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About Me:

My name is Olivia and I am a senior at Butler University. I spend most of my time in Lilly Hall as a BFA Dance Performance major. When not in rehearsal or ballet class, I write papers for my English Literature second major. In my super-abundant, never-lacking, this-is-highly-sarcastic spare time, I attempt to cook in my apartment kitchen, watch Youtube videos of ballet, knit sweaters that never seem to come to an end, and read books both silly and serious. If I could take any class at Butler just for kicks, I'd go for DiffyQ.

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Posts Tagged “dance major”

Butler Best Memories: Senior Year

This brings us to senior year, and to the end of my time at Butler. Senior year wasn’t always easy, but I finally felt like I could put all the pieces together. I felt more aware of what I did not know and what I had learned; I started to look outwards, toward life outside of a structured school environment. Senior year was both incredibly busy and extremely reflective. In short, I became a sap. Good memories and great friends will do that to you.

Well, before senior year technically started, I stayed in Indy for nine weeks of Butler Summer Institute, researching Anglo-Celtic literature. This is probably the most ambitious/difficult thing I’ve attempted in academics — and while I didn’t wholly succeed, I learned so much from the process. I’m extremely grateful to my mentor, the English Department, and the BSI program for the opportunity. I reference my experience constantly in conversations. If you have the scholarly inspiration and the time, I would highly recommend applying to participate in BSI.

So began my last year at Butler with the first of many lasts — my final Block Party. I worked at the Butler Catholic Community table, greeting friends as they passed by, thinking about the year to come. (Also, whether it was going to rain or not. If I remember correctly, it did, and we had to seek shelter in the student union.)

Sigma Rho Delta (as well as many non-Sigma Rho dance majors) went to the Indianapolis Gala performance again in the fall. I had mixed opinions about the bill, and being able to discuss artistic choices (read: argue about them) with other dancers was lovely. It’s like the old stereotype of college you find in slightly dated books: people sitting in a tiny room, talking late into the night about philosophy and artistic ethics and what causes they plan to march for over the summer. Okay, it didn’t go quite like that, but when I’m seventy, I bet I’ll remember it through these sepia lens of nostalgia!

Then came the last Freshman Retreat with the BCC. Here the leadership team shows its true colors. I began to realize how important I found the BCC about halfway through my four years at Butler, and if the last three months are any indication, it will continue to grow in importance as I look back at my time in Indy. (Same with character classes, dance history, piano classes, and modern classes, actually — and I’m sure many others will appear as the years wear on).

Halloween came, and I finally got it together enough to make a real costume. So far, I’d considered my most successful costume to be the Boy Scout uniform borrowed from my dad my sophomore year. However, I didn’t actually make it, so it probably shouldn’t count as much as my bird costume this year. I think I had as much fun making it as I did wearing it. Ahoy, maties! (Also, I never would have finished it in time if my boyfriend had not helped — thank you!)

In the spring… the Super Bowl came to Indianapolis. It was madness, kind of like March madness, except colder.

And I continued the fine tradition of knitting during the Super Bowl and finally FINALLY finished my lace circle which is large and beautiful and the most finicky thing I’ve ever knit. Cue awkward picture — notice the eyes, blurred from weaving in the million ends of lace-weight wool.

All January to March, I flew and drove and scuttled every which way to auditions. It was exhausting, but having gone through it once makes it not nearly as intimidating. (Ish.) It was a beautiful spring day in Tulsa went I traveled to audition for Tulsa Ballet II, and the weather matched my mood and relief when I got a contract with their second company. Advice for auditioning: Be respectful but be confident. You are a human being and deserve to be treated with dignity. Treat your fellow dancers with the same respect and kindness you would like to receive.

Our last performance with Butler Ballet was bittersweet indeed — as particularly emotional friends were quick to make known. You can see the traces of tears in our smiles. My senior year of dancing was full of ups and downs: injuring my foot during Nutcracker rehearsals in October, rehearsing for Por Vos Muero which is much harder than it seems at first, learning Swanhilda in Coppélia... All these opportunities taught me more than I realized at the time. Even just in the first two weeks at Tulsa, I’ve thought about that last year of dancing at Butler and made little choices throughout my days based on what I learned. I’M SO SAPPY, I’m sorry. But it’s true.

Also, my experience with Coppélia was so much fun, I still find it a bit surreal. There were about four days of actual freaking out in the two months of rehearsals, but the rest… I was oddly calm. I think it’s because I was allowed to act outraged or mischievous or in love or uncertain. Also, I gained a heck of a lot more stamina.

Thus we skipped our way through the four years. I met beautiful people, danced in amazing pieces, learned the difference between major and minor scales. I realized I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was, which probably made me a bit wiser. I gained immeasurable confidence, and though I still lack some necessary restraint, I think I’ve learned the trick of being happy most situations. Like I said in the beginning of this sappy post, senior year was the year of putting together the pieces. Maybe that is the liberal arts are supposed to do.

I hope you gather from this that going to college as a dance major was absolutely worth it in my opinion. I think it was the right choice for me, and I’m so happy I ended up at Butler for the experience.

Professionalism

As of last week, I am a grown-up dancer, earning my living in the most improbable of ways… the arts. After this week, I will also be able to add “teacher” to my life experiences list, since Monday was my first day helping with the Indianapolis Children’s Choir day camp. This makes me profesh, correct?

As ones enters college, it behooves him/her to think about beginning to practice the professional attitudes that will demonstrate maturity and help get the job done. Though you will be student in college, there is no reason you cannot act like a professional. If there’s one thing I learned during this most recent year’s audition season, it’s that you command more respect if you act in a professional manner which indicates you feel you deserve said respect. Basically, act mature, and people will treat you as such.

The Butler Department of Dance has a Professional Practices class you must take as a new student. I know there is a pharmacy equivalent, and the Intro to the Discipline class acts as a sort of professionalism class for the English Lit and Creative Writing Majors. And of course, it’s only way after the fact that I appreciate the class…

  • Maturity means stifling small complaints. If you see error, point it out respectfully and only to effect some sort of necessary change, then stop. Don’t complain for the sake of complaining.
  • Maturity means remaining calmer, more focused, and more eager to learn than you actually want to be or than those around you are. Maturity means getting it right quickly and consistently. Maturity means occasionally taking on extra tasks with a smile.
  • Maturity means showing respect for the job at hand, whether it seems too daunting or too little. No work of art lacks worth, and the more of yourself as an artist you can pour into a project, the more fulfilling it will be, both for you and for those around you.

This summer, I’m plunging headfirst into the real world, and old, tired sayings are gaining reality and importance the more I shed that snakeskin of student. More than ever, I wish I had internalized the gravity of a positive attitude sooner.

College will be challenging, with its incredibly multi-faceted demands on time and energy. However, a positive attitude manifested in mature professionalism really does make a difference, providing the biggest returns on the effort you give to your college (or professional) activities.

So life, bring on the next challenge!

Ugh, sorry to sound so preachy. But with all the earnestness I can muster, this really is true.

Dance Department Basics: Butler Ballet

Butler Ballet is the name of the Department of Dance’s “performance component” (as it says on the official website), the title of company putting on productions in Clowes Memorial Hall and soon the Howard L. Schrott Center. For instance, I danced in the Butler Ballet’s performance of Coppélia this past spring. It is also the name of a class the dance majors take most or all of their semesters at Butler University: I have “Butler Ballet” as a class on my transcript each semester.

As a class, Butler Ballet has a class code, credit hours, and ultimately a grade. Currently, it meets:

  • Monday 4:40 – 5:30
  • Tuesday 3:40 – 6
  • Thursday 3:40 – 6
  • Saturday 8 – 5

This is not to say that we are in Lilly Hall from 8 am to 5 pm every Saturday… only sometimes! Butler Ballet, though scheduled as a class, is more of a potential class — you may be called at any (or all) of these times throughout the semester.

If I had to generalize, I would say I had several hours on Saturday, full Tuesday and Thursdays with maybe an hour or half hour gap in the rehearsals, and Monday rehearsals some of the time. However, it really just depends on the role. Dancing Swanhilda in Coppélia, I not only had full Butler Ballet times, but also extra rehearsals on Wednesday afternoons. When Kevin Irving visited Butler to set Nacho Duato’s Por Vos Muero, we danced from 3:30 – 6 on Monday, 2:10 – 6 Tuesday/Thursday, and 3:30 -5:30 on Wednesday, plus Saturdays. However, rehearsal periods in normal circumstances are limited to the periods set forth by the Butler Ballet class schedules.

And that’s how Butler Ballet rehearsal periods work.

My homemade tutu lasted for about two years — and now is completely dead, falling apart and saggy, the tulle torn. Oh well.

Getting a BFA

How useful is a college degree in dance?

It depends. It depends on your professional goals, your personal work ethic, and your degree plan.

Getting a college degree and then having a successful career in professional ballet/dance used to be an oddity — once upon a time, getting a college degree would indicate the opposite of employability. No more. Things are slowly shifting in the dance world; just as higher education is becoming more widespread in general, so too in the field of professional dance.

Where do you want to dance? Some companies and directors still dislike the idea of employing a college graduate. However, I think this tide is turning, and others embrace a more thoroughly educated dancer.

A college degree is not a certificate saying one has jumped through all the necessary hoops. A college degree is not a piece of paper representing four more years of training. Instead, it is an opportunity for a broad education, the possibility of learning not just technique, but technique in a variety of areas, history, acting, music, costuming, production elements, theory, choreography, improvisation… A college degree means you are exposed to a huge vault of knowledge sometimes unavailable to dancers who immediately jump to the professional world. Which brings us to the next point.

If you have ambitions of being a professional dancer, then you must have tremendous work ethic to make your time at college an asset. You can coast through college, just as you can coast through any other life experience — it is absolutely up to you to synthesize all the information you receive.  Attending college does mean taking yourself off the job market for four years. In a professional dance career, your youthful years are precious… since as we all know those ankles won’t hold up forever…

If you do go to college, you have to be committed. You have to inhale everything that is offered to you. If you do this, I absolutely think getting a college degree before dancing professionally is worth it. (I mean, this sort of attitude applies toward most things… But especially toward a college education in preparation for a career as a professional dancer!)

So when you think about whether or not you want a college degree as you pursue your goal of dancing professionally, consider your own skills, your work ethic, your commitment to a broad knowledge base (which, after all, is one of the biggest advantages of going to college), and the degree plan in question.

Do you want a program based in classical ballet? (Like Butler?) Do you want a program that also offers other techniques? (Which, in my humble opinion, and in the opinions of many other directors, is a very good idea.) Do you want a program with a focus on choreography? on pedagogy? on arts administration? A program that loads on as many elective classes as possible?

With the growing number of programs which offer a degree in dance, it’s slowly becoming easier to find a college program which will help, not hinder, your dreams of dancing professionally. I can say with certainty that I was not ready for the professional world straight out of high school. Now, with the diverse classes I’ve received in dance history, music, pedagogy, and so on, and with experiences performing a role like Swanhilda or a work like Por Vos Muero, I feel more ready than ever to start next season with Tulsa Ballet II, to try to produce the highest quality work I can, to perform as an artist, not as a tentative dancer holding her breath in hopes the piece will be okay.

Deciding to go to college before dancing used to be an unusual and not always helpful decision — but no more. Consider your situation very carefully when deciding if (and with what program) you want to study. But I can say I’m so happy I went to Butler for my BFA in dance performance!

The new dance BFA, BA, and BS degree-holders!

Sorry if this post sounds a bit admissions-pamphlet-y… I just like to think it’s my natural enthusiasm shining through!

 

After Graduation (i.e. Employment)

What does a dance major/English lit major do after graduation? After all, those two majors — a BFA and a humanities, liberal arts BA — hardly lend themselves to employment, right? WRONG.

This summer is shaping up to be quite a busy one. Besides my ongoing French independent study (which, yes, takes between two and three hours a day), I’m also preparing for two other short-term summer jobs. Also, I’m interviewing for another.

Also, I’m sorting through the mass of items I accumulated at Butler over the course of four years. This is what comes from never moving out completely, then suddenly transporting all of it home at once:

This was just the first load... Multiply by four, then square. That's how much stuff I am sorting/donating/etcing.

But back to the important things, those things your parents will ask you when you tell them you want to major in Dance Performance and English Literature… What kinds of jobs can you get?

This summer I:

  • am interviewing for a position as a substitute teacher at a local ballet studio. Teaching is always an option, even for those still in school, especially if you have taken pedagogy classes.
  • am dancing in the Southern Illinois Music Festival’s productions of The Firebird and Petrouchka.
  • am teaching movement classes at the Indianapolis Children’s Choir day camp.

Then in July it’s off to Tulsa to start with Tulsa Ballet II — time to return to the real world after four years of college. I suppose it will be a bit like my time as a trainee at the Richmond Ballet… but I guess I’ll find out when I get there. For now, I’m plenty busy writing pages of French, learning Firebird choreography off of Youtube, and developing the class plan for the ICC kids.

And those are the various odd jobs I’m doing this summer by virtue of my BFA/BA degrees! (Well, these are mostly from my BFA, but I like to flatter myself into thinking the BA helps me communicate clearly, an essential part of any job.) (Except, you know, these posts tend to be extremely rambling, so perhaps I’m not presenting myself to my best advantage. Oh well.)

College: What I Learned

This past Tuesday, I took the Department of Dance’s comprehensive exam to qualify for high honors in my dance BFA major. (Ugh, the honors system is kind of confusing, is never fully articulated, and — for Latin honors — makes me really mad. Let’s not go there.) With a handful of other brave souls, I sat down to four hours and thirty-one pages of a test on all the required classes for the BFA major.

Required classes include:

  • Ballet Technique
  • Pointe
  • Modern Technique
  • Jazz Technique
  • Body Placement
  • Masterworks of Dance
  • Music Theory for Dance
  • Choreography 1
  • Choreography 2
  • Improvisation
  • Spanish Character
  • Slavic Character
  • Butler Ballet
  • Teaching Analysis of Classical Technique 1 & 2 (2 may be substituted for a different Teaching Analysis class)
  • Dance History 1 & 2

All the above had sections on the test. I was writing for the full four hours.

It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be, actually. I know I messed up a few sections — for example, I totally had “B flat” as the answer to a key signature question, but I erased it and put “B minor.” Circle of fifths, you deceived me!

The section on Butler Ballet was last, and I (as well as many of the others) got rather nostalgic answering those questions. It was good to review everything I’ve learned over the past four years; studying for and taking the test brought all the pieces together, gave me a real sense of the breath and depth of what I’ve learned in my major.

Sentimentality.

And I finally saw Trip!

Coppélia Performances

Oh my goodness, this past weekend’s performances of Coppélia were completely overwhelming — in the best of ways. Putting the experience into words is so difficult. Of course things didn’t go perfectly. The last night, when I finally got all the fouetté turns at the end of the ballet, I almost ate it on the pull in. It’s never perfect.

But while I am not satisfied with the performances (if I were satisfied, I don’t think I would be trying to produce art), I am overjoyed and overwhelmed and (though sad it is over) still riding on an incredible high. It might not be perfect, but oh my goodness, it’s so much fun.

Seniors on the ladder!

Class on Monday was painful for sure! When the adrenaline from performing was gone, the fatigue/soreness it masked definitely remained. The life of a dancer… We are busy preparing for dance finals. Academic classes are winding down too in a flurry of projects and tests and papers. This is the last final season I will have at Butler.

Somehow everything seems less real for a few days after we leave the theater. I’m getting ready for finals, of course, but part of me is still on that stage, smiling or crying or clenching my fists or falling in love or prancing around, full of mischief. Dancing Swanhilda was a tremendous blessing, and I know I will miss it so much. The only remedy? On to the next performance!

I know I’m dancing in the Spotlight gala at Clowes and then in Carbondale for the Southern Illinois Music Festival… and then who knows what adventures wait for me in Tulsa? It’s scary and exciting, and I feel much more prepared to meet that challenge after the whirlwind that was Coppélia.

Production Week!

Studio Dress was this Saturday –the first time we’ve run Coppélia in order, in costumes. I was anxious for the event, since I had been rehearsing the hardest part — Act III, with the wedding pas — at the beginning of the rehearsal periods, then following with Act I then Act II in descending order of stress. Yesterday we went straight through, with everyone in place, with costumes.

Before we started, I just listened to the overture with my eyes closed, soaking the fact that, yes, this is happening. I know I was still a little nervous because I was rushing the music in the beginning, but overall? Actual fun. I realize this is all I’ve been talking about for the last few weeks, but this is such a revelation for me, the nervous ninny.

There were a few bumps along the way… I messed up the sequence of some of the choreography in Act II; I couldn’t get the Scottish hat to stay on before the Scottish variation; some of the wedding pas was bumpy — probably because this was literally the first time either of us had done it in costume, and my tutu had more friction than usual and his sleeves kept getting in my face. But these are kinds of things that make great stories, n’est-ce pas?

Production Week starts tomorrow. Tech rehearsals, spacing, orchestra rehearsals, dress rehearsals, ACH the real performances!! I’m going to be so sad when it’s all over, but for now I’m totally, completely enjoying the ride.

Giuseppina Bozzacchi as the first Swanhilde in 1870.

Coppélia Act III

Saturday was a rehearsal whirlwind, with the day beginning at nine with the wedding pas from Act III of Coppélia. We used a new recording, which was about five times faster than the old one. I did one attitude promenade about fifty times. Start the day off with a bang!

Got my tote bag of shoes/leg warmers, my water bottle, and my tutu. Ready for rehearsal!

I like the Act III classical work. Swanhilda is so sassy in Act II and so emotional (angry/frustrated/happy) in Act I. Doing the wedding pas feels like drifting in a dream world. She is so gently happy to be with her rather flighty beau. She finally demonstrates and maintains a sensitivity and delicacy that comes and goes in the other acts.

She still gets her say, though — the variation is extremely playful, and that famous music provides the power that makes her so down-to-earth. Above all, she is just happy like one in a dream — happy to be with Franz, happy to be with her friends, and happy to be dancing. As one of the choreographers put it, “Franz is addicted to the bottle. You’re addicted to dancing.” More on Swanhilda’s obsession with dance later!

Senior Productions

Senior Productions

I saw the Senior Production showcase the Thursday before spring break began. Those senior dance majors who go on to take a third semester of choreography (I took only Choreography I and II) can opt into the Senior Production showcase in the spring.

The show is run much like Student Choreography Showcase in the fall — there are two nights of shows in the studio-theater in Lilly Hall, all run by, choreographed by, and performed by students of Butler’s Department of Dance (except Master Electrician Cathy Sipe, who is stage manager). This year, five senior dance majors participated, each choreographing, rehearsing, and producing one large-group and one small-group piece.

Lilly Hall

I thoroughly enjoyed the show: One of my friend’s pieces was titled R.E.M. and showcased wispy port de bras motifs that I adored. The following piece, by the same choreographer, sent the dream scuttling for cover as two girls tormented a third in what seemed more like a nightmare. Both were very, very well done.

(Also, a girl in another piece took sick at the last minute, and the male choreographer stepped into her place. Instead of two men partnering a girl en pointe, there were two men partnering a third. I think it turned out really well — it made for a more dynamic commentary on gender roles, for sure. Kudos to everyone in that piece for pulling off a great performance.)

While this show doesn’t present as wide a variety of choreographers as the Student Showcase, the pieces are generally more polished, since the choreographers are coming from the rather rigorous Choreography III class. With this plus the Student Choreography showing in the fall, there are plenty of opportunities for budding choreographers to display their creations — and lots of demand for dancers who want to work on projects outside Butler Ballet or Butler Chamber Dance.

Fun Fact: I learned on Thursday that 2012 is the 62nd Senior Production — that’s every year since 1950, even longer than the oldest Butler Ballet tradition of Midwinter Dance Festival!