Making It Happen: Performing Ourselves
Aurora Vaughan, class of 2021
Rachel Neville, Courtesy Vaughan
“USC Kaufman prepared me for my career both inside and outside of the studio,” says graduate Aurora Vaughan (she/they). “Inside the studio, I’ve further learned how to glean information out of the movement and to search for context in everything. Outside of the studio, my time with Kaufman Connections gave me the tools to be able to teach dance with confidence and joy.” She also notes how classes like Dance Leadership taught her financial and marketing skills, which helped her when it came time to apply for jobs and create a budget for herself as a graduate.
In addition to training for the physically demanding work of a dance career, USC Kaufman constantly challenged Vaughan to think in-depth about dance: “Now that I’ve graduated, I realize how much I enjoy dissecting and continuously rediscovering dance as a social/cultural/artistic practice, even as I’ve been practicing and rehearsing on my own. I miss the intellectual rigor that was encouraged of us.”
During their senior year, Vaughan signed with Go2Talent Agency. And in the summer following graduation, Vaughan applied for and participated in the b12 Summer Research Festival, a monthlong contemporary dance workshop in Berlin. They stayed a few extra weeks in Berlin to check out the freelance dance scene, eventually traveling to Amsterdam and London. Now, she’s living in Brooklyn and dancing for Nimbus2, a Jersey City–based company, as well as teaching dance in studios across Manhattan.
Ausia Jones, class of 2020
Lee Gumbs, Courtesy Jones
Graduates from the class of 2020 stepped into a very abnormal dance industry. For Ausia Jones, she spent the first few months postgrad choreographing, painting and self-reflecting. Fortunately, it wasn’t long until she received a contract with Les Ballets Jazz de Montréal.
Before her graduation, the USC Kaufman careers services department set Jones and her peers up with headshots, resumés and reels. But Jones says the support went beyond these dance-career necessities. “Students received a stipend for senior projects and a career stipend, toward professional projects and development,” says Jones. “I was also able to meet with several USC Kaufman faculty to discuss my career goals. Based on my ambitions, faculty actually reached out to specific companies and directors on my behalf or gave me the name of contacts. These connections afforded me in person or, in some cases, private auditions in the U.S. and abroad.”
Moreover, Jones says USC Kaufman prepared her for the ever-changing industry’s landscape: “The dance world continues to evolve, and USC Kaufman embraced that at its inception with the idea of ‘The New Movement.’ The idea of creating hybrid dancers who have a base knowledge and exposure to multiple styles of dance and dance concepts impacted me as a mover, creator and thinker. I can confidently say that the diverse rep that we were able to perform and the faculty that we were able to train with physically and mentally prepared me for the career that I enjoy today.”
Adam Vesperman, class of 2020
Mike Esperanza, Courtesy Vesperman
When he arrived at USC Kaufman in 2016, Adam Vesperman was quickly introduced to a whole new world of dance. Before college, he was focused primarily on commercial dance—he grew up as a competition kid, and even starred in Billy Elliot: The Musical on the West End back in 2011. Learning concert dance forms through the work of choreographers like Crystal Pite, Dwight Rhoden and Paul Taylor was exciting for him, but muddled preconceived future plans. For clarity, he turned to his professors and the USC Kaufman career services department. He says, “The career services department was able to help me decipher where I wanted to be, what kind of dance I wanted to be doing and how I could get there.”
Vesperman explains that the career services department provided him with tools to deal with the business side of a professional career. “I learned a lot of skills to represent and advocate for myself as an independent artist,” he says. “How to read contracts, communicate with an agency or employer, put goals into action, budget money, utilize social media and networking, and the list goes on and on. We learned the importance of becoming a human Swiss Army knife: having many skills and being adaptable.”
After graduation, Vesperman, who’s represented by talent agency McDonald/Selznick Associates, moved north to the Hollywood area, and performances have started to pick back up. Like many USC Kaufman dancers, he amassed several professional credits while still a student. To date, he’s worked on projects for Phoebe Bridgers, half•alive, Julianne Hough and Delaney Jane, and has performed on “RuPaul’s Drag Race All-Stars” and “The Masked Dancer,” and done campaign work for fashion retailer Pull&Bear.
Jessica Muszynski, class of 2019
Anne Sophie Heroux, Courtesy Muszynski
For Jessica Muszynski, the versatile nature of the USC Kaufman program refined and strengthened her love for dance: “The ability to have a go at everything, and sometimes be forced to take classes I wasn’t necessarily thrilled about, I was able to discern what I truly enjoyed, and what I had a knack for.” She continues, “I found out that apart from dancing onstage, choreography is something that I wanted to pursue. The all-encompassing joy of creating and presenting my 30-minute-long senior project had me applying to festivals and writing grants postgraduation.”
Muszynski mentions how the program establishes support systems for years to come. “The relationships that I built at USC Kaufman are timeless,” she says. “There are moments and conversations from those years of different professors and peers giving profound encouragement at my lowest that are just etched into my memory, and I still think about them and smile today.”
Following her time at USC Kaufman, Muszynski joined Victor Quijada’s Montreal-based company, RUBBERBAND (Quijada is an artist in residence at USC Kaufman). When touring and performing became restricted due to the pandemic, she explored the local dance community. Soon enough, she met other dancers—Claire Campbell, Hannah-Jane Clutchey, Emma-Lynn MacKay-Ronacher—and together they formed the Bulbe Collective, a dance group featuring female emerging artists.
Zach Manske, class of 2021
Ray Nard Imagemaker, Courtesy Manske
“College life was really busy a lot of the time,” says Zach Manske, “but I love that lifestyle, and it prepared me for company life.” Postgraduation, he moved to Michigan to start rehearsing as a dancer with Grand Rapids Ballet. Thanks to his time at USC Kaufman, the transition wasn’t a drastic change of pace. “I didn’t feel like, ‘Oh, my gosh, dancing all day, every day is a foreign thing,’ but it was set in stone throughout those four years.”
Rehearsing and continually learning new rep at USC Kaufman foreshadowed the opportunities he’d have at Grand Rapids Ballet. “I was the only new company member this season, so I had to learn a lot of stuff quickly because everybody already knew a lot of the rep that we’re doing.”
His time at USC Kaufman also made him well-rounded as he stepped into the professional world. In addition to embodied practices, the faculty encourages intellectual dialogue about dance. Manske describes how “there’s always conversations happening about how we can further the field we’re in, which is important. I feel like USC Kaufman is developing artists that are using their agency to create the change they want to see.”