The life of a dance major: juggling between the acts

by Elise Reuter

Six dancers crowded around the break room table in Robinson, passing around a jug of Starbucks and pouring out mug after mug of coffee.

“This building never gets old,” said Kenna Sullivan, a senior from Glenview, Ill.

As president of the University Dance Company, Sullivan spends plenty of time at the studio between technique classes and company rehearsals.

“Most of my days are from 9 a.m. to 8 at night. Even on Sundays, there are different rehearsals going on from 12 to 6.”

Other company members chimed in, as they run schedules just as fast-paced as Sullivan’s. Some were trying to hold down jobs on top of rehearsals and schoolwork. Many were double-majors, taking on additional classes outside of dance. But everyone sitting around the table agreed that this was a lifestyle they had prepared for.

“It’s just kind of how we grew up. You get used to it,” said Emily Atchison, the company vice-president. “We drink a lot of coffee. And dancing kind of gets your adrenaline up, so after a rehearsal or a class I’m not usually tired.”

Many dance majors decide to take on an additional degree. They know that after graduation, juggling multiple jobs is sometimes the only way to pay the bills while pursuing a performing career.

According to a survey of the Five College Dance Department by Sarah Montgomery and Michael Robinson, 61 percent of graduates working in dance hold other jobs. This trend has shown an increase— as 53 percent of graduates from the 1990s held both dance-related jobs and additional work outside of dance, while before, only 24 percent of graduates held jobs in another field.

Dancing for the company can be almost as time-consuming as a part-time job. Rehearsals can last from two to four hours a week, depending on how many pieces dancers are selected for. On top of performances at the end of each semester, several other events take place over the course of the year. For example, the company is putting on an improvisational show at Watson Library today as part of the Campus Art Walk.

“I guess it just depends on the year. Whatever opportunity arises, we just go with it,” Sullivan said.

Last week, the company had the first in a series of four performances for the new OASIS (Open Art Stage in Showcase) series, which acts as a forum for artists to share their work and receive feedback. Many seniors are also choreographing pieces for New Dance, which is a showing specifically reserved for student work on Nov. 29 and 30.

“Usually you’re taking class all day, so your body’s pretty warmed up but you’re kinda worn down, so it comes down to mentally preparing to endure the long rehearsal,” said Alli Sierra, the company treasurer.

Between the long hours, sleep deprivation and soreness, the question of how these dancers make it through the day still stands. The answer? There is no secret.

It just takes persistence, an unshakable passion for dance— and a little coffee.

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