Aerys Merrill

Caleb Ennis, Courtesy Merrill

How College Prepped Aerys Merrill For a Career Across the Pond at Northern Ballet

This is one of a series of stories on recent graduates' on-campus experiences—and the connections they made that jump-started their dance careers. Aerys Merrill graduated from University of North Carolina School of the Arts with a BFA in ballet performance in 2018.

As a high school student, Aerys Merrill knew she wanted to dance professionally, but her parents wanted her to go to college. After hearing about the University of North Carolina School of the Arts from a friend, she decided to apply. Merrill soon found that the program was exactly what she needed: She could earn a degree and study a variety of academic subjects while continuing her rigorous ballet training. "It ended up being the best four years of my life in preparing me for a professional career," she says. "It's a time that I really cherished."

Always prepared: Merrill appreciated the career-focused atmosphere of UNCSA, recalling one of her favorite teachers, Jennet Zerbe. "She really pushed us in our training, but she also treated us like professionals and wanted us to be as prepared as we could," says Merrill, remembering how Zerbe would share combinations from classes at the Royal Ballet School, where she had received additional teaching certifications.

Aerys Merrill is at the front of a line of dancers in classical white tutus and pointe shoes. She is in pli\u00e9 tendu devant while the dancers behind her stand in sous-sus.

Aerys Merrill (front) in La Bayadère

Betsy Mann Photography, Courtesy Merrill

The whole package: Merrill spent her mornings in classes like history and English before daily technique and pointe or variations. She then dove into dance electives, like music theory, business perspectives, anatomy and biology, before rehearsals. "We learned how to really listen to music, make resumés, go through contracts and understand the body, which is so important for dance."

A shared effort: Collaborating with fellow UNCSA students for the annual Nutcracker was rewarding. "The design and production majors would do the sets and stage work, and the musicians played the music," says Merrill. "I remember thinking, Wow, this is so amazing that all of us students are coming together to put on this show!"

Jumping across the pond: Postcollege, Merrill danced with Atlanta Ballet II and Ballet Memphis before joining England's Northern Ballet for its 2020–21 season. "I've known that I've wanted to dance professionally in Europe, even before college," she says. Merrill was invited to take company class in person after she sent Northern Ballet her performance footage. The director offered her a corps de ballet position on the spot.

Advice for dancers considering college: "I've noticed that companies now really like—and are even looking for—that extra education behind the experiences that you've had. Having college on your resumé is helpful in a professional career because you'll have more knowledge under your belt."

Related Articles Around the Web

Latest Posts

Left to right: Dance Theatre of Harlem's Daphne Lee, Amanda Smith, Lindsey Donnell and Alexandra Hutchinson in a scene from Dancing Through Harlem. Derek Brockington, Courtesy Dance Theatre of Harlem

Dancers Share Their Key Takeaways After a Year of Dancing on Film

Creating dances specifically for film has become one of the most effective ways that ballet companies have connected with audiences and kept dancers employed during the pandemic. Around the world, dance organizations are finding opportunities through digital seasons, whether conceiving cinematic, site-specific pieces or filming works within a traditional theater. And while there is a consistent sentiment that nothing will ever substitute the thrill of a live show, dancers are embracing this new way of performing.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Liam Scarlett with Marianela Nuñez and Ryoichi Hirano during a rehearsal of his Swan Lake at The Royal Ballet. Andrej Uspenski, Courtesy ROH

Choreographer Liam Scarlett Has Died

Over the weekend, news broke that 35-year-old choreographer Liam Scarlett, a former artist in residence at The Royal Ballet, died suddenly at his home in England. "It is with great sadness that we announce the tragic, untimely death of our beloved Liam," Scarlett's family said in a brief statement. "At this difficult time for all of our family, we would ask that you respect our privacy to enable us to grieve our loss."

The cause of death was not disclosed.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Fancy Free" (1981)

In Jerome Robbins's 1944 ballet Fancy Free, three sailors on leave spend the day at a bar, attempting to woo two young women by out-dancing and out-charming one another. In this clip from 1981, Mikhail Baryshnikov, who was then both the artistic director of American Ballet Theatre and a leading performer with the company, pulls out all the stops to win the ladies' affections.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks