Pursuing an academic degree doesn’t mean students have to leave dance behind.
Kellie Drexl approached the end of high school with trepidation. “I’d been training at a studio and competing for 10 years,” she says, “and I knew I couldn’t give that up.” Though she didn’t want to pursue a dance major, she couldn’t bear cutting dance out completely. So during her freshman year at the University of Florida, she auditioned for Danza, a student-run performing group. Now a senior and Danza’s president, Drexl performs in seven pieces per show and choreographs. “It’s replaced my studio life,” she says.
Most colleges offer ways for students to stay involved with dance, whether via dance teams or student-run organizations like UF’s Danza. Some schools, like Harvard University (which doesn’t offer a dance major), encourage interested students to take advantage of noncredit classes and guest-artist opportunities. Don’t let your high school students assume that forgoing a dance major or minor will mean the end of their dancing days—they just need to find the right extracurricular.
Join the Club
Drexl, a health education major, was drawn to the flexibility that Danza offered her as a member. Monday nights are mandatory, when the group either rehearses the show’s opening or closing number or a member teaches a technique class. Otherwise, team members can dance as much (or as little) as they want.
The company holds open auditions each semester. Choreography for Danza’s semester-end showcase is largely jazz and contemporary and is screened by the whole company. Most members perform in three or four pieces each semester. But Drexl says a third of the group dances in the maximum number of pieces—eight.
Fellow student Noelle Cummins joined another UF dance club, the Dancin’ Gators. The criminology major needed a break from the rigorous schedule of her high school dance team and hometown studio and felt she could moderate her participation in this student-run group. The Dancin’ Gators doesn’t have auditions and accommodates students who just want a weekly technique class, as well as those who want to dance in or choreograph for the semester-end showcase. Members can also participate in the club’s performance team, which will travel to Disney World this year. “If you take advantage of all the opportunities,” says Cummins, who is now president of the club, “it’s about 6–10 hours per week.”
Another plus is the club’s versatility, which has reinvigorated Cummins’ love for dance. “We have every level and style,” she says. “We do mostly contemporary, hip hop and jazz, but we also have hula, swing, salsa and Irish. It’s changed my outlook and given me back my drive.”
Ellen Eubanks is a finance major at the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg, where she spends 15–20 hours a week each fall semester practicing with the Dixie Darlings, a precision dance team that has performed at Southern Miss’ football games since 1954. Teammates practice Monday through Friday, for two to three hours each day (for which they receive two class credits). They must also put in three hours of outside conditioning to prepare for the high-energy game-day shows. Like Eubanks, about 90 percent of the Dixie Darlings are studio-trained dancers. “I look for that training,” says coach Tracy Smith, “because a technical background allows them to pick up the team’s jazz routines quickly.”
Things slow down in the spring: Daily rehearsals are over, though team members can take technique classes (taught by Smith) or join the team’s new competition group and perform at community events.
Despite the dance team’s hefty fall commitment, Eubanks finds time to be a sorority member. “I have to schedule my time out to the hour,” she says, “but on game day, when I think about being part of this team’s tradition, I just get chills.”
Study with the Masters
Nina Shevzov-Zebrun trained for a ballet career until the end of high school, when she decided to enter Harvard’s chemistry program. She takes class from renowned modern choreographers, made available through the dance program.
Despite the lack of a dance major, the program provides a range of for-credit and extracurricular opportunities. For instance, director Jill Johnson (DT, August 2011) brings guest artists to campus each semester (Dwight Rhoden last spring and Andrea Miller in 2013) to teach open master classes. These classes may also serve as an audition—each artist chooses a cast for an original work created for the semester-end showcase. When Shevzov-Zebrun was cast by Pontus Lidberg in spring 2013, she had to come back early from winter break to rehearse about eight hours a day for two weeks. “Then we rehearsed six hours a week until the show,” she says. “I’m not sure I’d have time to do it again, but it was an incredible experience.”
Interested students can also apply for the Emerging Choreographer program: Two or three are selected each semester and given work space and guidance from Johnson and current artists in residence.
Shevzov-Zebrun also takes advantage of noncredit technique classes, open to all and offered in conditioning, contemporary and ballet. Classes meet either once ($55) or twice ($75) per week or can be taken on a drop-in basis ($7 per class). DT
Julie Schechter is a dancer and New York City–based freelance writer.
Photos from top: by Jordan Albright, courtesy of Drexl; courtesy of Cummins; by Thomas Earle, courtesy of Shevzov-Zebrun