Being a good dancer requires grace, poise and hard work; being an expert dancer also requires a keen mental and physical alertness, strength, balance, control, sensitivity to kinesthetic awareness and an ability to connect with an audience – all things that Richland College dance student Leah Brashear has. And the prestigious Joffrey Ballet School has noticed.
Brashear recently completed her first year of studies in Richland College’s dance program, which helped her to get accepted into the Joffrey Ballet Dallas Summer Intensive Program and the Joffrey Ballet School four-year program of Jazz and Contemporary Dance in New York City.
“When I found out that I got accepted into the Joffrey summer intensive program, I was so glad that I could learn from one of the best dance schools in the country,” said Brashear. “When I also found out that I was accepted to four years of study at the Joffrey Ballet School, I was more than happy! I have always had some self-esteem problems, and finding out that I was accepted at such a prestigious dance school made me believe in myself.”
The Joffrey Ballet School was founded by Robert Joffrey in 1953, and has been cultivating dancers for more than 60 years. It has produced professional dancers, choreographers, studio owners and professionals in the industry. Many graduates are currently dancing with Boston Ballet, Miami City Ballet, Sarasota Ballet, Nevada Ballet, Complexion and Ballet West among other companies across the United States. The Jazz and Contemporary Dance program is designed for dancers who want to focus on jazz and contemporary styles of movement, while also incorporating a wider knowledge of classical ballet and modern dance.
Gina Sawyer, Richland College dance program director, is proud of the skills that Leah has developed in Sawyer’s jazz, tap dance and performance classes.
“Leah’s dancing skills have certainly improved during her time at Richland,” said Sawyer. “She listens and develops during the rehearsal process. During the past year, she has taken greater risks in dancing. She also has a strong inner awareness about her, she picks up movement quickly, she understands the quality of each movement, and she shines. She’s one of many dancers in the program who really shine. She will do great at Joffrey and any professional dance setting that she is in.”
In addition to teaching dance classes, Sawyer also directs and sets choreography for the formal dance concert performed each semester at Richland College. Brashear performed as one of the lead dancers in Richland’s spring dance concert, True Colors, which was a contemporary lyrical piece choreographed by Sawyer. The show was about empowering individuals to discover their unique voice and imagine the possibilities. Brashear sent a recording of that performance as her audition tape to Joffrey, and was accepted into the Joffrey Ballet School and the summer intensive program based on her exceptional skills and graceful movements showcased in that performance.
“My goal in creating the choreography for True Colors was for each of the four dancers to have a sense of equality among them in their performance,” said Sawyer. “It wasn’t about featuring one dancer, it was about each dancer being featured and having a unique voice. Dancers are not always featured in a piece each semester, and it took a lot of work to create four different, lead dance roles. Joffrey required candidates to submit a piece in which they were featured, so Leah had the chance to share this performance with them. They obviously liked what they saw!”
The Dallas Summer Intensive Program was hosted at Texas Woman’s University, and lasted three weeks in August. The program focused on jazz, contemporary and modern dance forms. Other classes included classical and contemporary ballet technique, street jazz, Pilates and yoga. At the end of the intensive program, each student performed in a professionally produced theatre performance.
Now that she has completed the summer intensive program, Brashear will continue to study dance for one more year at Richland College before deciding where to attend school in Fall 2017. She is considering accepting the offer to study at the Joffrey Ballet School or attending the American Dance Academy in New York or Ballet Austin in Austin, Tex. Once she graduates, Brashear plans either to dance professionally or be a dance instructor for young children at a school or dance studio.
“I decided to stay at Richland for another year, so I can mentally and physically prepare myself and be ready to make such a big move,” said Brashear. “Richland has helped me a lot with dance. Gina Sawyer is one of the best dance instructors I ever had. She has taught me skills that none of my past dance instructors ever taught me. She encourages dancers and non-dancers to get out of their safe zone. With her guidance, I have become a stronger, better and more confident dancer.”
The Richland College Dance Program provides a challenging teaching and learning environment for students that values diversity, develops artistic excellence, fosters creative and collaborative practices, and encourages personal agency and social responsibility in appreciating dance. On November 2 at 12:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., the dance program will perform the Fall 2016 dance concert, Fire and Ice. This will showcase a variety of dance styles including contemporary modern, jazz, tap and hip hop dance styles.
For more information on the Richland College dance program, visit our website at www.richlandcollege.edu/hfp/dance-program.