Raising the barre: Dancers at THHS

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Picture a young boy— age five, all clumsy fingers and crooked feet. This is the child that junior Yuriy Markovetskiy can recall himself being, before the moment he embarked upon what would become his life’s passion—dance. Yuriy is one of many Townsend Harris students who dance in programs outside of school.

Junior Patricia Wang has performed on the stages of Julliard and at the Young Dance Makers Company. Patricia, who has been dancing for over seven years now, felt it important to mention the effect that dance had on her sense of self-discipline. On her favorite type of dance, ballet, she said, “It’s beautiful. You sit, and watch these figures with so much discipline, and you see all the training they’ve done… to go through the training, it’s basically changing who you are as a person, because you sacrifice so much time and energy.”

Sophomore Jillissa Drayton, who’s danced at the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, notes the effect that it had on multiple aspects of her life. “It affects everything. I’m more graceful than most, and I think it makes me a better problem solver. I know that if something doesn’t work, there are other ways to work and get to the same point….I think that it helped me learn to focus and to not give up.”

Dancing has broadened the cultural horizons of these students. Patricia’s specialties are tap and pointe, but she routinely performs Irish and Hatian dances as well. Jillissa, in addition to classical ballet, has taken West African and Flamenco, as well as a host of other styles including ballroom and jazz. Senior Hilary Lee’s steps participated mostly in traditional Chinese dance when she was young and some Korean (K-Pop) dances now.

In addition to taking classes and dancing in their free time, some students compete formally. Yuriy has performed in a wide range of organized events. Under USA DanceSport, an association for ballroom dancers, he has placed in and won in many regional competitions throughout the country, flying out as far as Los Angeles.

Patricia, who was set to embark on a two-week tour with Dance Makers last autumn, broke her arm at the beginning of sophomore year and had to miss the trip.

There seems to be a stigma, however, within the community, in regards to some dancers’ participation in formal competitions.

“Personally, I feel like competition dancers don’t train at the same level as technical dancers,” Jillissa said. “In my experience, all they care about is flexibility and acrobatics and that’s a gymnast, not a dancer. I don’t care if you can do 34 fouetté turns if you can’t do a plié with proper tension,” she quips.

Patricia, while more sympathetic on the subject, offered a similar perspective. “With dance, if you make it too competitive, and so that it’s all about winning and getting first place, because you’re so intent on winning, that you forget to have fun… as a dancer, you should appreciate it as a sport.”

On managing school and dance, all of the students describe a decline in their dancing. “Sometimes I find it really hard to fit dancing with THHS, because of all the work we get. But I just do my best to get my work done before dance, or I’ll just finish it after.” Patricia participates in the Young Dance Maker’s program during the summer to compensate for her busy schedule during the school year. Yuriy has had to make the choice between dance and other extracurriculars: “I have dance from five to six times a week, so I can’t really fit everything in, but I’m trying really hard to participate in SING! this year.”

These THHS students work hard at perfecting their craft—even if it means dancing around a few deadlines.