For our BFA sophomores, the start of fall semester was brimming with fresh excitement. Their freshman year should have been full of firsts, the first time riding the bus, the first time holding the barre at LINES Ballet, and the first time performing on Dominican University of California’s stage. But all of these firsts were foregone with COVID-19. Outdoor studios, amphitheaters, and virtual rehearsals filled their freshmen year instead.
As restrictions lifted and our doors reopened, we invited BFA sophomore Amanda Harris to keep a journal. Throughout the fall, she wrote and reflected, documenting all the firsts she missed as a freshman. Join us this holiday season in reading her entries as Amanda reminds us of how far we’ve come and the gratitude we can have for the little things.
First Day of Sophomore Year
It’s crazy to think that my first day of my sophomore year is the day I have been longing for ever since February of 2020. I look back on my first steps in my journey to the program, being deep in college applications and a stressful senior year, auditioning in my hometown of LA, getting accepted into the program, and Coronavirus not being the hot topic of every News channel. Little did I know that my journey in the LINES Ballet | BFA Program at Dominican University of California would be as unique as it has been.
Taking the Bus to LINES Ballet in San Francisco
After a year of dancing in my dorm room on Zoom, outdoor masked classes/performances, and limited mingling among BFA and other Dominican students, today was completely different. The lead up to this day brought on equal feelings of anxiety and excitement, but I’m grateful that as the hours progressed, excitement prevailed. The freshmen and our sophomore class had our first shared experience riding the bus. We were driven across the Golden Gate Bridge to the LINES studios in San Francisco, accompanied by the juniors and seniors. There in the city, we took classes in actual studios with physically present teachers. It certainly hit me how much I didn’t get to experience last year.
The sole fact that I was in LINES Dance Center, a landmark to the dance community, was very inspiring. Knowing the legacy of brilliant artists and work that was created in the same space that I was about to take class in brought forth a meaningful motivation. And the little things that I’d normally take for granted, like having a sprung Marley floor and dancing without external outdoor conditions, were really appreciated.
Ballet and Injury Prevention
We started our day with a ballet class taught by former LINES Ballet company member Brett Conway which was a good opportunity to ease our bodies back into dancing with holistic and artistic intention. This year, I intend to prioritize taking care of my body by moving in a healthier way. So I was pleasantly surprised to find out that we had an injury prevention class scheduled after ballet with Debra Rose. It was really humbling for everyone to open up about their injuries and weaknesses, instead of just working through pain, which is unfortunately so normalized in dance culture.
During our workshop, Debra asked us what kind of dancers we were: adagio, a jumper, or a turner. On first hearing the question, it might just seem like casual dancer talk about what our favorite exercises are in ballet class; however, one’s answer is actually quite telling of what one’s body structure and musculature is designed to do. I can easily say I’m a jumper, and it’s really cool to think about how the musculoskeletal structures in my legs allow jumping to be easier in comparison to adagio or turns. It’s also useful information to assess what needs to be strengthened and rewired in my neurology in order to make adagio and turns as easy as jumping.
We also had some helpful conversations about how to assess injuries. You can ask yourself, which side is more difficult for pirouettes? What adjectives can I use to describe my pain (aching, sharp, pinching, etc.)? What do I physically struggle to do in class? What particular moves bother certain parts of my body? And so on… the answers will guide next steps for assessment, strengthening, and improvement.
We are really lucky to learn from Debra Rose (a founding LINES Ballet company dancer), who has so much knowledge about not only GYROTONIC® but also the anatomy of the human body and the specific intricacies of a dancer’s body.
The GYROTONIC® Studio
We finished the day getting our hands on actual GYROTONIC® handles, which was so special for my class since we didn’t have access to the equipment as freshmen. For a year, we practiced makeshift handle work, sliding our hands in socks, over Zoom, on our dorm room floors. I was fortunate to have had a taste of GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® when I participated in the LINES Ballet | Summer Program in 2019; this year, we all have the opportunity to immerse ourselves into this movement system, conditioning our bodies in such a sophisticated and intentional manner. The hamstring work with weights on the pulley tower was an especially informative feeling, allowing for elongation and stability of the legs as well as targeted engagement of the hamstrings.
Our class has the honor to work with Rita Scott, a Brazilian native who danced with Teatro Municipal De Niter and the San Francisco Opera, and is now a part of the San Francisco GYROTONIC® team. Her emotional introduction, and lifelong passion for dance and this movement system, moved all of us and really made me appreciate the opportunity I have to learn in one of the world’s foremost GYROTONIC® training facilities.
I’m feeling so grateful for my journey through this program so far and am very excited to see how I will evolve in my time here.
To end our first week of fall semester, we had the opportunity to have junior composition in-person. In this recurring class, the juniors work with the freshmen and sophomore dancers to create short works, sharpening their choreographic skills and experimenting with certain prompts, tasks, and limitations. It seems that a huge part of my sophomore year has been realizing just how different BFA classes feel on zoom vs. in-person. Last year’s experience was certainly unique with junior comp. Essentially, we created a distanced, collective dance film, all choreographed, improvised, and navigated over Zoom. Those films are ones I look back on as a depiction of light during a highly stressful time entering a prestigious dance program during a global pandemic. But regardless of their value, last year’s junior comp films and the creative processes over zoom was all I knew.
Today truly solidified for me just how special it is to share a space with other moving bodies and witness creativity and brilliance unfold right in front of you. Since the number of juniors was almost equivalent to the amount of freshmen and sophomores combined, we created mainly solos (and two duets). I had the opportunity to be a part of one of the duets!
Our duet had a more nuanced connection, since we’re still limited with floor work and unable to make physical contact. My junior choreographer found creative ways for us to execute our movements at slightly different timings and tasked us to carve out negative space between each other. It was really cool to see how we could navigate a connection without actual touch. Charlie (Charles Moulton, our composition instructor) then challenged the juniors to take a middle section of their composition and relocate it to the end. He emphasized the importance of the dancers’ structural confidence, aka being comfortable in a sudden change of sequence. To meet the challenge, our choreographer turned previously set claps into a perfectly fitting audible cue placed at a different part in the piece. As a dancer, the structural change felt conflicting at first because I was already comfortable with the previous version, but it also reminded me that choreographing is a constant process of refinement. Making modifications to a set phrase can be a source of new inspiration, and I find that it really deepens the exploration of one’s work.
Sharing our mini compositions with the class was thought-provoking. Charlie told us to be wild horses, unafraid of being watched because our job as artists is to create a space in which failure, struggle, full embodiment, and fearlessness is allowed. Watching everyone’s compositions, while Charlie played “pin the music on the choreography”, was such a pleasure. There was so much individuality that passed from the juniors’ choreography and creative intention to the freshmen/sophomore dancers’ movement and execution. Watching my classmates reminded me of the undeniable singularity and individuality in each person; no two bodies can move the same, and no two minds can create the same. The different musical choices also brought on a discussion of what worked and what didn’t, whether it was an emotional conflict between the choreography and music, or a student’s sense of rhythm and poetry that allowed for a greater variety of music to “work” with their dancing. It was fascinating to hear everyone’s creative analysis and feedback.
Overall, I left that class feeling fulfilled and inspired. Charlie himself teared up thinking about the progress he’s seen in the juniors since sophomore comp. I, too, really appreciate the junior class and everyone’s unique personalities; I’ve seen them blossom and mature, and that growth shines in their compositions. I really hope to continue finding my own artistic voice and am so eager to choreograph in junior composition myself next year.
Remembering We’re Still Human
I’m realizing how life experiences manifest themselves during junior composition. At this point in our dance journeys, us BFA students have handled countless phrases of choreography. And while we all are capable of retaining movement, it’s easy to forget that we’re still human.
Our composition teacher Charlie humbly views blanking on choreography, forgetting details, laughter, stumbling, spontaneous improvisation, etc, as beautiful, rare moments of rawness and humanness. Though my perfectionist mind is slow to accept imperfection and things not working out the way I’d originally intended them to, it is one of the most valuable things I’ve taken from this class.
Life isn’t perfect, it’s usually messy and confusing and overwhelming more times than not, just as our performing bodies can feel messy, confusing, and overwhelming more times than not. I appreciate how Charlie, and my fellow classmates, create a safe environment for not only incredible art-making, but reflections of life.
Fall Showcase (On A Stage!)
We finally had the opportunity to perform on the Angelico Concert Hall stage at Dominican University of California! For my class, our first BFA performances were outside, one in our outdoor studio and the other in the Forest Meadows Amphitheater. It’s been a year or more for nearly all of us since we’ve performed in a theater.
Working with Founding LINES Ballet Dancer Carmen Rozestraten
Fall semester of sophomore year, BFA students have the opportunity to work with founding LINES Ballet company member Carmen Rozestraten. Our piece didn’t have a direct storyline, but it was filled with intriguing movement that demonstrated intensity, fierceness, longing, urgency, and strength. One of my favorite moments was an intense duel-like dance battle between my fellow classmate Brooke Sinton and myself. Our direct stare downs and back and forth soloing were always so fun to dance; we created tension between us that enhanced our storytelling.
One of the most significant aspects of this process was navigating pointe work. Pointe shoes are essentially an extension of your leg and being en pointe is a completely different feeling than being on flat. You’re so tall and high up, which requires different demands on your body. Adjusting back to pointe again after the pandemic was definitely a challenge. But the confidence and encouragement of faculty and Carmen, along with additional strengthening, helped motivate me to find confidence in my capabilities en pointe.
Carmen’s approach to technique involves full embodiment so dancing feels fun, not cautious. She often reminded us in rehearsal that she likes her movement to be “dangerous” (but within safe boundaries, of course). Her work was full of contrasting moments of intensity and softness that made for an exciting, beautiful, and thrilling piece.
Not performing in a while certainly brought about an understandable wave of anxiety. However, before each show, all the BFA students gathered in a circle and shared a grounding, pre-performance moment/meditation guided by this year’s seniors.
In a performance environment, moments of calm and camaraderie like this are essential to bring us back into our bodies, and prepare us to share the stage. Carmen also offered us the clarity that once we took the stage, the piece was ours; this was a compassionate invitation for us to individualize the work for ourselves. Performing alongside my class for my family, friends, and faculty was such an incredible culmination of how much we’ve overcome and how much intention we’ve put into this piece and our craft. Sharing my art, and the work I am impassioned by, is deeply important to me. This first performance at Angelico, of many to come, will always hold a very special place in my heart.
Final Reflections After Working with Alonzo King
While feelings of sadness and loss are certainly present, knowing we didn’t have many opportunities last year, I believe we all, as a program, have an immensely greater appreciation for what we’ve been granted this year. And despite how COVID shifted my experience, I wouldn’t have it any other way. This transition from limitation and isolation to first time experiences and eased restrictions has taught me that my community in dance is a constant in my life. The support I’ve gained through my life in dance is something I will never take for granted.
I am often struck by how incredibly special it is that I am surrounded by so many like-minded people in this program, people who bring their full selves, fearlessly dare to create, and investigate movement in a society that does not always fully recognize the dire significance of art. This is what Alonzo discussed in our ballet class. He shed light on how easily society will invest energy into science and technology (as these are crucial in our modern world), whereas art is often brushed off and not seen as equally essential.
In Alonzo’s eyes, art, recognizing majesty, and an emphasis on humanity, is what is lacking. While essential work in healthcare, technology, science, etc. is what keeps society functioning, we cannot neglect the crucial role art plays in our survival.
As artists, we constantly fight for more honesty in our voices and sophistication in our art-making. Our importance lies in uncovering truths and expressing them authentically. As Alonzo explains, we seek to escalate our lives’ work because we realize that our time here on Earth is limited. Knowing this grounds me in perpetual growth and reminds me of the immense possibilities that exist. I will carry this perspective of radically honest discovery throughout my life, my dance, and my work.
Written by Amanda Harris
Edited by Erin McKay
Banner Photography by Ella Can
Accepting BFA Applications
Our four-year Bachelor of Fine Arts degree program combines the acclaimed training and philosophy of LINES Ballet with Dominican’s comprehensive liberal arts education and social values. To apply, all applicants must submit a dance application to Alonzo King LINES Ballet | BFA Program as well as an Academic Application to Dominican University of California.