Dancing through college

Lauren Crist

Dance majors face tough competition, demanding day-to-day schedules and the looming questions of life after graduation

Lauren Crist | Daily Kent Stater

Credit: DKS Editors

Senior dance performance major Ashely Race remembers her audition for the School of Theatre and Dance when she was a senior in high school.

“I remember being really intimidated and thinking, ‘Okay, just get through the audition and through the solo and all is fine.'” she said. “But it’s nice because the students that are there helping out are helping you with your nerves.”

With pointed toes, graceful arms and fluid movements, Kent State dance students begin their college careers with a high school audition.

And while they are in school, they are already working hard to pursue a career in dance.

“I was dancing six days a week when I was in high school,” said Andrea Shearer, coordinator of the dance division for the School of Theatre and Dance. “My mother did some library research for me on occasions to get me resource materials because I only had one day off.”

As a part of the auditions, Shearer interviews all the dance majors before they are accepted into the program.

“I consider it to be a mutual interview,” she said. “It’s not about us choosing them because they choose us as well.”

On the day of the audition, prospective students participate in exercises in ballet, modern and jazz.

“When everybody first walked in, it was kind of nerve-wracking,” said Alyssa Cubellis, a senior in high school who recently auditioned as a dance performance major, “But I think it went pretty well.”

Students also do an improvisation exercise. This year, applicants had to creatively combine dance and spoken word to describe the way to make oatmeal, an omelet or how to brush their teeth.

“I thought it was really funny,” said Veronica Nolletti , who also auditioned as a dance performance major. “You could really show your sense of humor.”

Several faculty members sat on the floor, judging the students as the auditions progressed.

“I think (the faculty) was helpful,” said Caitlin Hemming, who auditioned as a dance education major. “If they caught you looking at them they smiled at you, so that was nice.”

A demanding program

After Race was accepted into the dance division her freshman year, the faculty and staff knew her name within the first two weeks of classes.

“It definitely feels more like a family,” said Race. “It doesn’t feel like I’m just another number at some school.”

The tight-knit group of students learn to balance their time between dance classes, rehearsals, Liberal Education Requirement classes, outside performances and homework.

“It is tough,” said Sara Perry, a junior dance performance major, “and I always have to come to class tired and in sweatpants.”

Some universities only focus on how to dance or how to choreograph. At Kent State, however, the dance division gives a broad overview of the many aspects of dance.

“They learn how to create dance, how to produce dance, how to write about dance, how to speak about and advocate for dance,” said Kimberly Karpanty, associate professor of dance. “They have a broad range of skills in the field, as opposed to only being able to dance or choreograph.”

The wide variety of classes gives students more options when pursuing a career, said Shearer.

“We create really strong performers,” she said. “We take students who have limited experience in modern dance for the most part, but in four years they are competitive for jobs in a lot of different areas.”

Students also have to attend outside performances and then write a critique essay for a composition class.

Learning how to write about and critique dance is very beneficial to a dancer, said Nicole Cutone, a senior dance performance major.

“Especially in our composition classes for choreography, I don’t think we realize when we are sitting there how much we learn,” she said. “I think that’s all helped me become a better dancer, performer and choreographer.”

Along with the students, the dance faculty also dedicates a significant amount of time to the dance division.

“We work really long hours,” Karpanty said. “But we’ve also chosen to do something we love, so it’s better to do something you love 10 hours a day than something you hate.”

For students, it takes a true love of dance to survive the program, said Emma Stroemple, a freshman with an undecided major and dance minor.

“You really have to want to be here,” she said. “If you have any feeling of wanting to slack off, this is not the place for you.”

Preparing for their big break

Melissa Knestaut, a senior who is double majoring in dance performance and therapeutic recreation, recently received an offer to audition at the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange in Takoma Park, Md. – a result of five years of hard work and portfolio building.

This is typical of many dance majors. Senior year is time for the dancers to send out their portfolios to prospective dance companies or schools.

Students begin assembling their portfolios freshman year. Throughout their college years they continue to build and add to it.

“Now when I look at my portfolio I’m like, ‘Wow, I can’t believe I did all that stuff,'” said Knestaut. “Having the hard copy is really great to be able to look back at.”

As they are building up their portfolios over the next few years, the faculty assists the students through the whole process.

“They really did get on our cases about having this and this done by a certain time,” said Race. “So we were ready, because all along we had what we needed.”

Race sent out her portfolio to the Voci Dance Company in Orlando, Fla., the 6th Day Dance Company in Seattle, Wash. and Carnival Cruise Lines. She received feedback from all three.

“I was just excited to even put (my portfolio) out there,” Race said, “And so the fact that I not only heard from one of them, but from three of them, I was ecstatic.”

Students choose several cities they would like to live in and then send out their portfolios to dance companies within their chosen destinations.

“It’s become more exciting than nerve- wracking,” Cutone said. “It gives me more comfort to know that even though it’s a hard profession, we know so many people that come from our background here at Kent State with (a dance) degree who have gone and created a life.”

Cutone received feedback from the Dancin’ Unlimited Jazz Dance Company in Fairfax, Va.

Despite the excitement of graduating and starting a career, it’s difficult to leave, Race said.

“It’s sad because we’re leaving a group of people that we’re all really close with,” she said. “But it’s super exciting to move forward and see just where our education is going to take us.”

Contact College of the Arts reporter Lauren Crist at [email protected].