Mariah Gravelin, 22, graduated from NFA in 2014. As a high schooler she studied ballet at the local Pre-Professional ballet school Eastern Connecticut Ballet and is currently launching her professional dance career as an apprentice with the Limon Dance Company in NYC.
VS: Training at ECB, ballet is much more stressed than any other style of dance. How did it feel to realize you wanted to go off the “beaten path” (of ECB) and pursue styles such as modern and contemporary in college?
MG: It was nerve-wracking to choose to go to college for dance in general. I auditioned for college ballet programs as well, partially because I still felt a bit of expectation to do so, but I ended up in exactly the right place, and where I was meant to be. There were countless times during which I felt so unsure of the route I was taking, but it was equally if not more exciting to know that I was taking a slightly different path to open so many more doors.
How scared were you deciding you wanted to go a different way than what you trained for? Did you stress over it or was it clear that this was what you wanted?
As far as being nervous about “going a different way,” I was never nervous about that, because when I was first introduced to styles other than ballet, it made me so happy to find something that I really loved doing. I was determined for a long time to pursue ballet professionally. I loved ballet…it was all I wanted to do for a huge part of my childhood and adolescence, but fairly, it was also the only style of dance I had been exposed to. When I was 14 or 15, I went away to CPYB (Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet). I went to CPYB to forget about modern. As wonderful, freeing, and right other movement (modern dance) felt to me, I didn’t want it to. The first day we got our schedules, I see that a Paul Taylor dancer (a professional modern dance company) was there for the summer to teach us once a week. I was so incredibly lucky for that to have happened to me. It was a sign if I ever needed one. So in a way, I believe the universe was trying really hard to make it clear to me, and I paddled against the current for a bit, but when I realized it was what I really wanted to do, I couldn’t have been more thrilled to find a path to take me closer to a dream.
For many teenagers, deciding what to major in or to pursue after high school is a daunting decision. How did you determine that you should try to become a dancer after school? Did you not want to regret never trying?
If you’re going to college, I personally don’t think there’s anything wrong or a reason to be ashamed of going into a school as an undecided major. Especially for undergrad, that’s what your time is there for. It’s so much better to have that time with freedom to explore fields and classes without the pressure of fulfilling credits for your major, when you’re not 100 percent sure it’s what you want to do. Regretting not trying is something I base a lot of my decisions off of, which may not be the best, but it’s how I’ve always been. But it’s not how I made my decision to become a dancer after school. It’s something that I’ve always sort of known and been the most passionate about.
Why do you think it is so nerve racking for students in high school to make this important decision?
I think young adults, in high school, feel a lot of pressure from surrounding influences and want so badly not to disappoint those who have been a huge part of cultivating a sense of purpose and achievement in them. I felt for a long time as a kid that I was stuck with an identity as a “dancer,” and there was even a point at which I didn’t even know what that meant anymore or if I could validate it.
The arts industry is such a risky business, because there are so many uncertainties and other artists to compete with. Did you ever think there was no way you could possibly become a professional dancer?
I think it’s so important not to hold yourself back by constantly thinking “what if”, because all the what ifs could very well happen, but you never know what is going to come from that- whether it’s a lesson or perseverance.
As you jump into the professional dance world, how happy are you with your decision? What would you tell someone who is struggling to figure out what they want to do?
There will still be a lot of ups and downs I know for sure, but I feel confident that I made the right choice. Dancing makes me the happiest, and it brings me so much joy to be doing the work that I do. I would tell someone that it’s okay to be unsure or not have your life planned down to a science. I don’t think anyone does, and I don’t think it’s how it’s supposed to be. As long as you work hard and keep seeking joy wherever you may venture.
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