As a bongo drum set a rhythm, a trio of dancers bounded across the studio floor, coordinated in basic movements introduced by the instructor moments before. Then another three, then another trio as dozens floated across the studio floor.
The class at the Samuel H.Scripps Studio in Durham served as part of a scholarship audition process for the American Dance Festival’s Six Week School intensive summer dance program. The program, with its intensity and length, represents one of the nation’s most highly regarded dance programs.
The audition was one of 18 in cities around the country, and scholarships in amounts from $200 to the full tuition – more than $1,900 – will be awarded based on talent and financial need.
Many of the students came to Durham from various university dance programs, from UNC School of the Arts to Virginia Commonwealth University. For them, the program provides expert training over the summer as well as networking opportunities to find dance companies to employ them when they graduate.
“It’s a really good environment to make connections professionally. A lot of people I know have gotten into the companies they’re in through ADF,” said Emily Chamberlin, a third-year contemporary dance major from UNC School of the Arts.
“There’s just a wealth of talented, beautiful dancers who are just so willing and eager to just dance. As an aspiring choreographer, that’s really cool.”
Students in the summer program – held at Duke University – can dance every single day. Dancers attend three two-hour classes held four days per week; rehearsals occupy nights. Classes are available on the other three days, and students can take as many as they’d like, said Nicolle Greenhood, director of school administration at ADF. ADF also holds shorter programs for different age groups.
Although the school can be “self-selecting” because of its length, intensity and immersion, the school accepts any beginner or expert older than16.
The school doesn’t focus on a particular style of modern dance, Greenhood said. The variety of faculty allows students to see value in returning. Rex Kennedy will be attending his third summer at the school.
“The faculty is large enough that you can have different classes every time you come,” said Kennedy, a Virginia Commonwealth University freshman from Denver, N.C. “There are lots of performance opportunities, and the community is really strong, everyone’s friends with each other, and everyone’s here to dance.”
Though most at the audition plan to do what it takes to attend, the scholarship amount could be huge for some. After a one-hour group class for the roughly 40 dancers – where observers were taking notes on how well students were adapting to instruction – each auditioning dancer did a minute-and-a-half solo performance.
Lauren Gibbs, a UNC Greensboro senior from Mooresville, said her parents have been saving tuition money for her to attend the program after her professors stressed its merits. It would be her graduation present.
“It would be extremely helpful to my family if I got a scholarship,” Gibbs said. “My parents know how good of an opportunity this is.”
Teachers at the UNC School of the arts also stressed the growth opportunities to program newcomers David Ferguson, a second-year student from Asheville, and Jared Smith, a first-year from Winston-Salem.
Smith said he had been purely a hip-hop dancer and just started taking formalized dance classes before auditioning for the School of the Arts. He still integrates his hip-hop background into his work.
“I definitely can’t waste a summer not dancing. It’s not even an option,” Smith said.