Burklyn Ballet

Self Designed Experience
Dominique Neff
August 18, 2014

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Burklyn Ballet
Self Designed Experience
This summer, I spent three weeks
training at Burklyn Ballet Theater in
Johnson, Vermont. It was an incredible
experience because I was able to perform
three times, I made many lasting
connections with professional dancers and directors, I was able to spend time with children that I
know will grow into wonderful, hard working people, and my improvement as a dancer was
tangible after that short period of time. I woke up every morning at 6:45 am, put my hair up,
donned my leotard and tights and headed to breakfast. After breakfast I took a class from
8:30am-10:15 am (usually ballet), and another from 10:30am-12:15pm (character, pointe, or
variations). After a lunch break, I returned for my third and final class of the day, from 1:00 pm-
2:30 pm (pas de deux or ballet). On Monday afternoons, casting and rehearsal schedules would
be posted for our performance on Saturday. There was no time to waste, as we put on full shows
with only five days to prepare. Rehearsals, thus, began Monday evenings. Each evening, I had
from one to three hours of rehearsal. At night, I stretched, rolled out sore muscles, and iced my
feet (and ate my fair share of chocolate). The days repeated until Friday’s dress rehearsal and

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Saturday’s show. I was thrilled to have three more chances to be on stage and loved performing
among friends. The first week, I performed Songbird Fairy from Sleeping Beauty. The next, I
performed a contemporary ballet pas de deux (original choreography by Robert Royce). Finally,
I performed as a soloist in a student’s choreography, during student choreography week.
As I stated in my proposal, the vast number of hours spent dancing accelerated my
technique astronomically. Typically, I spent between 6 and 9 hours dancing per day. Five of
these hours were spent in technique classes during which instructors gave corrections and
assisted in our progression. For instance, Peter Merz, a ballet instructor from Pointe Park
University, helped me improve my turns during week two. I’ve always struggled with pirouettes
of all forms. He told me that I needed to relax my neck and keep my chin parallel to the ground
to assist with spotting. Corrections don’t happen over night, so I’m still working on it, but I’ve
already noticed a palpable difference in my ability to complete three or more pirouettes.
Furthermore, the performance experience I had (specifically week two) marked a great deal of
personal, artistic discovery. The music and movement stuck a chord with me, and my partner
and I had fantastic chemistry while working together (I realize that doesn’t sound incredibly
academic, but I’m doing my best to explain an epiphany moment that I don’t fully know how to
verbalize). By the time the show came, although we only had five days to learn 15 minutes of
choreography, the movement and music was so ingrained in my body that I was able to focus
completely on the performance, and by extension, my relationship with my partner. I believe it
was the best performance experience I’ve had to date. I was truly present on stage. I feel as if
on that one night, my dancing went beyond technique and delved more into art than I ever have.
I am excited to continue to explore that facet of dance in future performances.

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My main goal this summer was to document other counselors’ journeys to professional
dance in short video interviews (you can view them on my blog unorthodoxdancer.weebly.com).
I loved showing the people who were making it in the dance world in the atypical way. As a
young dancer, it can be cripplingly daunting to look at all of the famous dancers who have been
dancing at famous studios since they could walk. Young dancers who started late, or didn’t have
access to world-class training from an early age often feel like they should just give up because
they are already so far behind. I understand their feelings, because I had (have) them. I didn’t
start until I was 13, so most of my peers have about 10 more years of training than me. On top of
that, I started dancing in Huntington, WV, at a studio where no one has continued dancing past
high school. I felt like there was so much working against me, but I had to try. Now, I’m so
excited to share the stories of people who have faced these struggles and are succeeding.
The last week of my stay at Burklyn Ballet was student choreography week. During the
time, students at BBT are encouraged to choreograph and set their own works. I was placed in a
piece by a 16-year-old male dancer, Christopher Henry. At this point, I felt most useful as an
older dancer in assisting him not only in communicating and articulating his intentions with the
other dancers in the piece, but also with the doctor of choreography who was directing the effort,
Dr. Molly Faulkner. He wanted to use two, fairly divergent pieces of music with a full blackout
between the two songs. Dr. Faulkner felt that it dragged the audience out of the first “world” he
had created. I was able to work with Chris to edit the songs so that they merged and blurred
together, and helped him alter the end of the first piece and the beginning of the second to retain
cohesiveness in the two pieces. It was incredibly satisfying because Dr. Faulkner had valid

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input, Chris felt personally and artistically attacked, and I was simply able to bridge the gap
between the two as a pseudo-mediator.
So What?
During my summer at Burklyn Ballet, I furthered my technique and artistry, made
connections with guest instructors who teach and dance across the nation, met and grew closer
to a peer group of dancers who are pursuing degrees and working in companies, and mentored
children who share my passion for dance, Academically, my dancing is stronger than ever and
I’ve tapped into the much needed artistic
facet of dance. Furthermore, in
preparation for this experience, I read
Apollo’s Angels and now have a firm grasp
on the history of ballet. Professionally, I’ve
made connections nationally that I can use
when I begin auditioning for positions in
companies. Personally, I was re-inspired--
I’m so excited about performing and my
coming year in dance.
As I stated above, I read Apollo’s Angels in preparation. I won’t go into detail about the
book (as it was dense and too complex to summarize in a paragraph or two), but what I found
interesting is that the progression of artistry in ballet’s history is quite paradoxical to the

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progression of artistry in a dancer’s career. Both started very artistic, although perhaps not as
analytical about it. As technique gets more serious, they nearly lose the artistic side of dance.
Finally, when technique becomes sound enough, it again ‘shares the road’ with artistry. The
book, in general, allowed me to enter into educated discourse about prominent figures in
ballet’s history. During the week, our instructors set ballets on us. I was able to see and dance
the choreography of the people I had read about. It felt like even more of a privilege to dance
Songbird Fairy in The Sleeping Beauty because I knew about the conditions in which Marius
Petipa choreographed.
Now What?
There are so many styles of dance and so many
companies across the country. I’ve always known that I
didn’t want a strictly ballet career, but working with a
professional in contemporary ballet was one of the most
rewarding dance experiences of my life. I am now confident
that I want to audition for contemporary ballet companies.
After having performed a broad spectrum of dance styles
over such a short period of time, I am able to confidently say
that contemporary ballet is where my passion lies and the
path I wish to pursue.

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One of my biggest emotional challenges during this program happened during the
second week. A woman came to watch us dance in order to select dancers for her traineeship
program. During the duration of her stay, she expressed no sign of happiness or eagerness,
often berating dancers in our class in unconstructive ways. Although she was, in my opinion,
one of the unhappiest teachers I had ever had, I made the decision to still enjoy myself during
her class. It was a reminder that, ultimately, only you are in control of your happiness. I think
often it is easy to get too caught up in negativity, especially in an art that requires you to pick
out every imperfection in the mirror for hours every day. Time is precious. You will never have
this moment again, so if it is in your power to be happy, be happy. I found that I worked
smarted, better, and more energetically because of it.
I have shared my blog with the dancers from my home studio. Furthermore, I had a
meeting with the dancers who are high school sophomores, juniors, and seniors and their
parents to discus dancing after high school. We discussed what I had learned from the
counselors’ careers as well as my own experience. They were able to formulate a starting point
for looking at colleges and companies before they graduate. I also taught a master class which
incorporated what I had learned from the three weeks of technique classes. I’ve seen these
girls grow into beautiful, young dancers. As the first person to have danced seriously after high
school, I feel a need to bring back information for the girls who are trying to do the same. They
can learn from my successes and failures, having come from a similar background. I’m always
excited to see them grow and again it helped me grow as a teacher.

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