For dancers, high school graduation is often a major decision-making time for professional careers: Do you head to Los Angeles (or New York City) to start working in your profession or do you take the four years to go to college? In the last decade, it was an easy decision for many dancers to go straight to LA to work because there were so many opportunities at hand, including a coveted spot as a competitor on So You Think You Can Dance.
The pandemic changed the face of dance in Los Angeles, at least temporarily, as production slowed down and shows like So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance were canceled. With the city facing some of the strictest COVID-19 safety protocols, which affected dance studios tremendously, many dancers decided to make a different decision after the pandemic — they are headed to college.
For some dance students, the pandemic changed a plan that had been in place for years, but they certainly weren't disappointed by the outcome. Season three World of Dance contestant Ellie Wagner spoke about how the last year and a half had a big impact on her decision to attend Ohio State University and join their dance team. "I definitely thought about it a lot because I always thought I was going to go to LA or New York to be a professional dancer. But then the pandemic hit and it was really hard for me, so I started applying to schools," she told News Break. "I wanted to have an option in case I changed my mind, but I just wanted the best of both worlds." Wagner realized that she "wanted to dance," but also "wanted a really good education [and] the college experience."
Fellow World of Dance contestant Kayla Mak agreed with Wagner's assessment. When News Break spoke with her last fall, she was "still having the debate between a company or college" while in her senior year. "I'm applying for college, especially during these times, college and your education are so important because dancers are unemployed and they need jobs," she explained. "So I think minoring or majoring in something really helps if [a pandemic] should ever happen again." Mak decided that a college dance conservatory program was the route to go and announced this spring that she will be attending Juilliard in the fall.
Westside School of Ballet's Zane Tahvildaran Jesswein always had a goal in mind: New York City. As a Santa Monica resident, he was ready for a change of scenery and was excited by the possibilities the Big Apple provided. The dancer shared that his initial goals have changed over the last few years and that helped factor into his decision to enroll in New York University's Tisch School of the Arts this fall. "I always wanted to be in a company and I feel like there's a certain point where it's not like you can't," he told News Break. "But what's going to be a more beneficial journey in dance?"
Jesswein is hoping NYU provides more opportunities in different styles and gives him room to grow as a dancer. "As I've gotten older, I've danced more and tried different kinds of dance and I've [realized] there are so many paths and more things you can do with dance," he said. "Maybe I don't want to go into a company?"
The collegiate path that many seniors are choosing will change the face of commercial dance in the next decade, especially in the Los Angeles area. It's going to create artists, who have already seen their fair share of hardships before they even enter college, but it also might provide the gateway to the most beautiful work we've ever seen.