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March 24, 2016

College first: a dancer’s take.

Olivia Chandler ’19

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I have always had a thing for flying. Not so much airplanes as birds. I love the feeling of being in the air. And I’m drawn to the stars, imagining what it would be like to be part of something so hypnotic and beautiful. I found, and continue to find, these same sensations in ballet.

But ballet has done much more than prep my body for flight. What many people don’t realize is how dance matures you. From the time I started ballet at age 5, I began learning about commitment, teamwork, determination, and time management.

Every day after school, I headed to dance. To make the best use of my free time, I had to plan ahead. When I was in any kind of performance, I’d also have weekly rehearsals, technical and dress rehearsals, and costume-fitting. In addition to the actual performances.

I’ve spent untold hours working with my peers reading cues, perfecting steps, listening to teachers and the music, and getting to know our roles. We were determined to be whatever we were supposed to be (little snowflakes, party children, clowns, flowers), not a bunch of little kids running haphazardly around stage.

My most memorable performance? Sleeping Beauty in spring 2012. I danced my first solo as Little Red Riding Hood. It was the payoff of years of hard work.

I found my newest stage at Mount Holyoke College. When I was looking for schools, I knew a conservatory, with its full focus on dance, wasn’t for me. I wanted a place that would let me combine my passions for dance and biology, and was drawn to Mount Holyoke’s strong dance and biological sciences departments.

At the crossroads of these fields, I see my future: alternative medicine. I want to draw on my firsthand knowledge to help dancers and athletes overcome twinges, pulls, and aches using homeopathic remedies. I want to explore how alternative medicine can be integrated into Western medical practices for pain management.

Do I wonder what my life might have been like had I chosen to dance full time? Sure. I actually got a glimpse of this path in January 2016, when the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company came to perform at Mount Holyoke. When my teacher Rose Flachs announced the visit during my advanced ballet class, I was ecstatic. The prestigious Studio Company is filled with students ages 16–20 who are chasing their dreams.

While the Studio Company dancers were on campus, some classmates and I were able to take a class with them. I was also on the tech team as the sound operator for the Studio Company’s public performances. These experiences gave me an inside look at their world. If I’d put dance first, I’d be dancing every day, possibly going on tour around the US, and aspiring to become a professional. Maybe I’d tour internationally, dancing and learning from teachers around the world.

But their visit also reminded me of why I’m so happy with my choice. Mount Holyoke offers friendly competition between students, while dancers at pre-professional programs or conservatories invest years of their lives for the chance to fill an empty spot or two in a company. That may be the dream for some, but I wanted more. I wanted to continue my education and pursue my passion for dance. Mount Holyoke offers the choice to do both.

Maybe I’ll audition for companies and dance professionally after college; many company dancers now have college degrees. Or maybe my time here will reveal other paths. Maybe I’ll join a company as both a dancer and a physical therapist. I’m excited to see what’s to come—and to see what’s written in the stars.

Olivia Chandler is a first-year student at Mount Holyoke College from Cross River, NY. She plans to double major in dance and biological sciences. She is performing in the 2016 Senior Concert and Student Concert. She hopes to become a physical therapist who specializes in dancers and athletes. Quotables: “We [dancers] are artists before athletes.” - Unknown
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