Expanding Limits: BFA Sophomore Sharif Claxton

Pursuing a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is not for the lighthearted, especially in the time of a global pandemic. Training in the arts at a collegiate level takes passion, grit, determination, adaptability, and flexibility in more ways than one. Sharif Claxton, Dominican University of California Class of ‘23, reveals what it means to be an artistic student before and during COVID-19, as well as his hopes for the future personally and professionally.

Sharif Claxton performing at the 2020 BFA Fall Showcase.

What was your first year at Dominican University of California like?
My first year at Dominican was like a dream, but it also felt like it was my first day dancing with how difficult the classes were especially ballet. I learned quickly that you have to be confident and willing to open up. The intensity of learning how to expand, gather, and break out of my shell is what drew me in throughout the year.

The faculty also truly cares how hard you work in comparison to perfection. They care about the effort you are putting into each step and combination, and will bring your work ethic to your attention in a positive way. I’m thankful to be pushed to find the contrast of staying technical and grounded in my classes.

How did you know Dominican was for you?
I knew Dominican was the place for me because the environment and the people in it asked me to be myself. It has been about sharing and conveying the message I want to artistically. It was also an immediate gift to see how much I could learn from watching my peers move, as we all dance so differently. The class being small allowed me to connect with this group of artists quickly and meaningfully.

What was your immediate response to COVID-19 in terms of your training with Dominican and your personal dance journey?
My immediate reaction was, “this is hard!” Picking up combinations through Zoom, not having clear music to feed off of, and not having my peers next to me to receive energy from freaked me out. I was constantly looking at the camera to take class. I learned to adopt the mindset of, “I got this!”

This experience has given me the confidence to look away from the screen and realize that I know what I was doing more than I think I do. While I stay conscious of the things I need to work on, I still allow myself the space to feel my body and feel my dancing. I am thankful to Marina for creating these outdoors spaces where we can experiment and where the faculty are able to look us in the eye while following safety procedures. Still seeing my friends through Zoom going full out motivates me, and I appreciate them for this.

Sharif performing a new work by Carmen Rozestraten at the 2020 BFA Fall Showcase.

What did a typical day at Dominican look like pre-COVID and what does it look like now?
A typical day at Dominican University for me pre-COVID looked like arriving at the bus at 7:30am to go into city, where we take ballet, then modern and then GYROTONIC®/ GYROKINESIS® at the LINES’ studios.

Now the schedule is a little flipped where we take GYROTONIC® first, then ballet, and then modern. I appreciate taking GYROTONIC® before ballet because it warms me up so I am able to breath and perform my pliés with intention.

What were some positives and challenges to learning in this new, COVID-safe way?
A positive of being an artist with Dominican in COVID-19 is that I am able to be more creative with my movement in relation to space. I have learned how to condense my movement, but still make gestures powerful. The movement of a hand can still make an audience feel something and relate to me depending on the intention I put behind it. I have also honed in on my ballet technique, as this contained space forces me to consider the details of my legs, arms, feet, hands, and more.

A challenge of being a mover right now is that I miss the pianist! Live music allows me to connect with my breath and through Zoom it is difficult to hear the beautiful notes. I am so grateful that they still are on Zoom playing with us on this journey though. I am excited to see how we’ll be able to shift and convert when we are back inside the studio.

The Class of 2023 performing a new work by Liv Schaffer at the 2021 BFA Spring Showcase.

How are you continuing to be an artist and how is Dominican contributing to this?
Accepting myself right now is how I am continuing to be an artist. We are always so fixated on seeing our low points, especially at this time of isolation. We forget that our low points are what make the high points so beautiful to flourish in. It is difficult living life in front of an audience, as it feels like perfection is demanded. Now without a mirror or audience watching I am able to lay low and feel my body in space. Dancing in outdoor spaces has also expanded my artistry, asking me to dig deeper into movement and reach for more.

The faculty has pushed me to find this within myself right now, especially Gregory Dawson. His classes are so challenging and he has so much energy. I have to remind myself to try my best and see what the body can do in the moment.

What are your goals for the future artistically and personally?
In the future, I want to find some kind of expansion with dance. It’s hard to stay within the artform and not be defeated by critics, but I have learned through Dominican that you have to be yourself and move for yourself because you never know who is going to see it and feel infinitely inspired.

Written by Spring 2021 LINES Ballet Intern Marissa Mahoney.
Photography by Steve Disenhof.