In the summer of 2015, Horizon fund scholar Hailey Bruce ’16 spent three weeks studying dance with the Parsons Dance Company in New York. While living on the Upper East Side, the St. Joseph, Mich. native took ballet and modern technique classes with company members, learned Parsons’ repertory, and studied choreography.
In addition to exploring a new city and studying her craft, Bruce, a dance and creative writing major, also learned something about herself.
“I have rarely felt so proud of myself as when, standing deep in the subway on my way from an American Ballet Theatre performance, a man asked me whether this particular E train was traveling uptown or downtown, and I knew the answer. “Uptown,” I said confidently. After a week of the Parsons Dance Intensive, I had begun to know my way around New York. And that was, after all, part of my interest in this particular program.
“Certainly there were other reasons – the fact that I had been obsessed by David Parsons’ choreography for years, for one. But my interest in New York was more practical. As an aspiring professional dancer, I expect to live there one day. I wanted to know if I, a Catholic school girl from tourist Michigan, was cut out for the Big Apple’s fast-paced life. By answering this man’s subway question correctly, I knew that, yes, I could be a New Yorker.
“The next question I had to ask myself at this program was whether I could really make it as a dancer. The Parsons Dance Intensive consisted of two parts: first, two weeks of technical training in ballet, modern, and Parsons repertory, and second, a week at the master Choreography Workshop. I was placed in Level III, which I had anticipated, and my classes were hard – also as expected. But I knew that I wasn’t there to be the best, I was there to improve.
“And improvement was unavoidable. Parsons’ goal was that we would pick up choreography quickly. As a dance major, I know that I have never been a quick study when it comes to choreography. But by the end of the two weeks, I noticed a change. I wasn’t the first to get it, and sometimes didn’t get all of it, but for me, getting most of it was an accomplishment. By basing my goals on my own level, I was able to get over the ever-present temptation to compare myself to others, and instead, celebrate each small improvement of my own progress.
“When I see how much better other dancers are than me, technically or artistically or both, it’s easy to doubt my career choice. It’s when I realize how much I still want to be a dancer and how much I have improved that I know I have to keep trying.
“I had a few of these moments in New York. One was on my birthday during a ballet class with Parsons’ newest company member, who was born, like me, in 1994. Taking class from a peer who has already made it, who has already exceeded you, can make you feel small. But then I thought about it for another minute – while most people turn twenty-one at the bar, I was turning twenty-one at the barre. No, I wasn’t at the level I wanted yet, but that’s why I went to an intensive.
“I kept this in mind throughout my three weeks of classes, but perhaps most especially, at the many performances I went to see. At each of these, as the performers bowed and the audience erupted in cheers, I felt that tightness behind my eyes and a building pressure in the back of my throat – the feeling of barely holding back tears. I don’t know what it is about watching someone bow – maybe it’s a little jealousy or some pent-up determination – but I want to cry.
“It reminds me that I’m working hard for a purpose, not because it’s what I’ve always done, or because I decided to major in it. Not because, at this point, it’s what’s expected of me. I want to dance professionally. I love what I do. And I can never lose sight of that, no matter what the outcome. This realization has come just in time for my senior research project, where the skills I developed and the lessons I learned about myself at Parsons will be key in making it a success. Going to an intensive refreshed my desire to work hard and make progress and I will bring that drive to my work at Denison this year.”