Training

A Day in the Life of a Dance Major: Jackie Schiffner, University of Southern California

Jackie Schiffner rehearsing onstage for the BFA Spring Dance Performance. Photo by Carolyn DiLoreto, Courtesy USC.

Pointe caught up with three college dancers last spring to see what it's like juggling ballet, academics and a social life on campus. Here's Jackie Schiffner, a student at the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at the University of Southern California getting her BFA in dance with a concentration in dance performance.

Schiffner with friends during USC's Trojan Family Weekend. Photo by Justina Gaddy, Courtesy USC.

Jackie Schiffner grew up in Huntington Beach, California, training in everything from ballet to hip hop. Now a junior at University of Southern California's Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, she was drawn by the school's mission to develop "hybrid artists." "Even at the audition, we were required to do contemporary, hip hop, improv. And the faculty was so focused on each of us as individuals, which has definitely carried over into my experience here," Schiffner says. Her teachers' influence has already inspired Schiffner's future goal. "After I graduate, I definitely want to join a company, but then get my MFA in dance to teach at the collegiate level."


5 am: Schiffner commutes an hour each way from home in Huntington Beach, so she hits the road early. "We have amazing gym facilities at USC, so I go there to warm up and do some cardio before class."

8–9 am: Yoga or weight-training class

Shiffner getting ready for the show. Photo by Mary Mallaney, Courtesy USC.

9–10:30 am: Ballet technique, either with all the sophomores or separate women's pointe class

10:30–noon: Contemporary, jazz, hip hop or partnering

Noon–2 pm: Dance history or administrative work. "Three days a week I intern in the Kaufman administrative office. I'm behind the scenes for all the events that happen here and welcome newly admitted students."

Lunch: "Somewhere in there I eat lunch! I'll either bring something from home or go to my favorite place off-campus, Amazebowls."

Schiffner goofing around with her fellow dance majors backstage before a performance. Photo by Mary Mallaney, Courtesy USC.

2–5 pm: Repertoire and performance class. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Schiffner has composition class focusing on the techniques of USC's artistic advisor, William Forsythe, who regularly coaches students in his works. "Being coached by Forsythe himself is not something you get anywhere else," says Schiffner.

5–8 pm: Rehearsals, electives and study time. In addition to a big performance at the end of each semester and two in-studio showings, USC dancers perform every few weeks at events both on- and off-campus. Three days a week, Schiffner also takes an elective ballroom class before making time for studying and heading home. "There's a collaborative work space in the dance building just for the BFA majors where I like to hang out and do my reading," she says. "And we do have weekends off, to rest our bodies!"

Want more? Check out a day in the life of dance major Elizabeth Abbick, a student at Jordan College of the Arts at Butler University, here.

Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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Pointe Stars
Photo by Theo Kossenas, Courtesy The Washington Ballet

You made a deal with your mom to take ballet classes in exchange for a ride to tryouts for the football team. How did that work?
I thought that I would take ballet for a couple months, become a master and then leave that alone and concentrate on football. Ballet had other ideas, which perplexed me, and ultimately, I think, made me fall in love with it.

How is The Washington Ballet evolving under Julie Kent's leadership?
It's still early, but I think that the company is growing stronger classically. And we have Julie, Victor Barbee, Xiomara Reyes and Rinat Imaev—a great team of people who are giving their input and expertise, which is quite helpful.

Mack in 'Swan Lake.' Photo by Theo Kossenas

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Summer Study Advice
Summer intensive students at the School of American Ballet. Photo by Rosalie O'Conner, Courtesy SAB.

As a young student, Shea McAdoo's classes at the Master Ballet Academy in Scottsdale, Arizona, were “strict, straightforward, very classical and purely Vaganova." She appreciated the Russian rigor and precision, but when she was accepted to the School of American Ballet's summer course at 13, she leapt at the chance to learn something new. The vastly different emphasis on Balanchine technique at SAB was illuminating: “It changed my whole way of thinking about musicality and accents. I'd never known there were so many ways to do a tendu! And the épaulement—I loved how they talked about light hitting your face, tilting your chin to show off your diamond earring."

McAdoo's experience was transformative, even when she returned home. “Of course, I lowered my arms back down in second and didn't cross my wrists," she says, “but there were stylistic choices I brought back with me." Today, as an apprentice with Oregon Ballet Theatre rehearsing Balanchine's Serenade, she credits her ease with the ballet's fluid port de bras to her summer at SAB.

Learning about ballet's various styles and techniques is an important part of a dancer's development. With summer intensive auditions approaching, it's a perfect time to consider broadening your training. While it can be initially confusing, immersing yourself in a style outside your comfort zone can be eye-opening and influential for your future training and career. And the benefits of diversifying your training can last beyond a single summer.


Shea McAdoo in OBT's production of "Paquita." Photo by James McGrew.

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