Two contemporary dance seniors reflect on their powerful high school experience at UNCSA

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Contemporary dance high school students Chandler Davidson of Greensboro, North Carolina, and Elijah Davis of Oxnard, Calif., may take different journeys after graduating from UNCSA, but both will learn from a company world-renowned dance company that will have a lasting impact on their dance education. After graduation, Davidson and Davis will participate in intensive summer internships with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, headquartered in both Los Angeles and New York.

This school year, students from the School of Dance had the opportunity to work with guest artist Christina Johnson and audition for Complexions’ popular summer intensives. The company was founded in 1994 by former members of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater with a mission to create “a singular approach to reinventing dance through a revolutionary blend of methods, styles and cultures”.

Both Davidson and Davis were part of Andrew Harper’s 2021 fall dance piece “Signs of Life” and consider it one of their favorite performances. / Photo: Peter Muller

Below, Davidson and Davis talk about their time in the high school program and what we can expect from them both as they continue their dance journey.

Tell us what you will be doing after you graduate.

Chandler: When Christina Johnson was on campus, we all had the opportunity to audition for free – and I was selected to attend the Complexions summer program in Los Angeles for two weeks. After that, I plan to stay longer to take commercial dance classes and gain experience with more choreographers. I am also planning to attend another summer program with Visceral Dance in Chicago. My goal is to collaborate and network with as many people as possible this summer. In the fall, I will be returning to UNCSA as a freshman undergraduate student in the contemporary dance program.

Elijah: I will be leaving school a little early to start the Complexions internship program for two weeks in New York. There, I hope to have the opportunity to join them on their summer tour of Germany and Israel. If I don’t have the opportunity to participate in the tour, I will go home for the month of June and work on the scholarship applications. In July, I will participate in their summer intensive in New York. For college in the fall, I’m still considering both SUNY Purchase and the University of Southern California.

Why did you choose to attend UNCSA for high school?

Chandler: I came here with no expectations, knowing that it was time to change and take the next step in my career as a dancer. After two years, I now think it was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in my academic and artistic career. Being at UNCSA completely changed my artistic perspective and really prepared me for my future years in college and in the world of professional dance. Working with amazing choreographers and teachers who all have so much knowledge has been amazing, and it’s one of the best places for high school in my opinion.

Elijah: I wanted an environment similar to what I had experienced during the summer intensives of a professional dance company and I thought that a conservatory would be a good choice. I heard about UNCSA from an alumnus who had a positive experience. She explained that it is a university with an artistic boarding school and that you can major in dance while taking theoretical courses. I thought that sounded really interesting. I was considering other performing arts high schools, but UNCSA was one of the few you could get into – so it ended up being the right move for me.

Elijah Davis

Elijah Davis in “MO” from Spring Dance 2022 choreographed by Trisha Brown and directed by Abigail Yager. / Photo: Rosalie O’Connor

If you could say thank you to one person at UNCSA, who would it be?

Chandler: I should say thank you to Brenda Daniels. She was my first technique teacher here, and she totally changed my understanding of my body. She gave me strength and clarity in my movements and changed my way of thinking and approaching dance. I would also like to thank my technique teachers this year, Ming-Lung Yang and Abby Yager. They emphasize the connection of mind and body, which is a different approach than the teachers I’ve had in the past.

Elijah: I would also say Brenda Daniels because my freshman year I struggled a lot with my mental health, and she really helped me get back on track. She helped me learn that dancing can be my therapy and relief from my mental health issues, instead of a contributing factor. She also helped me get here and fought to help me stay here. I wouldn’t be here without her.

What did you wish someone had told you when you were a new student at UNCSA?

Chandler: To come with an open mind, be prepared to wipe the slate clean. During my first few months here, I was a bit judgmental and got a bit stuck in my own ways. I had what I would call self-locking, but the program here definitely broke that down smoothly. This school opened me up to so many new things that made me the dancer and the person I am today.

Elijah: For me, it would be more about the transition from being at home with your parents to taking care of yourself and living in a dorm. Being responsible for things like doing your own laundry and making sure you eat nutritious meals regularly can be a big life changer. I would tell future high schoolers to really prepare for a lifestyle change. Also, learning how to manage your own mental health and how to reach out to people for help was something I had to learn after moving into a dorm. It was good, though, because I had early adulthood experience and I’m already going into college with those skills.

Lost provision

Chandler Davidson also considers Elizabeth Iwasko’s Emerging Choreographers piece “Lost Disposition” one of his favorite UNCSA performances. / Photo: Allison Lee Isley

Share one of your failures during your time at UNCSA. What have you learned?

Chandler: The self-blocking I was talking about would be my biggest failure. It was a time when I felt that if I couldn’t grasp a concept immediately, I would never understand it. It slowed me down a bit, but there was a shift midway through the year when I gave in and released those thoughts. That’s when I really started to grow and see a change in my mind and body.

Elijah: I had a few moments of inner failure too during my freshman year where I felt like I couldn’t handle everything that was going on, and I felt like I was failing personally. I learned from Brenda that there are things I can do to improve my own mental health and that it’s okay for some things to be out of my control. I learned the importance of expressing these negative inner feelings to the people I work with, as well as my friends and family. Expressing my thoughts and feelings can help me see that I’m not failing, and maybe I just need more clarity or effort in certain areas.

What is the opportunity you had at UNCSA that is different from other high schools?

Chandler: All performance and work opportunities with professional choreographers. I love that this school welcomes artists with impressive resumes who have so much experience in the world of dance. The opportunity to work with them, audition for them, and participate in conversations where students can ask questions about the industry is amazing. Also, our composition course was truly transformational for me. Even if you don’t want to become a choreographer, what you learn in this course shapes you and impacts all your other technical courses. I think every dancer should have the opportunity to experience a composition class.

Elijah: It was amazing for me to have the opportunity to get my high school education with a college-level art education. The dance teachers are all university trained and in the classroom everyone is treated with the same respect which makes it feel like a very professional environment. They all have so much experience and are happy to share it with their students so that we can all understand what the world of professional dance will be like after graduation. If I went to a “regular” high school and had to go to an outside source for my training, I don’t think I would get the same level of dedication and attention. Also, I feel that in other schools, many teachers can often concentrate only on the subject they are teaching – but here I always felt that my teachers care whether I’m fine and help me keep moving forward as an artist and as a person.

by: Melissa Upton-Julio

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