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

High school contemporary dance seniors Chandler Davidson of Greensboro, North Carolina, and Elijah Davis of Oxnard, California, may be taking different journeys after their UNCSA graduation, but both will be learning from a world-renowned dance company that will have a lasting impact on their dance education. Post graduation, Davidson and Davis will participate in summer intensives with the Complexions Contemporary Ballet company which is headquartered in both Los Angeles and New York City. 

This school year, students in the School of Dance had the opportunity to work with visiting guest artist Christina Johnson and audition for the highly-regarded summer intensives at Complexions. The company was founded in 1994 by former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater members with the mission of creating “a singular approach to reinventing dance through a groundbreaking mix of methods, styles and cultures.”

Signs of Life

Both Davidson and Davis were a part of alumnus Andrew Harper's Fall Dance 2021 piece "Signs of Life" and consider it one of their favorite performances. / Photo: Peter Mueller

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

Tell us what you'll be doing after graduation.

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

Elijah: I will be leaving school a little early to start the Complexions trainee program for two weeks in New York City. While there, I hope to have an opportunity to join them on their summer tour of Germany and Israel. If I don’t have the opportunity to join the tour, I will head home for the month of June and work on applying for scholarships. In July, I will be participating in their summer intensive in New York City. For college in the fall, I am 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 it was time for change and a new step in my dance career. After two years, I now think it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my academic and artistic career. Being at UNCSA has shifted my artistic perspective completely and really prepared me for my future years in college and in the professional dance world. Getting to work with amazing choreographers and teachers that all have so much knowledge has been incredible, and this is one of the best places ever for high school in my opinion. 

Elijah: I was craving an environment similar to what I had experienced at professional dance company summer intensives, and felt that a conservatory would be a good fit. I heard about UNCSA from an alumna who had a positive experience. She explained that it was a university with an arts boarding high school, and that you can major in dance while taking academic classes. I thought that sounded really interesting. I was considering other performing arts high schools, but UNCSA was one of the few where you could board — so it ended up being the right decision for me. 

Elijah Davis

Elijah Davis in "M.O." excerpt from Spring Dance 2022 choreographed by Trisha Brown and staged by Abigail Yager. / Photo: Rosalie O'Connor

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

Chandler: I would have to say thank you to Brenda Daniels. She was my first teacher here for technique, and she totally shifted my understanding of my body. She gave me strength and clarity in my movement and changed the way my mind thought about and approached dance. I would also thank my technique teachers this year, Ming-Lung Yang and Abby Yager. They emphasize connecting mind and body, which is a different approach from teachers than I have had in the past. 

Elijah: I would also say Brenda Daniels because my first year I struggled a lot with my mental health, and she really helped me get back on track. She helped me learn that dance can be my therapy and a relief from my mental health issues, instead of a contributing factor. She also helped me afford to come here, and fought to help me stay here. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for her. 

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

Chandler: To come in with an open mind be ready to have a clean slate. In my first months being here I was a little judgemental and got a little stuck in my own ways. I had what I would call a self-block, but the curriculum here definitely broke that down smoothly. This school has opened me up to so many new things that have shaped me into the dancer and 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 residence hall environment. Being responsible for things like doing your own laundry and making sure you eat nutritious meals regularly can be a big shift in your life. I would tell future high school students to really prepare yourself for a change in lifestyle. Also, learning how to manage your own mental health and how to reach out to people for support was something I had to learn after moving into a residence hall. It was good, though, because I got early experience with adulthood and I’ll head into college with those skills already. 

Lost Disposition

Chandler Davidson also considers Elizabeth Iwasko's Emerging Choreographers piece "Lost Disposition" a favorite performance at UNCSA. / Photo: Allison Lee Isley

Share one of your failures during your time at UNCSA. What did you learn?

Chandler: The self block I spoke of would be my biggest failure. It was a time where I felt that if I couldn’t grasp a concept immediately that I would never understand it. It slowed me down for a bit, but there was a shift in the middle of the year when I gave in and released those thoughts. That’s when I really started growing and seeing a change in my mind and body. 

Elijah: I had a few inner failure moments also my first year when I felt like I wasn’t able to handle everything going on, and it felt like I was failing personally. I learned from Brenda that there are things I can do to ease my own mental health, and that it is okay for some things to be out of my control. I learned the importance of voicing those negative inner feelings to people that I’m working with, as well as friends and family. Voicing 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's an opportunity you had at UNCSA that's different from other high schools?

Chandler: All of the performance opportunities and getting to work with professional choreographers. I love that this school brings in artists with impressive resumes that have so much experience in the dance world. 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 class was really transformational for me. Even if you don’t want to become a choreographer, what you learn in that class shapes you and has an impact in all of your other technical classes. 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 arts education. The dance faculty are all trained at a university level, and in class everyone is treated with the same respect — making 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 are all able to understand what the professional dance world 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’d get the same level of dedication and attention. Also, I feel like at other schools many teachers can often just focus on the subject they are teaching — but here, I’ve always had the feeling that my teachers care if I am doing okay and help me to continue to move forward as an artist and as a person. 

by: Melissa Upton-Julio

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May 09, 2022