Taking it All: Kent State dancer achieves her dreams

Claire Tilley poses for a portrait.

Allyson Nichols

Adrenaline. Opportunity. Passion.

For Claire Tilley, a senior dance major, dancing is more than just a performance. It’s her life. Her love of dance began at the age of 3 at Mary Alice’s Dance Studio in Buffalo, New York, and has led to a multitude of opportunities and accomplishments.

Tilley has won awards such as the May O’Donnell Memorial Award and the School of Theatre and Dance Dance Scholarship. She also helped create “East Meets West,” a program dedicated to creating opportunities for dance students to collaborate and engage in diverse artistic expression, while studying abroad in Thailand.

“I realized that this is what I’m here to do,” Tilley said. “I realized this is what I want to do and this is how I’m going to be successful in it, so I think once I separated myself from the hobby of it and turned it into my career goal, it made it a lot easier to stay focused and know that all of the time and energy was going to pay off.”

Growing up, Tilley was surrounded by dance. Her mother and sister were both dancers, and she too felt an affinity for the art. In her childhood, she worked with a few types of dance, including jazz, lyrical and contemporary. At Kent State, Tilley had a strong focus on modern dance.

Tilley said her hard work and dedication are what brought her achievements.

“A lot of the work that I’ve put in for dance is outside of the studio where people don’t see it, and I’ve made sacrifices,” she said. “I have sacrificed and given a lot, and it hasn’t come easy. I’ve created the opportunities for myself.”

She spends about 30 to 40 hours a week on dance. Tilley is president of the Student Dance Education Organization and a member of the Delta Gamma sorority and the Kent Dance Ensemble.

Although balancing a packed schedule is difficult, Tilley finds the biggest obstacles in taking care of her body, dealing with injuries, eating healthy and treating her body as her instrument.

“Growing up, you don’t have to worry about that because you’re young and you’re unstoppable, but now in college, that junk catches up to you,” she said. “Going out catches up to you, not icing and taking care of your body catches up to you.”

For Tilley, dancing is an adrenaline rush, and she often thinks about the intention behind her dance: why she’s doing it, why she enjoys it and what she wants the audience to take home from the piece.

“I almost get more nervous now because I expect more out of myself and I expect more out of my dancing than I did when I was young. … “People are expecting me to do well, and I expect myself to know what I’m doing and then usually within the first 20 seconds, you kind of forget that anyone is watching,” she said.

From the beginning of her dance career, Tilley’s family has always been one of her biggest support groups.

“I pretty much owe everything to them,” Tilley said. “They come to every show from Buffalo and drive there and back in the same day. They drive me to all of my auditions and go on all my flights with me.

“My mom danced and my sister danced, so it’s been in the family, and they’re super supportive. They’ve done everything.”

One of Tilley’s biggest mentors for her dance career is Gregory King, an assistant professor of dance and the artistic director of the Kent Dance Ensemble, who has helped her evolve as a dancer.

This semester, King helped Tilley choreograph her B.F.A. senior dance concert and has been able to work with her in and out of class.

“I would describe her as consistent, vocal and determined,” King said. “She’s reliable and very hard-working.”

After graduation, she would like to go to New York City and has hopes to dance on cruise ships, along with opening her own dance studio in Buffalo.

“My studio shaped me into who I am today, so I would like to do that for other kids,” Tilley said.

Tilley feels dance has become everything to her and has defined who she is as a person.

“If I didn’t have it, I don’t even know what type of person I would be,” she said. “It truly shapes who I am physically, mentally, personality wise. It’s kind of like my outlet.”

When she first came to Kent State, Tilley never thought she would end up with so much success. Since, she’s said Kent has given her something to remember and hold on to.

“I feel like it has given me so many resume builders I didn’t think I would leave Kent State with,” she said. “I’ve met so many people and made so many connections along the way because of those opportunities that I am forever grateful for.”

Allyson Nichols is the Music, Theatre and Dance Reporter. You can contact her at [email protected].