Past struggles motivate dance degree candidate

Sam Payne, dance performance senior

Sam Payne is all by himself.

The dance performance senior is the only prospective December 2010 dance performance graduate. He will perform his senior piece, a portion of his graduation evaluation, Dec. 15 and will return to the Kirkpatrick Auditorium stage for an oral exam in the absence of his classmates.

Payne’s four and a half year tenure at OCU hasn’t been easy. It has included second guessing his prospective career path and facing his worst critic — himself.

Payne began his education at OCU in 2006 in relatively low dance class levels.

“I was in Level 1 ballet, Level 1 tap and Beyond Basic Movement jazz,” he said. “Some dancers have the luxury of leveling in at higher levels, but I knew I had a long way to go.”

Dance levels in the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management range from Basic Movement to Level 8. Dance performance seniors must achieve technique qualified for Levels 8, 7 and 6 as a criterion for graduation, according to the dance department’s standards and procedures. See previous story outlining more dance performance graduation requirements.

Payne said he almost lost his passion at times and had to build himself back up. He first began feeling down at the end of his sophomore year.

“I just kind of lost touch with the fun of it,” he said. “It just kind of felt like a job.
“I think everyone goes through it, no matter what you’re going to school for, you just kind of question ‘Is this really what I want to do for the rest of my life?’ There were also times when I thought, ‘I really like doing this, but am I really good enough to be able to go out and do this with my life?’”

Payne said he was lucky he was able to fall back in love with the performance aspect of dance by taking class that summer.

“I got a job in Branson, Mo. dancing with Andy Williams in his show,” he said. “It was my first taste of a real job.
“I got to perform every day and meet real people.”

Payne began to lose his passion again in the middle of his second semester of senior year. He knew he wouldn’t graduate at the same time as his classmates because he hadn’t achieved his required levels, which didn’t allow him to take all necessary classes.

“It was a lot of me knowing I wasn’t going to walk alongside my peers who I spent four and a half years with,” he said. “They became my family.”

Payne’s friends were working in Los Angeles, in the national tour of “Cats” and on a Carnival cruise ship this semester while he spent at least eight hours weekly rehearsing to perform in his fifth “Home for the Holidays” show. It was difficult for Payne to see his peers begin the next chapters of their lives and their careers.

“I kind of was dreading coming back to OCU a little bit, just because I knew it was going to be a different experience,” he said.

But an extra semester actually worked out for the better, Payne said.

Payne achieved his graduation levels this semester after many hours of practicing outside the classroom. He will test out in Level 7 ballet, Level 6 jazz and Level 5 tap.

“I had to work really hard to get where I needed to be,” he said. “But it didn’t really feel like work, because dancing and performing is what I love to do.
“Looking back I think the thing that made me question the most was me. I think I am my worst critic. The department has always been really great in believing in me, but I think it was really just me not believing myself that was the biggest issue.”

Dance performance majors senior-piece it all together

Kait Kishbaugh and Aubrey Phillips were two of 14 graduating dance performance seniors who performed their senior pieces April 28.

The light at the end of the tunnel is in sight. Graduating dance performance seniors are one step closer to graduation.

The students performed their senior pieces at 4 p.m. April 28 in the Kirkpatrick auditorium in the Kirkpatrick Fine Arts Center. To see a list of graduating seniors, click here.

Kait Kishbaugh, dance performance senior, said she felt “wonderful” after performing her senior piece.

Kishbaugh said she plans to take the summer off and hopes to get a job in the New York or on the East Coast in the fall.

Performing a satisfactory senior piece is one of the requirements students must adhere to before graduation. Seniors also must pass jazz, tap and ballet proficiency exams, make at least a Level 7 in a dance style of their choice, a Level 6 in their second dance style of choice and a Level 5 in their third style of choice. Graduating seniors also must make their weigh-in goal and pass an oral exam prior to graduation.

Dance performance seniors often relocate to pursue different performing careers after graduation. To see a list of some venues and locations where OCU dance alumni have performed, click here. To see a list of some Broadway shows OCU dance alumni have been in, click here. As of 2006, more than 48 dance alumni had performed on cruise ships, more than 37 had performed as Radio City Rockettes and more than 31 had performed in Broadway shows, according to the 42nd St. and Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management document.

But, just because the dancers are alumni of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management, does not mean they will have gigs falling in their laps.

Questions during the students’ oral exam following their senior pieces made clear the views of Jo Rowan, chairman of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management, on the entertainment industry. Some of the questions and answers included:

  • Q: Is life fair?     A: No.     Q: What do you do about it?     A: Get over it.
  • Q: How do you make it in the industry?     A: Make yourself desirable.

Getting work in Los Angeles:

“The commercial dance world requires almost more from you than dance skill and if you want to work regularly, you have to put in some serious legwork both in and outside the studio,” according to Be Your Own Agent, an article by Kathryn Holmes, a former editor at Dance Spirit magazine.

Here are some tips Holmes offers for getting hired:

  1. Get to class— Even professional dancers need to continue to train.
  2. Network smart— Dancing is almost as much about who you know as about how you dance.
  3. Work the Web— Posting videos of yourself in class or performance will expose your talent to a broader audience and many casting agencies and choreographers actually search the Internet for fresh dance faces.
  4. Cultivate your image— Dress for class in a way that highlights your best features and shows off your personal style.

Making it in New York City:

Kendra Barreda, assistant director of alumni relations, said she suggests the graduating seniors become a member of the OCUNYC alumni chapter.

“There are about 750 OCU alumni living in New York City,” Barreda said. “About 650 of the alumni are members of the alumni chapter.”

Barreda said OCUNYC is like a family for alumni of the university.

“Members help the new alumni with things as simple as finding an apartment,” she said.

Barreda said OCUNYC was established in 2006 and is the university’s only established alumni chapter, but officials are looking to start a second chapter in Chicago.

Jo Rowan, chairman of the Ann Lacy School of American Dance and Arts Management, said during senior piece performances that sticking with your OCU family is important.