as “modern” and I came from a ballet, tap, jazz, lyrical, contemporary and hip-hop background. I had taken what I dubbed as “weird” modern classes at various conventions, but it was never something I saw myself pursuing further in dance; yet here I was entering a college modern program that did not even require us to take ballet classes.
My schedule that first semester as a dance double major included modern, ballet (thank goodness it was an elective class) and improvisation—no jazz, no tap, no lyrical, no contemporary and certainly no hip hop. My very first day of modern class included things such as closing my eyes, grounding myself to the floor, breathing and focusing on tucking in my pelvis as I moved across the space in exercises.
Then I entered improvisation and we did the same thing! Except this time, I had to find and create my own movement. What was this?! I was in absolute shock and thankful I at least had ballet to look forward to as something familiar and normal to me. I spent many days that first semester crying over something my modern teacher said, or not understanding why the technique I had spent years and years developing did not seem as important in this program. Is that not what made a good dancer? I felt disconnected and not sure that I really belonged there. However, towards the end of the semester it all clicked.
There was no big event or serious “aha” moment as to why everything began making sense; it just did. Perhaps it was because I became more used to my classes, the faculty and other dancers; or maybe it was just being able to dance again after a year off. I’m still not sure what it was that made the transition from stubborn studio/competition dancer to college modern dancer occur, but I can definitely say I am so happy in this program now.
Once I got past the fact I was not in a studio with the girls I had danced with since a young age or the dance teacher that taught me my first steps, I started to notice how incredible the faculty was, and how many amazing opportunities the program gave us–from free student tickets for performances to guest teaching artists.
A fellow dancer in the program who also comes from a studio/competition background, Melanie Francer, says, “Coming from a dance environment based on technical artistry and passionate expression, it was an initial shock to come into a college dance program with an immediate emphasis on anatomy and kinesthetic awareness. It took some time to mature, adjust, and comprehend; however, now I find myself feeding off of the energy found in the UMD Dance Department. I take each bit of new information and integrate it into my dance repertoire in way that is meaningful for me.”
This program has opened my eyes to the professional world of modern dance—past the pink tights and black leotards of ballet class and the competitions I prepared so hard for. I absolutely have no regrets in my dance training prior to college or the wonderful memories and friends I made at my studio and the vast amount dance competitions, I am just happy to have made the decision to keep dancing and open up to a different world of dance I never knew existed.
Another fellow dancer with a studio/competition background, Katie Moore, said, “From my experience in competition dance, you’re judged more heavily on technique and tricks. Not that there is anything wrong with the world of competition, it’s just a different place for dance. I think as an incoming college freshman what I didn’t understand was that there were more options. Dance is more than just technique and tricks, there is existing movement in between “dance steps,” and there is artistry.”
While I am now happy and excited to be in the dance program at the University of Maryland I wish I could have had someone help me prepare for the unexpected! Listed below are five tips (with the help of some University of Maryland dancer friends) for anyone apprehensive about a similar dance transition:
“Keep an open mind. Be open to things and ideas that are new to you. There may be many things you find you are being asked to do in dance class that seem foreign, but keeping an open mind will help you build and grow as a dancer,”
“You have to be able to accept change. Accept that not everything will make sense or easy to understand, and accept the challenge of trying something new,”
“My advice to competition dancers who are looking into modern dance programs in college is to broaden your horizons. Look into college level dance summer intensives. Don’t just look at the big competition oriented intensives and classes. Look at modern dance master classes or training programs,”
“ In essence be like a sponge and take in the information; however, don’t allow other people’s definition of movement change your own unique dance—keep yourself,”
“I would say that the most important tip is to never abandon the dance knowledge that you come to college with and make a conscious effort to continue building upon the foundation you have already built,”
Readers…do you have any tips for dancers that are transitioning from the studio to college? Feel free to leave any advice in the comments section!
Intern Ashley David is a junior at the University of Maryland, College Park where she double majors in communication-public relations and dance. Her ultimate goal is to combine her public relations skills with her passion for dance and become a well-rounded arts manager.
In summer 2012, she had her first experience in the Washington D.C. arts management world as a PR/Marketing intern for the nonprofit organization, CityDance. She spearheaded many marketing, design and public relations projects in the administrative office and worked at the conservatory. In September 2012 she had the privilege of dancing with the amazing CityDance faculty in the first annual faculty show, FRESH VISIONS: under one umbrella.
During the school year she is the Undergraduate Assistant to the Director of Marketing and Communications for the College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland, College Park. She focuses on managing the website and marketing news and events through digital and social media.
In her spare time, she is the Secretary of UM UnBound Dance Team, Secretary of the UMD Chapter for the Public Relations Student Society of America, House Representative for the UMD Chapter of Delta Chi Xi-Honorary Dance Fraternity Inc., a Student Ambassador for UMD College of Arts and Humanities, a Tour Guide for Maryland Images and a Morale Captain for Terp Thon.
This summer Ashley is also interning at Jacob’s Pillow.