High school students learn what it’s like to major in dance

Fifty high school students imagined what it would be like to major in dance on Oct. 26 when East Carolina University’s School of Theatre and Dance held College Dance Day.

Students from D.H. Conley, Farmville Central, East Wake Academy, Nash Central and Enloe high schools and the Holly Springs School of Dance attended the day – now in its fifth year. The day started from a request from local dance teachers who wanted to give their students more information about college programs.

High school students participate in College Dance Day

Fifty high school students in six schools from Raleigh to Greenville participated in College Dance Day at ECU on Oct. 26.

“The idea is to help students understand in general what a dance program is about,” said Marissa Nesbit, assistant professor and dance program coordinator at ECU. “It gives them a different perspective on what would be expected in a college setting.”

The group toured Messick and McGinnis theatres, observed and participated in dance classes led by faculty members Tommi Galaska and David Ingram, and watched a showing of previous ECU dance performances. The students also joined in a Q&A session with ECU dance majors.

“To do it in a day gives them, in a nutshell, what it’s like to be in college so they can envision themselves here and think about what they want to do,” Nesbit said.

Trevor Wooten, a senior at Farmville Central High School, already has been accepted to ECU for fall 2019. Next, he will complete an in-person audition for a spot in ECU’s dance program. He said College Dance Day “gives me insight on what to expect when I get here and what I need to work on.”

A dancer at Greenville Civic Ballet, Wooten said he’s accustomed to being the only guy in dance class. “But it’s more about what I want to know rather than who I’m with,” he said.

Marilyn Chappell, ECU ’90 and director of the Holly Springs School of Dance, said she has been teaching many of her students since they were 3. Some of her former students are enrolled at ECU now and are ECU alumni.

“It’s so informative for our students to have the opportunity to be in a college environment, take class with the kids already here and ask questions,” Chappell said. “It helps navigate their own decision-making process when they think about dancing on the secondary level. To really immerse themselves for a day like a college student gives them the opportunity to say ‘yes, I want to be a dance major.’”

Megan Shepherd, a senior dance major at ECU, and Lauren McKee, a junior, helped organize the day as members of the ECU chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Arts.

Shepherd also has helped with new student auditions in previous years. She said some of the questions that students and parents have are ‘what’s it like to live in a dorm’ to ‘how was the adjustment period to college,’ ‘are you able to go to football games’ and ‘can you be in a sorority?’

While most can join a sorority or fraternity, or attend some ballgames, the time commitment for dance courses and rehearsals is intense but worth it, Shepherd said. “It is demanding mentally and physically. You have to be able to plan your time accordingly. You learn that time management,” she said, adding many students coming into the program are longtime athletes and artists who are used to maintaining a strict schedule.

The main thing she hopes to impart to prospective students is being in ECU’s dance program is like being in a family, where alumni stay connected with students. “It’s a large campus and yet we get a small conservatory feel,” Shepherd said. “All your professors know your name. They care about you. They’re here to give you advice if you need it.”

Tommi Galaska dancing

ECU instructor Tommi Galaska dances in the Messick studio during College Dance Day.