Dance: Best of Both Worlds

CCM dance majors balance working, studying and performing

Joe Lamb

Double duty: Kelly Yankle (left) and Sarah Bek

Ah, college days — a laid-back schedule, sports, parties and such. If a co-op enters the picture, you might get a bit busier — or in the case of some dance majors at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, a lot busier.

CCM junior Sarah Bek and Kelly Yankle, a senior, are learning to balance the demands of a rigorous conservatory program that includes regular rehearsals, technique classes and performances, academic classes and full-time company positions with Cincinnati Ballet.

This marks Yankle's second season with the Ballet. It's Sarah's first, and she says having Yankle around to answer her questions has made her debut easier.

"It's been really eye-opening because I go from an atmosphere where I've been graded on dancing, versus this (where) my job depends on it," Bek says of her experience at the Ballet so far. "If I don't come to class, it's not just gonna bring my grade down, they could ask me not to come back."

Yankle says, "There's a lot of great exposure, a lot of great opportunities for more professional companies even if you decide you don't want to stay here. I love it. It's been great."

CCM offers its dance division students the chance to get a jump on their careers through performance and "co-op" opportunities with area companies such as Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet and Lexington's Kentucky Ballet Theatre. Artistic directors from the companies come to CCM periodically to audition students or see them perform before possibly extending an offer.

CCM Dance Division Head Shellie Cash says this is a unique situation among schools with dance programs, citing other "frame-of-reference" schools that do not allow their dancers to perform with other companies and don't encourage students to audition professionally until their senior year.

According to Cash, these schools don't offer programs arranging for credited professional experience because of the extra administrative time, support and two-way communication it requires. At CCM most co-ops are juniors and seniors, and much of the coursework is done through independent study.

Although Cash says that of the 45 current dance majors, more than 20 students are participating this year — most just for selected performances and a few as full-time company members — the program isn't for everyone. Cash says the students who participate tend to be "very dynamic, very self-motivated and very aggressive in terms of being able to be in two places as often as possible."

How do they balance these demands?

Yankle says, "I feel like as dancers, dancers who are really serious about what they do, we tend to be disciplined anyway. I find that when I have time off I don't know what to do with myself."

"One does wonder what normal people do." Bek adds, laughing.

"It gets a little hectic sometimes — you don't want to go home and write that paper or go to class after being here for nine hours a day," Yankle says. "But I really wouldn't have it any other way."

People are surprised to learn how much they rehearse.

"You tell people you're a ballet major and they just assume you don't do anything and then they complain about how they have four hours of classes," Bek says. "And then you say, 'Well I had eight hours of dance and then I had four hours of classes.

"I feel like we have the best of both worlds," Bek says. "Amazing choreographers, plus we get to go to school."

In their co-op time Bek and Yankle have also provided inspiration for some Cincinnati Ballet dancers to take classes at UC and work toward a degree of their own.

"It's very possible," Bek says. "It's kind of a myth that you don't do that and that it's really hard to do and you can't. You can. It just takes work."

Kelly Yankle and Sarah Bek perform in UNIVERSITY OF CINCINNATI COLLEGE-CONSERVATORY OF MUSIC's Fall Dance Concert in CCM's Patricia Corbett Theater Friday-Sunday. Buy tickets, check out performance times and find nearby bars and restaurants here.

Scroll to read more Culture articles
Join the CityBeat Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state.
Help us keep this coverage going with a one-time donation or an ongoing membership pledge.


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.