I cannot claim that mine has been among the most social or the most collaborative of Juilliard experiences. As a dancer, though, my ability to appreciate classical music, jazz, opera, and drama has increased exponentially during my two-and-a-half years here in a way that could not have happened anywhere else. My appreciation for the other art forms has grown solely through my glimpses into the lives of fellow students.
It is ingrained in us upon arrival at Juilliard that the most valuable connections we can make while at school are with each other, as our various artistic paths are bound to cross again in future eras. But one thing that isn’t emphasized is that the intertwining of diverse artistic lives gives way to richer individuality now. Every one of these interactions, however transient, is valuable beyond measure. So much so, that instead of urging everyone to find time in their crazy schedules to seek out interdivisional collaboration, I would say, “Simply take note of the small interactions that are bound to already be there.” Slowing down the game is a skill that most of us must sharpen anyway if we are to gain the most from our time here.
A lightbulb went on one day as I began to understand the importance of spatial awareness in areas outside of dance. Out of curiosity I was asking violist Hannah Ross about her Alexander Technique classes, assuming that the alignment would help with injury prevention and fullness of her sound. However, as she answered, I realized that breath is vital to a musician’s phrasing. Why shouldn’t it be vital to my own movement phrasing as well? Hannah then ventured into the realm of imagery as she described sending energy down through the ground and feeling the space above her, behind her, and in front of her as she played; instantly, I found myself watching an inner slide show from my own training. I saw one of my previous ballet teachers, Margaret Swarthout, at the barre, showing us how to activate the balancing counterforce that goes out in all directions from the center, creating an axis and point of attack. Then I flashed to Risa Steinberg, teaching a third-year modern class at Juilliard and describing the very same force that works in opposition and simultaneously sends energy forward and back from the center. And then I landed in my first-year Graham Technique class. My teacher, Terese Capucilli, begged us to “take this information outside the classroom. I beg you to feel the space above your head as you walk and climb up and down the stairs.”
Of course, this physical awareness takes extra pressure off the knee joints, which are subject to wear and tear. Yet as a result of my conversation with Hannah, I found that the issue of commanding the space is no different for a dancer than it is for any other performing artist, and as a consequence of allowing the body to be aligned, the advent of injury in any type of performance is greatly diminished. We all have a human body.
I most treasure the love of outreach that I have gained here, not from any one interaction with another student but from the spirit of the Juilliard student body as a whole. Among the students there really is a contagious need to be of service to others. I have been consistently fed with this spirited generosity from students of all divisions since the moment I arrived, and if I have unsuspectingly benefitted from it, then all of us must have. I feel a rekindling of inspiration whenever I come across little gems like the following scenarios.
I was awestruck by the unbridled enthusiasm of my orientation leaders—one actor in particular later jokingly told me his enthusiasm had been fake, but his exuberance had had such a profound effect on me that I wasn’t at all disillusioned when he said that.
I have also found at Juilliard what I call the spirit of selflessly using your craft to uplift-the-life-of-another, and that to me is the whole point of the performing arts, after all. I will always look up to actor Alejandro Rodriguez (Group 38,drama), who led an ARTreach meeting during my first year. In an ephemeral moment, he gave such credence to my inkling of an idea for a Juilliard trip to Guatemala that it is now a real-live trip that will happen this May. And one final anecdote: my classmate Macy Sullivan remarked to me once that her Saturday morning had been all too hectic and that everything that could have gone wrong did go wrong. When her Gluck Community Service Fellowship group finally did its performance, though, everything was fine—it had dissolved the tension of the day. Thus has my love for outreach been stimulated through my interaction with other students.
I have described only a few of the enlightening conversations I’ve had with artists outside my craft. Each one of us has the opportunity during our four or six or more years here to share the basics of our craft with other students outside of school-related activities. The objective is pure enrichment, as it has no formality attached. To quote third-year dancer Zack Winokur, “There’s nothing wrong with having a sense of humor. It can help.”
In hopes of striking up further conversation, I have shared some of my own observations that stem from chance scattered moments of interdivisional connection. I imagine that a heightened awareness of those around me is a force that will only deepen my artistry.