Letter to My First-Year Self: Seven Senior Dance Majors Reflect on Their College Experiences

September 26, 2019

After all the work that goes into applying to college BFA programs, it can seem like getting that long-awaited acceptance letter is the be-all and end-all. But talk to most seniors, and they’ll tell you that acceptance is just the beginning of a whirlwind experience. We asked seven senior dance majors from some of the nation’s top programs to look back on their college journeys and offer advice to their freshman selves.

Meagan King—The Ailey School and Fordham University

Photo by Nir Arieli, courtesy The Ailey School

Dear Freshman Meagan,

You’re entering your dream school as a bright-eyed young woman on cloud nine, hungry to continue learning. That joy and light in your heart will never dim. The self-empowerment you’ll feel from pursuing an arts career is phenomenal because you’re one of the few brave ones.

You’re nervous, but the nerves are there because you care. Acknowledge them, but never let them cripple you. Channel them into strength. Remember three simple words: I am able. Only you can grant yourself permission to step into your greatness.

Every high, low, loop, and sharp turn on this college roller coaster will give you a piece to help you build the person you’ll become. Each day you enter the studio, remind yourself of the “Why?” that drew you in, and your passion will carry you.

This program can be quite intense. Self-care is important. Don’t choose extra studying over an hour of needed sleep. You’re only your best self when you take care of yourself. Allot time for rejuvenation: a walk in the park, meeting good friends, or, best of all, sleep! You are a person first, before you are a dancer.

We’ve come so far, Meagan. Awaiting graduation, I’m thrilled to see where life will take us. You’re going to soar freely and write your story in the sky. You are light. Shine on, little queen. You are doing just fine. You will be amazed at God’s blessings to come.

Meagan King

Imani Monét—New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts

Dear Imani the Freshie,

You’ve made the decision to take a leap of faith and bring your dance endeavors to an institution of higher education. College isn’t an easy journey, but you’re built to achieve greatness, regardless of the circumstances. Remember your “why”: to train, enhance your network, and make beautiful memories, amongst hundreds of other things. You’re preparing for your career through your studies, but you’re also practicing the discipline you’ll need to earn your degree and be successful postgraduation.

Your body is your temple and the instrument you must protect. You can breathe, eat, and sleep dance, but remember that resting when necessary is just as important. Injuries may occur, tears may fall, and curveballs may be thrown your way, but stay humble and remain optimistic.

Use the school’s resources and see them as luxuries. Your professors are there to support you. You’ll become a leader on and off campus through avenues of service. It’s OK to trust those around you, your process, your creative abilities, and your future. And most importantly, love yourself so that love can shine through every experience you encounter. You are the light that shines within you.

Imani Monét

Elizabeth Faber—The Juilliard School of Dance

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor, courtesy The Juilliard School

Dear Freshman Libby,

Look at you, you did it! You thought you had zero chance of getting in and look where you landed! Now you’re thinking, “Oh dear, I don’t belong here with these talented people. They made a mistake!” My first word of advice is to know your worth. You’re special and valued; you need to start acting like it. Whatever challenges you face in these next four years, own how fierce you are—then, nothing and no one can stop you. Don’t waste time wondering if you’re good enough. There’s only one you in this world. Don’t take that lightly! Second, allow your dreams to evolve. You’re going to change more than you think is possible as a dancer and as a person. Why shouldn’t your dreams change too? Third, just because everyone is doing something doesn’t mean it’s what’s best for you. Don’t be afraid to make your own way, even if that
way hasn’t been done before. Last, have fun! Don’t take yourself too seriously; life is an adventure!

Libby Faber

Taína Lyons—New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts

Dear Freshman Taína,

Go into college with compassion, patience, a willingness for self-forgiveness, and an openness tonew perspectives and insights. Soak everything up and take what you want, while learning fromwhat you do not. Nothing’s perfect, so that means that you can’t be either. Strive for perfectionand clarity, but most importantly and more realistically, strive to be the best you can be. Dancewith a purpose. Dance for Mom. Dance for yourself. At the end of the day, the opinion thatmatters most is your own. As long as you can look at yourself in the mirror and be proud of theperson you see looking back, you’ll be OK. Even when you aren’t OK, that’s OK. You’re onlyhuman. You’re an artist, yet you are so much more than that label. You have so much to learnand so much space for growth. Allow yourself to thrive. Allow yourself to say “no.” There is alevel of self-preservation within that phrase. You will want to do everything, but who reallybenefits from stretching themselves too thin? This is not the time to burn out. You have so manyyears ahead. College is the gateway to more opportunity. You made it! Now enjoy all of thathard work you put into making it this far. Acknowledge the past, live in the present, and getready for the obstacles and adventures waiting in the future.

You are loved, and you are worthy of what is to come.

Taína Lyons

Ashley Green—Point Park University

Photo by Kaylee Wong, courtesy Point Park University

Dear Freshman Ashley,

Don’t compare yourself to anyone. No one will ever do it like you. Don’t forget that the way you see yourself is more important than the way others see you. I know the idea of pursuing dance is scary and feels unreachable. But know that if you lead with passion and faith, you can do anything. You’ll learn that no one will believe in you unless you believe in yourself.

You’ll need a lot of mental power to get through freshman year. You must have an open heart and open mind, because if you’re resistant to the process, you won’t have an enjoyable time. You get out what you put in.

You’ll perform works by outstanding choreographers, and you’ll take with you memories of the friendships
and connections you’ve formed and your understanding
of self-value. Your dance dreams will shift majorly, and you’ll realize your possibilities are endless.

Ashley Green

Israel Harris—New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts

Freshman Izzy!

Welcome to Tisch–you made the right choice! You’ve learned to trust your technique to expandyour artistry. Continue listening to your gut and trust that you’ve done the work to be confident
in your decisions. Coming from a commercial-competition background, it’s understandable to bescared of transitioning not only to a new city but to the new world of concert dance that youknow little about. Do your research! The more you begin to discover, the stronger your artisticvoice will become. The clearer your individual perspective is, the more successful you will be inthe future. Expand your capabilities by actively engaging with the people around you. You’ll bemaking connections that last a lifetime. It’s not just about leveraging your social life as abusiness, but actually valuing the lasting friendships. With these tools and all the information andresources open to you through the university, you’ll find a path that fits you best.

Israel Harris

Rachel Harris—University of Southern California Glorya Kaufman School of Dance

Photo by Jackie Kopcsak, courtesy Rachel Harris

Dear Freshman Rachel,

Choosing USC was the right decision. Although pursuing a dance degree will be a challenging feat, you chose the right path. The faculty will challenge you to unlearn the strict guidelines of “right” and “wrong” while demonstrating the unlimited choices dance allows you to explore. This profession will be a difficult one, but you’ll be inspired, not afraid, of your boundless creative potential.

Trust your training. Your professors will offer all that they can. Receive their wisdom. Remember, growth isn’t a linear rise, but rather a series of unexpected dips and turns. Welcome changes to your aspirations, adapt, and stay focused on your passions.

You have an opportunity to try, succeed, and fail in a community that will support you through each trial. Your biggest influences will be the people who you laugh with after rehearsals or study with for environmental science finals. Don’t take those gifts lightly. Give yourself permission to develop your unlimited abilities, without label or definition. You’re an artist. And when it’s time to move on, you will freely and unapologetically do just that.

Rachel Harris