BELIEVE IN YOURSELF
ECU provided the perfect stage for dancer Chanelle Turnbull
As a high schooler, Chanelle Turnbull attended Weaver Academy — a magnet school in downtown Greensboro where she was one of about 300 student artists, composers, dancers, actors and musicians immersed in the arts.
Not having the typical high school experience meant Turnbull wanted one in college, and East Carolina University offered it all — campus life, friends, sports — and a well-respected dance program.
“We always have rehearsal, but I can still hang out with friends, I can go to football games,” Turnbull said. “I think that’s what mainly led me to ECU — I could get this great college experience while also doing what I love, which is dance.”
Turnbull’s favorite type of dance has been contemporary ballet, which adds modern elements to classical technique. “I enjoy the movement, where it’s structured but you can break it down and add your own style to it. I feel like contemporary ballet just helps to bring out my personality as a dancer,” she said.
Turnbull has participated in the School of Theatre and Dance fall and spring dance concerts and main stage dance performances each year as well as the annual Lights Up! event.
Last year, Turnbull served as student liaison for a virtual exchange program with Nairobi, Kenya, which started when the pandemic canceled in-person classes and performances worldwide.
Turnbull was responsible for communicating and organizing with Kenyan student leaders to plan sessions to share dance styles and choreographies every Friday.
“Even though it was on Zoom, we all were so happy to be in the room and to dance with people,” Turnbull said. “I think we really needed that to help push through the rest of the year, and really inspire us too.”
At ECU, Turnbull has learned to always be herself, she said. Coming in, she was one of the only Black women in ECU’s program. She came from a predominantly Black studio, where dancers wore brown tights and skin tone ballet shoes — instead of the pink tights and pink shoes that students wore at ECU.
Name: Chanelle Turnbull
College: Fine Arts and Communication
Major: Dance with a concentration in performance and choreography
Hobbies/interests: Dance, jewelry making
Clubs and Organizations: President, National Honor Society for Dance Arts; East Carolina Dance Association; Student Co-Chair for the School of Theatre and Dance Diversity and Inclusion Committee
Favorite hangout: Anywhere with my friends
Favorite place on campus: Messick
Favorite class: Modern with John Dixon
Professor who influenced you the most: Jessica Teague
Favorite TV show: “RuPaul’s Drag Race”
Favorite band/musician: SZA
Favorite movie: “Shrek 2”
Dream job: Any dance company
Role model: RuPaul
Your words to live by: If you can’t love yourself, how the hell you supposed to love somebody else?
What advice do you have for other students? Enjoy your years at school because they fly by! Live in the moment and take each day one at a time.
What is something cool about ECU that you wish you knew during your first year? Subway has pizzas! I wish I knew that my freshman year.
After her first class, she told the professor that she would wear pink next time. “And he said, ‘no, I like that,’” Turnbull said. “If you just believe in yourself and you have confidence, you can absolutely do anything that you put your mind to.”
Turnbull is president of ECU’s chapter of the National Honor Society for Dance Art and student co-chair for the school’s award-winning diversity and inclusion committee, helping create an action plan to prioritize systemic change for an anti-racist dance and theater community.
In January 2020, Turnbull attended the International Association of Blacks in Dance conference in Philadelphia.
“Being around other dancers of color really helped to motivate me and help me know I’m not the only one out there in the world,” she said. “It also makes me want to work even harder because I know I could potentially be a role model for other dancers and other dancers of color, so I want to make sure that I am representing myself to the best of my abilities.”
After graduation, Turnbull is considering possible summer intensive programs before moving to New York, Philadelphia or Chicago to join a dance company. She intends to earn a graduate degree and teach at a university one day. “My teachers have inspired me so much, and I want to be someone like them and help other dance students figure out their dreams,” she said.