“It’s not where you take things from – it’s where you take them to.” -Jean-Luc Godard
Inspired … how I always felt at Western Michigan University. Inspired by my professors, the guest choreographers, the repétitéurs, the alumni and my peers. Inspired by their stories and experiences. Inspired to find my own voice. Inspired to trust that voice. Inspired to train and chisel my body into a vessel for that voice. Inspired to get to the next level. Inspired to give back.
That inspiration reaffirmed me when I felt rejected, steadied me when I stumbled, and picked me up when I fell; all of which you will experience in the professional dance world. With every dismissal, you dig in and dig deeper, until finally, you get your shot. I am proud to say that this small town girl used that inspiration and her WMU education to get to the bright lights of the windy city as a company member of DanceWorks Chicago!
Realistically, inspiration only gets you so far. Many, many artists are equally talented and deserving of the same job. So, what is it? What is that little extra something that opens the elusive door to the professional world that remains closed to so many? For me, WMU was that extra something. The program and people provided me with many tools to help open that door and transition into the professional world.
1. Theory CLASSES
An educated dancer is a desirable and hirable dancer. Proficiency in theory is every bit important as good technique. My required classes in choreography, ballet and modern history, roots in jazz, lighting and staging, and the senior seminar helped immeasurably. Knowing the origin of a dance genre provides the framework for the aesthetic and artistry. I learned how to write a professional resume which is your calling card and first impression at any audition. It is difficult to get to first cuts without an impressive resume. Choreographic experience is critical. At auditions, you may have to improvise, which is very difficult if not impossible to do without the proper background. A dancer knowledgeable in lighting and staging and the rules of the theater is an asset to any stage manager and the production staff. The dancers and production staff are spokes in the same wheel. When they work together, the show moves.
2. mock auditions and the audition process
There were ample opportunities at WMU for mock auditions to learn how to audition. Professors will run class exactly like an audition - teach a very quick combination, entertain few to no questions, and break you into groups of 4-8 to perform - called a “quick study.” The Department casts shows in this same way. At a professional audition, everyone is talented, but not everyone is confident. Mastering “quick study” is a feather in your cap that not only sets you apart at an audition, but also garners self-confidence.
3. Western Dance Project
Western Dance Project is the “company” within the Department of Dance that tours and offers concert performances, lecture demonstrations and master classes outside of campus. This is a real hands-on, internship-like opportunity run very much like a professional company. You learn how to be a working company dancer - we had our own repertoire of about 8 pieces, rehearsed as a company, and traveled to different venues to perform. Looking back, I was doing exactly what I am doing now, except on a smaller scale.
4. The Great Works Dance Project
The Great Works Dance Project at WMU commissions renowned repertoire to be set on the dancers in the department. A repétitéur is brought in to cast the piece and teach it to the dancers usually within a week’s time - called a residency. A typical residency is about a week long and includes long hours of rehearsal in an often tense environment under severe time constraints. Each residency is a little different, so you are introduced to varied teaching methods distinct to each experience. At DanceWorks Chicago, I have already been through four residencies, four weeks in a row, for which I felt very prepared after four years of similar experiences in WMU’s Great Works Dance Project.
5. Networking and alumni connections
The dance world is small and well connected. The professors at WMU are your liaison to the professional world. They want you to succeed and will make introductions on your behalf. The professors are so renowned and respected in the dance community that their names as references on my resume were a huge plus. They were very accommodating and happy to speak with anyone on my behalf. Seniors take an immersion trip after graduation. It is an amazing opportunity to meet artistic directors, take company classes, and begin making your own professional connections. WMU has a large, active alumni network. You can find WMU dance alumni in any of the big cities – which is an invaluable resource for networking, information and camaraderie.
Photos: Ashely Deran Photography