I remember during my enrollment here, I was surprised to find myself in the School of the Arts. I don’t know what I expected dance to be categorized as, considering it doesn’t exactly fit in with engineering or journalism. But I also didn’t know dance past the teacher-student only relationship--they tell you what to do, and you do it, simple as that. Thrown in this new environment, I was scared. I tried to hide in class. I told myself I wasn’t good enough, wasn’t thin enough, wasn’t strong enough. Things began to change when I took Patrick Suzeau’s class. Patrick, for those of you who don’t know him, is a critically acclaimed, international performer with Juilliard training and a couple Fulbright Scholarships under his belt. He’s also French, just a little bit taller than me, bald, and in better shape than I could ever hope to be. And let me tell you, his ballet classes are hard. As you are standing there, 18 years old, dripping in sweat and shaking, trying so hard for your leg to go just a little bit higher, Patrick, at 60 something, will fly across the room, hinge to the floor, get back up, do a triple backflip, solve world hunger and say “If grandpa can do it, you can do it”. But Patrick also asked us to take risks. So I did. I started taking risks. I stopped hiding in class, I started owning my movement and making it mine rather than just something someone told me to do. It didn’t always work out. I fell. A lot. I still do. After falling a few thousand times in his and other dance classes, I still remember Patrick telling us “It is better to dance and fall, than to never have danced at all:.
I think I scared my parents when I started realizing I was an artist. I came to college with a very set plan to go to physical therapy school after graduation, which meant taking a heavy course load of all science disciplines, on top of all the requirements for a BFA dance major. There was never pressure from my family to not be a dancer, but the career paths in my family trend towards math and science, and I understand why it’s hard to watch a daughter go towards what seems like an unstable career. But I’ve also watched too many people go into a field just for the money, and are now unable to get a job because of current market trends. I’d rather risk failure pursuing something I love than to go into something I don’t deeply care about and still have the risk of failure.
Failure is a very real thing. For the first time in my life, I don’t know what I will be doing 2 months from now, let alone a year or five years. And that scares me almost as much as it scares my mom. I plan on returning to school in the next few years, pursuing physical therapy or movement sciences. In the meantime though, there is a little voice inside me that says “go”. If there was ever a time to listen to that little voice, it’s now. That voice has grown louder and louder, from a whisper inside my head to other people I barely know embodying that voice, telling me to take a risk and go dance. Move to Chicago. Don’t stay, don’t settle. There is something more there that I have yet to find. A year from now, I might be totally miserable and find myself hitchhiking back to Oklahoma to sleep on my parents couch. But I have to respond to that voice first. That voice has something to say, and is honestly the closest thing to divine intervention I’ve experienced. And I’m not going with the plan for failure. By risking everything, I hope to gain so much more in life experience and artistry. And, lucky for me, I already have so many friends in the professional dance world, including all of this year’s KU Dance graduates, as every single one of us is remaining involved in dance through performing, teaching, arts administration, or choreography.
Last year, I made a list of what I’ve learned as an artist and dancer. I haven’t shared this list with more than a small handful of people, but tonight I want to give you a couple of my favorites. The arts teach the importance of experiencing what it’s like to be human, and sharing your human experience. The arts teach the importance of finding patience with yourself, your body, and your mind. The arts teach the importance of visualizing what you are going to create, and executing. And finally, the arts teach the importance of seeking an expression of emotion in a society that urges us to remain neutral.
Being an artist isn’t exclusive to art majors. It doesn’t mean you have to dress or act a certain way, or shun yourself from society. Complete opposite of that, actually. Being an artist means you have something to say, and you’re going to find a way to say it through any medium possible. Our degree in the arts does not mean we are any better or worse than anyone else. Our degree means we are here, we have something to say, and we are not afraid to risk everything to say it. My challenge to you, fellow graduates, is to not be afraid to be an artist. Even if your career path doesn’t lead you through your area of study, don’t be afraid to risk everything pursuing what you have to say, and pursuing what you love.