A 21st century conservatory experience

The talent, the intensity, the non-stop creative collaboration — that’s why you come to a school like UNCSA.

The University of North Carolina School of the Arts (UNCSA) boasts five standalone arts conservatories — Dance, Design & Production, Drama, Filmmaking, and Music — where extraordinary young people from across the country immerse themselves in rigorous, risk-taking, and performance-heavy artistic training.

“It’s definitely a demanding schedule,” says Ahna Lipchik, a ballet dancer who spent 11th and 12th grade at UNCSA and stayed on for college. “You might be dancing all day, or going to gym if that’s what your art requires, or going off-campus and shooting a film. But it’s all about practice, getting you to where you want to be as a professional artist.”

When rehearsing for a performance, Lipchik dances up to seven hours a day.

“Yes, it’s hard, but the rewards are entirely visible,” she says. “You see yourself changing week to week. You can see the people around you improving. And when the time comes for you to perform, you’re going to feel ready. Being in front of that audience doing something difficult and beautiful, that’s a reward in itself."

“A conservatory is a place where you get to practice your art form in-depth,” says veteran filmmaker and UNCSA instructor Dale M. Pollock. “That will never change.”

But something that has changed and evolved at UNCSA is the technology that empowers students and instructors use to explore their art and its origins. Call it the “21st-century” conservatory experience. 

Pollock, for example, teaches a film history class where students watch a different classic film from the Criterion Collection each week. Instead of screening and watching the movies together as a group, Pollock uses technology to deliver a more personalized learning experience. He uploads the movies to a cloud server, where students can stream them anytime. Then each student comes in and meets individually with Pollock to talk about the film — one on one.

“That’s a kind of class that I couldn’t have done five years ago,” Pollock says, “and it’s the technology that enables it. This way, I can speak to each of them and they can each speak to the film.”

What’s even more incredible about a conservatory like UNCSA, says Pollock, is that even the non-arts academic classes are geared toward creative thinkers and learners.

Joe Mills teaches ‘The Depression,’ which is a literature and history class,” Pollock says, “but he explores the subject through music, film, theatre, and opera. UNCSA is the only place I’ve ever taught where the academic classes are conceived of in terms of the students being artists. 


For ballet dancer Lipchik, it’s the people that make the UNCSA conservatory experience so remarkable.

“Because the school is so small, you get to work every day with a really select group of people who are all extraordinarily talented,” says the Wisconsin native. “We’re selective but not exclusive, and we really embrace the idea of collaboration between the art schools.”

A few of Lipchik’s dancer friends just participated in a rooftop video shoot in downtown Winston-Salem. Wherever she goes, someone is always “whipping out a camera” to start an impromptu photo shoot. As much as Lipchik cringes at quoting High School Musical, she credits her extreme satisfaction with UNCSA to the fact that “we’re all in this together.”

“UNCSA has created a really loving and inclusive community where people become your family,” she says. “I can’t speak highly enough of this place. Deciding to come here two years ago was the best decision that I’ve made.”