When I saw Kele Roberson dancing at New York City Dance Alliance Foundation's college scholarship audition, I only had to watch a deep plié before writing down a 10 out of 10 on his score sheet and scribbling a giant star next to his name. Before he even had a chance to show off his incredible lines, I was mesmerized by his nuanced grace in even the simplest of movements.
He walked away from that audition with NYCDA Foundation's Dance Magazine College Scholarship worth $25,000 to the college of his choice, which happened to be Juilliard, where he was planning to attend this fall.
But shortly after winning, it turns out, his plans changed. I caught up with him earlier today to find out what happened.
In the ballet world, the phrase "going to college" is sometimes regarded as the musings of a dancer who's not really serious about their craft. Although schools like Juilliard and Bennington College have made degrees acceptable for modern dancers for decades, the competitive ballet world (which often follows a philosophy of "the younger the better") tends to discourage higher education.
But some ballet students just don't feel physically or emotionally ready to join a professional company at age 18, and others simply don't want to miss out on the college experience. So they choose to pursue an undergraduate dance degree to continue their ballet training in an academic atmosphere.
A dancer is taking over Juilliard: Damian Woetzel will be the school's next president, starting in July 2018.
It's just the latest feat for the former New York City Ballet star who's racked up an impressive list of accomplishments since retiring from the stage in 2008. After earning a master's degree in public administration from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard (while still dancing), he became director of both the Aspen Institute Arts Program and the Vail Dance Festival. He's also taken on wide-ranging side projects—from producing shows featuring Lil Buck, to being a visiting lecturer at Harvard Law School, to serving on President Obama's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.
Now, he'll be leading the country's most prestigious performing arts conservatory and its $110 million annual budget. He's only the seventh person in Juilliard's 112-year history to hold this position—and the first to come from the dance world. We spoke to him today to learn more.
Your pulse is racing. Your mouth feels dry. You can't stop sweating even though you feel cold. But what's most worrying is that you can't stop your hands and knees from trembling, even though you're only moments away from stepping on stage.
Performance anxiety can sabotage even the most talented dancers. Studies suggest that at least 50 percent of all performing artists—regardless of experience level—suffer from serious stage fright.
Which is why we're excited to hear that, in collaboration with edX, Juilliard just launched a series of online courses, and one of the first is "Conquering Performance Anxiety." Taught by Juilliard professor and sport psychologist Dr. Noa Kageyama, the class will cover mental techniques used by top athletes and musicians: strategies for staying in "the zone," insight on how to overcome mistakes on stage, tips for silencing self-doubt and more.
Unfortunately, unlike regular edX classes, the course is not free: It's a steep $497 for six weeks. But although it's targeted to musicians, the syllabus looks very much applicable to any performing artist, including dancers.
Musicians at this morning's protest. Via playbill.com.
One of the most valuable skills a performing artist learns is poise. The ability to handle themselves gracefully and confidently in difficult situations. That's just how some students from The Juilliard School reacted earlier today when protestors from the hateful Westboro Baptist Church visited their campus. The students and their supporters were met with abhorrent signs, homophobic slurs and anti-Semitic statements. According to an article on Playbill's website, the Juilliard group led a counter-protest with a very different tactic: They made a joyful noise. World-class musicians and singers from the school played several songs, including "Amazing Grace," "When the Saints Go Marching In" and "The Star-Spangled Banner." Talk about a striking contrast.
Playbill reports that the hour-long event was led by three members of the church, known for protesting at soldiers' funerals and openly harassing LGBTQ individuals. Sixty to 100 Juilliard students and arts supporters, organized under the name of "God Loves Jazz," participated by holding signs, playing music or standing peacefully in solidarity. Only a few engaged with the WBC group or joined in the shouting. Both camps were under supervision by law enforcement and were corralled by respective police pens about 50 feet apart.
Just hearing that this happened is hard to fathom. While we can't even try to wrap our heads around WBC's thinking, being angry that our fellow artists are being attacked is understandable. It's what we do with that anger that matters. Slinging back hateful words is easy. Exhibiting poise in the face of adversity is not. That's why these students' reactions spoke volumes.
What exactly was the WBC protesting this time? For one, the arts, which apparently is a large root of all evil in America. (Yes, this is also news to us.) The group's website states the following about today's Juilliard event: "If you had taught those children to invest 5% of the energy they use for the vanity called "The Arts," America would not be leading the world in racing to destruction. Clarifying, God will not ever have idolatry, fornication, adultery, divorce and remarriage (which Christ said is adultery, at Luke 16:18, and other places) sodomy, same-sex marriage, murder, lying, stealing and all the rest of your proud sin, including your awful pride."
Well, then. In response, here's a sign held by one of the pro-arts attendees.
If there is a silver lining in any of this, it's the artists' remarkable poise. Aside from playing spiritual songs, they also performed a very special arrangement titled "Rick Rolling the Westboro Baptist Church." Yes, it is indeed a stirring rendition of Rick Astley's "Never Gonna Give You Up." Thank God for artists.
When I was in high school, I visited the college counselor's office with other students to talk about what we wanted to major in. One by one, she asked us about our plans. "Teaching? Great, here's a list of top programs nearby." "Engineering? Fantastic, check out these resources." "Dance?" Cue, the chirping crickets. (Thankfully, my dance teacher lent me her copy of the Dance Magazine College Guide, which I decorated with dog-ears and Post-Its.)
If you've ever wondered how performing arts programs stack up, I'm happy to direct you to the first professionally-ranked listing of performing arts colleges worldwide. This year, QS World University Rankings, which analyzes troves of data to rank colleges around the globe, included a category for performing arts. QS' top 100 list includes schools that offer concentrated study in music, drama and/or dance. To see if your school made the list, click here.
Unsurprisingly, The Juilliard School took first place. While American institutions make up 26 of the 100 spots, the list features schools from 27 countries.
While a list like this is a great resource, it isn't dance-specific. Here's a deeper look into some of the top dance options we've covered in DM:
Juilliard (#1), Indiana University (#10) and Harvard (#17): Click here to spend a day in the life of a dance student at each of these schools.
University of California, Los Angeles (#17): One of several programs that offers a pre-college summer workshop to give you a taste of undergrad life before you apply
Tisch School of the Arts at New York University (#22): If you're looking for a fast track into the professional world, read about Tisch and other schools with three-year degrees.
Harvard (#17), Yale (#25), Columbia University (#39) Princeton (#42): Dance does exist in the Ivy League! These schools (except Columbia) don't have an official dance major, but they do boast notable faculty.
SUNY Purchase (#31): If you live for the stage, schools like Purchase have their own touring companies to give you more performance opportunities.
Florida State University and University of Iowa (both ranked in the second half of QS' list): Dance-specific study abroad programs are rare, but these schools have immersive dance experiences in France and Brazil.
If you're just starting your college search, check out the Dance Magazine College Guide, which has info on more than 600 dance programs in one place, and advice on auditioning, choosing a program, paying for school and more.