the magazine of the columbia daily spectator
May 1 2013
Mmm, baby: The very best in food porn
April 27 2013
Alternatives to Butler
April 19 2013
Red Bull and relaxation
April 17 2013
Back to the kitchen: A short journey through sexist pop culture
April 12 2013
Bikinis and big booties, y’all
April 8 2013
Azealia Banks Did What?
April 5 2013
More stories from Columbia’s military veterans
April 3 2013
Sing, O Muse, of some sappy story
April 1 2013
Missed the Cliterary Open Mic? Check out the highlights here
March 29 2013
Sex & Low Beach
Photo by Embry Owen
When Justin Peck left San Diego for the Big Apple, he wasn’t sure if his years of dance training and performance experience would pay off. Now, six years after leaving California, the 21-year-old has been a full-time company member with New York City Ballet for three years.
You would never know that Peck splits his time between the stage and Butler library. A student in the School of General Studies, Peck balances a full-time performing career at one of the most prestigious ballet companies in the world with a part-time academic program at one of the top universities in the nation.
Peck is not alone, either. In 2007, five professional ballet dancers from Columbia founded the Columbia Ballet Collaborative, asserting the presence of student-dancers on campus. Bridging the gap between the professional performer and the Columbia academic, Peck debuted his first piece of choreography, A Teacup Plunge, with Columbia Ballet Collaborative (CBC) at Miller Theater on April 2nd. Clearly, higher education and professional dance may be more compatible than they seem.
For Teresa Reichlen, a part-time Barnard student and dancer with CBC, getting an education while working her dream job helps her create stability, “mainly because dance is a short career and it’s also a lot of what is up to chance. At any time you could sustain a career-ending injury, and I didn’t want to be left with no other options.”
Peck also recognizes the risk involved with a career in the performing arts. At the same time, “of course you need to take risks to get places,” he says. He considers the job security of a performing career precarious, but concludes that working for New York City Ballet is the ideal situation. “In the Broadway world, shows close or contracts end or you burn out from performing the same thing over and over each night. My job with City Ballet offers me more stability and variety.”
Despite the security and diversity offered through ballet, Peck sensed a void before enrolling at Columbia. “I felt that dance is ... a great outlet, but there was a lack of intellectual stimulation in my life,” admits Peck. Still, dance is his focus: “Hopefully I’ll graduate eventually, but in the meantime I keep busy with my job, which is my first priority.”
In contrast, Reichlen plans on applying her education in a practical way later in life. “I’m not the type of person who wants to stay in the dance industry after performing. There are other things I want to do,” she says. Reichlen, a biology major, foresees a potential career in drug research.
Whatever their motivations, it seems that more and more dancers are favoring the idea of simultaneously pursuing higher education and a full-time performing career. Peck observes that many of his fellow City Ballet dancers take classes at Columbia and, especially, Fordham because of its convenient location at Lincoln Center and lower cost.
Perhaps this means that the lifestyle of a ballet dancer is more conducive to schooling than that of other types of dancers. However, Reichlen believes that the typical ballet dancer’s personality can explain this trend better than the genre in which they dance. “I think that a lot of ballet dancers are kind of—we’re perfectionists, and that translates to other parts of our lives,” she says, adding, “There is something about the regimented nature of ballet that [means] we are disciplined.”
Katie Glasner, assistant chair of the Barnard dance department, agrees that the company itself is driving dancers to go to school. “I don’t think that working in a classical ballet company is any more conducive to integrating higher education than other forms of dance,” says Glasner. But she also believes that discipline is not unique to ballet dancers. Balancing career and education is always tough. “It’s simply quite rare for undergraduate students to pursue simultaneous careers and educations,” she says.
Maybe Columbia University—especially the School of General Studies—is just convenient for working students in any field. But despite Columbia’s flexible offerings through GS and part-time status at Barnard, a dancer’s schedule still can be excruciatingly busy, according to Peck: “At our busiest we start at 10:30 [a.m.] with class, and we can rehearse for as much as five or six hours, and then we have a show at night, so I might not get out of there until 11 pm.”
Both Peck and Reichlen tend to complete homework in the early mornings, on quick breaks or on their one day off each week. And as part-time students, they are not only limited academically—in the minimal amount of classes per semester they take and the time they have to complete their work—but socially as well.
“We work most when everyone else is off, at the night and on the weekends, so it makes it hard to socialize with normal people,” expresses Reichlen. Peck agrees that he cannot fully immerse himself in the Columbia community. “I’m a little upset that I can’t have the full university experience, but I have to make sacrifices based on my lifestyle,” says Peck.
As student-dancers, Reichlen and Peck both agree that the isolation of their part-time status doesn’t concern either of them. Reichlen chose Barnard because of its small size and accessible advising system. Peck chose Columbia for its quality. As he says, “What’s great about Columbia is they have the most talented professors, so it’s hard to go wrong compared to other schools.”
Peck and Reichlen’s dedication to their studies, combined with dancing full-time, is certainly impressive. When they started dancing at the young ages of nine and three, respectively, neither knew that they would turn away from a traditional education to favor professional performing. Nonetheless, based on their current priorities and lifestyles, perhaps the term ‘dancer-student,’ rather than ‘student-dancer,’ would be a better way to describe their lifestyle.
We're looking for comments that are interesting and substantial. If your comments are excessively self-promotional, or obnoxious you will be banned from commenting. Consult the comment FAQ and legal terms.
© 2011, The Eye :: Spectator Publishing Company, Inc.