Open Letter to Mills College President

Dear Mills College President,

It is with great sadness that I have come to hear about Mills College fading out their undergraduate dance program.  I’m not writing this letter to yell, or cause a riot, but to make you consider a world where every major dance university decided to cut their dance programs to make their college “more contemporary and competitive.”  As a past college student at College at Brockport in upstate New York, the importance of a liberal arts college that encompasses a dance curriculum of technique, composition, and critical engagement is a rarity. Many programs focus on technique, style, and performance as they are more conservatory based, and push their students in the direction of becoming a performer.

College at Brockport taught me to have a passion in my choreography, to critically evaluate and analyze my performances, and to be able to utilize theory based arguments in my writing.  So, I have three questions for you.  One, are you going to deprive the next generation the option to receive this kind of education from your distinguished dance professors?  Two, are you ready to explain your decision of fading out the dance program to generations that you have deprived of the next Trisha Brown, Molissa Fenley, or Nora Chipaumire?  And three, how do you expect to continue to grow your graduate program if there is no undergraduate program to inspire, collaborate, and drive one another?

We need to change education.  To bring back the importance of the arts.  Dance is in numerous basic subjects that are studied such as anatomy, math, and english.  The impact dance has on individuals is more than just a class at a college, but prepares students to understand collaboration, creativity, and focus.  I urge you to reconsider your decision and think about your children, grandchildren, and other young people who are important in your life.  Would you deprive them of such a dance college program that has been around since 1938?  Remember that our lives are full of choices, our actions affect more than just ourselves, and dance is the closest thing we have to magic.

Sincerely,
Chantel

Sign the petition today here – https://www.change.org/p/mills-college-save-mills-dance-major

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The Importance of Mentors in the Performing Arts

mentorYou can’t make it in this world alone, and the more mentors, supporters, and trustworthy people by your side the more success will follow. In every stage of my life I have had people to look up to and strive to be like. When your kid, those people are your parents (who will always be you biggest cheerleaders and mentors), but as you get older, develop interests, those role models become people in your field.

In undergraduate school I had so many teachers that I could look to in the dance world for guidance, but there was one professor that stood out, Bill Evans. He wasn’t only an internationally known choreographer, dancer, and teacher, but he was someone who truly believed in his students, worked with them on their weakness, pushed them to be better whether it was technique or rep classes or even performances. He taught his students to dig deeper, be more then what people saw on stage, and to never put bounders on yourself. He believed that I could make it in the dance world and was there to support me when I decided I wanted to go to graduate school.

Another mentor I had was the person who gave me my first real job after college, Natalie Rogers-Cropper. You may recall me talking about her in my post ‘My First Job at a Dance Company.’ Natalie was the best mentor a recent dancer graduate could have since she was a graduate of Juilliard, dance professionally all over the world, and was/ is the Assistant Rehearsal Director and the Director of Garth Fagan Dance School. When she hired me she took a strong interest in my life and job goals. At the time, I wanted to start my own dance company so she helped provide me with the tools to connect me closer with the Company by working with the development and marketing departments, as well as allowed me to take classes at the school for free during the year and during the intensive summer program. She helped me strive at the company, pushed me to new levels, and when I was ready to move to my next level by going to graduate school she supported that as well by providing recommendations.

Being out of the dance world for the last few years (besides teaching ballet) showed me that I still need to be apart of it in someway. Now that my dreams have grown, and my interests have led me towards artist relations and tour organization and management, I have spent the last three years understanding how working with multiple types of artists at various career levels, as well as with various programming departments.  It is important to have a team that can be trustworthy and have your back. So, how do you find these people and know they are the right fit for you? I think it is about intuition. When I went to college, I did research and looked at the instructors. When I applied for an internship at Garth Fagan Dance I had my own reasons and goals for applying.  In both cases getting accepted into college and getting hired as an employee the organization had their reason for taking me on as a challenge.  Knowing where you stand with people and where they stand with you is important with any kind of relationship if there is going to be trust.  With that trust, a bond is form, and those kind of people become the most important people in your life because they help to pave a path for you to succeed.

Interested in finding out more about Natalie Rogers-Cropper or Bill Evans?  Click on the name links!

A College Performing Arts Degree is Worth More Than You Think

I could sit here and spout off a ton of statistics from society that tells the up and coming student that a performing arts degree from a four year college institution is not worth your time.  I could also tell you that you are going to fail at life if you don’t get a practical degree in a study such as business or economics.  Well, I am hear to tell you that society and those statistics are wrong.

I have a Bachelors degree in Dance (concentration in performance and choreography) from the College at Brockport in upstate New York.  Like all artistic eighteen year old dance majors I had big dreams of becoming a professional dancer.  As I took more classes and became more immersed in the program, I was introduced to my first composition (choreography) class.  I choreographed my first piece to ‘For Blue Skies’ by Strays Don’t Sleep.  My dancers had so much energy, passion, and really connected to the music.  It meant the world to me that my work had the possibility of representing the dance department in a showcase to my peers at the college.  For those of you not performing art majors – Usually in performing art college programs your work has to pass a professor board for each showcase or performance.   In my first review, my work was on probation to be put into the showcase because of the music I had chosen; music with lyrics were not looked at highly in dance works at my college.  I was asked to look into changing the music or getting rid of the music before the final round.  So, I sat in a studio for over four hours listening to every piece of music I had access to on campus.  After listening to everything I had, nothing gave the choreography the same feel.  I decided to go into my final round of judgement keeping the same music I originally chose, but expanded the beginning movement phrase without music.  As my piece came to a close, I was asked why I still kept the same music?  I told the board that the music was chosen after the piece was created and the music was the missing piece to the work; to take that out would create a hole.  Needless to say that answer got my piece into the showcase.

The process of this showcase taught me to be confident in the choices I make, and to stand up for what I believe in.  This has carried with me throughout my personal and professional life.  This process also taught me about collaboration and that your superiors are not always right.  As I was leaving the auditorium to go backstage, I was listening to the audience discuss the various dances.  This one group of students were discussing ‘For Blue Skies.’  Being the nosy person I am, I began to listen to their conversation.  The students were agreeing that ‘For Blue Skies’ was the only piece that they truly understood and they really connected to the music.  Like any nineteen-year-old, my head got a little big, and I thought to myself, “Take that professors!  I was right and you were wrong” and then I may have gone into a back hallway on my way backstage and did a celebratory running man.  Now that it is nine years later it wasn’t that I was right or that the professors were wrong about the choice of music or that the professors did or didn’t believe in the piece, but that art (performing or visual) is subjective.

So why do I think a college performing arts degree is worth anything?

  1. It teaches you about creativity.  Always forcing you to thinking outside the box and in multiple directions when you are making decisions.
  2. It teaches you about collaborations and team work with your peers as well as your superiors, and understanding that not every choice needs to be in agreement; sometimes compromises are a good thing.
  3. Confidence – In today’s society, I think that parents can be over-protective.  Not allowing your child to fail can become a detrimental mistake as they become adults.  Sometimes people need to fall to build up confidence, and the art world tears you down and rebuilds you one brick at a time.
  4. The three Ds (Discipline, Dedication, and Determination) – The performing arts doesn’t allow you to do anything half assed.  You need to have drive behind every step you take whether it is choreographing, performing, or taking class.  You need to be constantly giving 110% everyday.
  5. Always go with your gut – Not all feedback is good feedback, and sometimes you just have to take a leap of faith.

Have I convinced you yet that a college performing arts degree is worth anything?  If I have not yet let me leave you with this one other thought.  After I graduated from College at Brockport (Class of 2008), I had get a job at the worse time it could possibly be as a college graduate.  The market was taking a nose dive and people were losing their jobs left and right.  I took an internship in NYC for a short period of time and when I decided I wanted to move to Rochester, New York I applied to every job I could that related to dance.  I was hired at three dance studios as an instructors where I taught ballet and modern, as well as hired as the School Assistant to the Garth Fagan Dance School Director (Natalie Rogers-Cropper) at Garth Fagan Dance.  I may have been working four jobs, but it was in my field of study and led to many doors opening in the dance and performing art world; including becoming Assistant Company Manager of an internationally-known dance company by the time I was twenty-three years old.  Will your parents get weird looks and comments from people when they say that their kid is “dance major”? Absolutely, but you will gain so much more than just a piece of paper when you leave.