ADF Classroom: Getting in is half the fun | Arts

ADF Classroom: Getting in is half the fun

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Merce Cunningham and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in rehearsal, Page Auditorium, 1988.
  • Photo by Jay Anderson. Courtesy of the American Dance Festival Archives.
  • Merce Cunningham and the Merce Cunningham Dance Company in rehearsal, Page Auditorium, 1988.

The 2010 American Dance Festival began June 10, with African American Dance Ensemble performing in Duke’s Reynolds Industries Theater. But ADF is most commonly associated with the high-profile dance performances at Duke and at Durham Performing Arts Center, there’s also an educational mission that allows student dancers to enhance their performance and technique.

The festival began in 1934 at Vermont’s Bennington College, with Martha Graham serving as one of the four faculty members. One hundred and three students attended the first six-week session. A mere six years later, the number of dancers grew beyond the capacity of the original faculty.

Famous names would pass through the summer training, including Merce Cunningham in 1939. There are also celebrities not normally associated with modern dance. Future first lady Betty Ford attended the school in 1936 as it developed at Bennington College, and in 1978, a young aspiring dancer named Madonna Ciccone attended ADF’s first season to be held at Duke University.

Most students, of course, are of the non-celebrity variety. But they're all promising dancers. So, one might wonder, "If I wanted to join this deep and possibly intimidating pool of talent, how would I go about getting in?"

According to current dance student Kat Folckomer, you’re in once you send in your completed application, two recommendation letters and a resumé.

“Anyone who wants to come to ADF can come to ADF,” Folckomer says. “It’s not like you have to audition to get in.” She notes that ADF is open to anyone who wants to come and learn.

So there are no auditions at all?

Not so fast.

“You have to audition for scholarships,” Folckomer says, adding that auditions are held all over the country prior to ADF. Hopefuls must take a class and perform a solo totaling one-and-a-half minutes. Folckomer's scholarship allows her to work as a staff assistant to ADF administrator Nicole Wasserman in exchange for her full tuition paid.

The day is structured so that there are four class blocks, of which dancers attend three. The day runs from 8 a.m.—5:45 p.m. For those participating in the Past/ Forward workshop, rehearsals run from 3:45—7 p.m. on non-ADF performance evenings. On those special evenings, rehearsal ends at 6:30.

Through ADF’s run, I’ll be writing about the classroom experience, shadowing students and attending classes. ADF runs through July 24.

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