Bringing Juilliard to Young Dancers

Wednesday, Oct 12, 2022
Juilliard Journal
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A dance class being taught in a dance studio at Juilliard
Dance faculty member Jeff Edwards led a class as part of the recent Juilliard Dance Experience intensive

By Alicia Graf Mack

When I assumed the role of dean and director of Juilliard’s Dance Division, in 2018, I envisioned building upon the school’s legacy of artistic excellence while allowing the joy of dance to stand at the forefront of the student experience. I also imagined a vibrant environment where the Dance Division regularly engaged with the greater community outside of our campus. We are blessed with some of the most gifted teaching artists in the world and the most accomplished and generous students and alumni. It is our responsibility to share our riches of resources with all young people who express a passion for movement.

With this mission in mind, last spring, I pitched the idea of piloting the Juilliard Dance Experience, a one-day intensive that provided a glimpse into the division. We would invite young dancers, ages 10-18, and emphasize that no audition would be required to participate. Immediately, our dedicated dance staff and the Juilliard K-12 Programs and Initiatives team started mobilizing to bring the vision of the Juilliard Dance Experience into reality. With invaluable support from the admissions and public affairs departments, we created a webpage, advertised the intensive on our various social media channels and local publications, and developed a mechanism for accepting students. The Juilliard Dance Experience registration opened in August, and to our surprise, the event quickly sold out. We ended up with 200 students enrolled. And the values of access and equity led the way, providing full and half scholarships for more than 30 percent of the registrants.

And so at 8:15am on September 18, I walked toward Juilliard, to find large groups of young people and their families waiting for the 65th Street doors to open. I ascended the stairs and stood at the security desk with Kevin Challenger, our lead public safety officer, and beamed with happiness as we greeted each dancer. They came from 28 states and 4 countries, well beyond our targeted tristate area, which was an awesome reminder of the global reach of our school and the ability of dance to inspire across multiple demographics.

The day started with my visiting all six dance studios to thank everyone for coming. From there, the dance faculty, alumni, and current students did what they do best—energize and uplift. Mimicking the diversity of the BFA curriculum, the students took ballet, contemporary, improvisation, and hip-hop. It was amazing to witness the kids, especially the 10-year-olds, shed their inhibitions, and find a sense of belonging in our spaces as soon as they had the opportunity to move as a collective. Dance has that power; it can galvanize community by binding spirit, music, and movement.

In addition to receiving dance classes, the students ate lunch in the Juilliard cafeteria and had the chance to ask more questions about our Summer Dance Intensive and BFA programs during a final meeting in Paul Hall. Afterward, Tracy Hendrickson, the associate director of K-12 Programs and Initiatives, called the day “a celebration of the pure joy of dance.” She added, “everyone involved—Juilliard faculty, alumni, students, and young dancers—felt the buzz of energy that radiated through the building. To open our doors to an entire new audience who will engage with Juilliard in such a personal way is the start of an exciting new chapter.” 

I couldn’t agree more. We’re all looking forward to welcoming more young dreamers into our spaces to ignite their journeys, no matter where their paths may lead.

>Stay tuned to juilliard.edu/danceexperience to learn about upcoming plans

Alicia Graf Mack is the dean and director of the Dance Division