The following is a reflection piece by Caitlin Bell, a graduate student in business and an alumna of the dance program in the School of the Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno. Bell interviewed several dance alumni in the College of Liberal Arts and ultimately discovered everyone in the program, former and current, all share similar experiences and feelings of home.
By Caitlin Bell
I’ve been thinking a lot about home – home as a place, home as an idea and home as a person. When I was young, I always considered my home to be my childhood home, the place where my parents still live and the place I still visit once a week. As I grew older, I began to realize that home could be more than just a physical space.
I’ve been in reflection over the past couple of months. The pandemic has put things in a different perspective for many of us. In August of 2020, I got married to the love of my life. I began thinking about my life prior to marriage and wondered what my life would be like post-marriage. Shortly after, I accomplished my multi-year goal of forming a nonprofit dance company, Collateral & Co. Both of these very significant events put my life in perspective and I was forced to reflect on how my life has shifted and the ways in which I’ve found “home” throughout the years.
Home changes. Home for me is my childhood home, my current home with my husband, it is my husband himself, my dance company, my parents and my in-laws. Home changes and shifts, but for me the omnipresent home in my life is dance. And within dance, I have found many homes. One dance home specifically prepared me for the arduous, fruitful and beautiful future that awaited me. Dance in the School of the Arts at the University of Nevada, Reno, is like coming home – a home you never even expected.
When I started writing this article, I knew there must be other people who feel the same way I do. Keely Cobb, a 2016 dance graduate who is now the director of theatre at Sage Ridge School in Reno, Nev. and artistic director of Around the Stage, described dance at the University saying, “What’s really special about this dance program, is that it stays with you. Even though I have graduated and am no longer part of the University, my dance professors are still mentoring me, supporting my work and have become some of my dearest friends.”
Upon talking with other graduates of the University who were involved in the dance program, I found similarities in all of their answers. Dance at the University prepared them for success in a multitude of ways and taught them a variety of lessons along the way.
A 2015 graduate who is now pursuing a doctorate of veterinary medicine degree at Washington State University, Cordelia Leeder said, “Dance teaches you so much about teamwork, dedication and sacrifice. I am absolutely a stronger and more well-rounded student because of the dance program and my experiences as a dancer.”
The dance program gives students the opportunity to exercise their creativity in an environment that fosters growth and encourages self-expression.
“Dance teaches you how to be humble and respectful, but also allows you to display fierce originality and emotional conviction,” Leeder said. “These are truly beautiful qualities to bring to the world.”
Mandy Flocchini, 2011 aluma, is now a middle school science teacher. She explained how the dance program became a home for her during a difficult time during her undergraduate studies. “I distinctly remember feeling miserable the fall of my freshman year (the only semester I didn’t take a single dance class), but when I decided to get back into dance, everything changed,” Flocchini said. “The relationships I developed and confidence I built during my time in the program are still with me today.”
When I first arrived at the University of Nevada, Reno in 2011, I was a biology major. I was fascinated by the subject and had dreams of becoming a physician. It took me two years to discover that my passions were in another major and minor altogether.
In 2013, I switched my major to English and declared a dance minor. I grew up dancing in Reno but had never considered dancing at the University. A childhood friend convinced me to give it a chance and so I enrolled in a class and auditioned for the Fall Dance Festival. I was cast in that same friend’s piece in the Fall Dance Festival and I embarked on my journey in dance in the School of the Arts. I went on to graduate in 2016 and was awarded the College of Liberal Arts Dean’s Award in Performance and Artistry.
Miranda Kane, a 2014 graduate who now works for Genentech, Inc., explained how the program helped her find a home at the University after moving away from the Sacramento, Calif. area.
“The University of Nevada, Reno dance program was pivotal for my college experience,” Kane said. “Just having moved away from home as a freshman, it immediately provided me with a sense of community. That community continued to strengthen and evolve over my four years at UNR and it ultimately connected me with individuals who, 11 years later, I am still lucky enough to call some of my best friends.”
Like so many others, the University of Nevada, Reno dance program allowed me to make connections that have helped me succeed in ways I never imagined and taught me the value and importance of following your passion.
Karen Burns learned the importance of following her passion in the early days of dance at the University. Burns, a 1976 graduate with majors in English and physical education with an emphasis in dance, was one of the first of four individuals to receive the University’s degree in P.E. with an emphasis in dance under former Professor of Dance, Kristen Avansino. Burns went on to create her own successful production company, Karen Burns Productions, LLC and has been noted by The New York Times as having one of the largest private collections of vintage stage show costumes from the world-famous MGM Grand Hotel in Reno show, Hello Hollywood, Hello.
“Create a plan, have goals, get the necessary training and then be open to some possible unique performance opportunities,” Burns said.
I have been afforded the fruits of a solid dance education that taught me persistence and allowed me to set out into the world without fear and with a whole lot of confidence. In my third year of the dance program, Rosie Trump, associate professor of dance, assisted me with summer internship applications.
After being offered two internships, I chose one in New York City with Gallim Dance, the same company I would later work for as an associate after graduation; and the same company who taught me invaluable lessons that would enable me to start my own dance company here in Reno. Rosie helped me refine my cover letters, résumé, and encouraged me through the entire process. The dance program is teeming with professors like Rosie who care deeply about student success.
From working for New York-based Gallim Dance, to writing for Dance Magazine, to creating my own dance company and now pursuing a Master in Business Administration from the University of Nevada, Reno, I created a plan. I went after my goals and made my passion a reality. Simply put, the University’s dance program gave me the tools to succeed in more ways than one.
The faculty have long fostered a sense of home with an energy that can only be described as caring and encouraging. Jordan Bauzon, a 2016 graduate now living and teaching in Tokyo, Japan, described a lesson he learned about grasping his own understanding of life in Associate Professor of Dance, Cari Cunningham’s Dance Criticisms and Aesthetics course.
“Cari stressed that one may think that they cannot ‘find the words to properly express oneself through dance vocabulary explicitly,’ but in reality, all one really needs to do is find their own voice and mindset to relay their interpretations of the world,” Bauzon said. “This form of thinking has informed my approach to nearly every encounter in my life as I endeavor to respond to the diverse needs of those who come into my life, personally and professionally.”
Much like home, the dance program is always a place where you can return for help and guidance, but of course, not without some tough love. If I could impart any advice to current dance majors and minors, it is this: Listen to your teachers - they have your best interests at heart and their guidance will take you far. Soak everything in. Learn as much as you can and be open to ideas, suggestions and constructive criticism. If you let it, the dance program will mold you from a student and dancer into an artist – an artist who sees the world, listens and tries their best to understand.
I too, am trying to understand the challenges of the last year in this new COVID-19 reality. I’m trying to understand my past so I can make sense of my future. A lot of uncertainty has been felt for quite some time, but one thing we can be sure of is that dance at the University has become a home to many – a home we didn’t know existed – but the home we discovered we needed all along.