This summer, I completed my STEP Signature Project by embarking on a journey to American Dance Festival in Durham, North Carolina. I attended one of the biggest and most renowned Summer Intensives for professional and college level dancers not only in the United States, but in the world. I spent 6 ½ weeks taking class from countless faculty members and professional dancers, attending performances from world renowned companies, and meeting young dancers that inspired me in more ways than I could have imagined. Most importantly, I was able to fully engulf myself in my art form, without any other commitments, and spend an entire summer completely dedicating myself to what I love.
Putting myself in a brand new environment of artists helped me self-reflect in interesting ways, ultimately gaining confidence and focus for my dance career. Because I have been dancing my entire life, dance is simply a part of my identity. However, because I attended ADF with no one else I knew, I realized that my confidence is shaken in unfamiliar settings. It took me a few weeks to really let myself be completely me, and take my classes as if I am the confident dancer I know I am. By the end of the summer, I realized that stressing and worrying about unfamiliar situations is something I do quite often. In the future, I will be auditioning with hundreds of talented dancers that I don’t know, so being able to stay grounded and not feel anxious about new situations is something that will be instrumental for my success as a professional dancer. Looking back, I wish I would have become comfortable with the environment sooner because once I let go of my uneasy emotions, I felt empowered and free. By the end of the summer, I was so impressed by how well I thrived in such a challenging environment, that I felt a sense of accomplishment that will set the tone for all my future endeavors. I went to American Dance Festival for 6 ½ weeks, and held my own with some of the most talented dancers in the world. I felt as though I could do anything in the future, and I could thrive in New York or Chicago as a professional dancer.
During my first week in North Carolina, I faced a challenge that made me re-evaluate my worth as a dancer. ADF holds auditions for everyone who wants to participate in a repertory performance. A very small number of dancers get picked, but its an experience that everyone wants because you have the opportunity of working with some of the most innovative choreographers of today’s dance world. Of course, I auditioned, and unfortunately got cut by all 3 choreographers. At first, I was discouraged and disappointed, questioning my abilities and talents. However, I moved on and soon realized that my summer and my worth as a dancer were not determined by those 3 choreographers not picking me. I even got another opportunity to perform, when a peer asked me to be in her piece for the student choreography showcase. This experience changed my perspective, and showed me how to stay emotionally stable when faced with rejection, which will always be a large part of an artist’s career.
Another transformative aspect of my summer was the close relationships I made with 5 of my peers. On one Saturday, ADF hosted a panel of professional dancers to speak to us about how to stay financially stable in the dance world, and support yourself as a working artist. After the discussion, my group of friends and I went to someone’s house and talked endlessly throughout the night about our future goals, where we want to dance, and how we can make sure that we have a stable income (most of our biggest anxieties). I felt so connected, supported,a dn empowered to start my future. I will never forget the friendships I made, and I plan on reconnecting with them after graduation.
Lastly, the community at ADF was inspiring and reminded me of why I do what I do. This summer, we experienced many tragic events in America, including the Orlando shooting, police shootings, and the tragedy in Nice, France. Additionally, North Carolina had recently passed the HB2 law that alienated members of the transgender community. ADF hosted several dialogues and solidarity walks to unite our community and allow us to heal together. More importantly, the students organized open choreography forums for anyone to create work centered around equality of the tragic events, and share them. I felt as though I was a part of such a compassionate community of artists who all valued inclusion, equality, and social justice in ways that I had never seen before. I was reminded of the power of dance and art in general to unite people, trigger powerful emotions, and most importantly touch the lives of others.