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New Paths

By Kayla

The start of the new year – it’s always a mix of excitement and apprehension. I’m looking forward to what the year will bring, and can’t wait to make the most of my gap year.

Recently, I’ve revisited old interests that I hadn’t pursued before. In my family’s storage, I found an old guitar that I had bought at a flea market years ago. I had never learned to play, so I decided to add “learning to play guitar” to my gap year checklist. My first step was to buy guitar picks, and the next steps I took were watching YouTube tutorials and reading chord diagrams. Creating music is especially interesting to me because of my dance background. Music is always a guarantee when I take ballet class or perform on a stage. I immediately think of choreography when I hear music, so playing the guitar pushes me to focus on creating the music instead of just interpreting it. It’s interesting to be on a different side of an art form, and I plan to experiment merging my music and dance together. I’m excited to continue learning guitar and explore as many art forms as I can.

I’ve also started going on bike rides again. It’s been years since I biked regularly, as I was busy with homework and ballet classes. Since I’ve been at home for a while now, biking is a great way for me to get fresh air. I’ve been working on increasing my distance each ride, while enjoying the breeze and the nature surrounding the trail. Biking allows me to exercise safely outside during the pandemic, and to reflect on everything that’s happening. With a few more months of biking, I’ll be all ready to bike around Durham!

Exploring different activities is helping me to broaden my horizons, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the year brings!

Project Floor: Complete

By Kayla

I’ve been taking dance classes at home since March, training in the kitchen and trying not to knock anything over. This month, I successfully built a floor for a better ballet experience at home. I had never built anything more daunting than an Ikea shelf, so it took several DIY Youtube videos and multiple trips to Lowe’s to complete the floor. 

Many dance studios have sprung floors, which absorb shock to allow for safer dancing. Auditioning, performing, or training on an uncomfortable or hard floor isn’t ideal, and I wanted to create a somewhat comfortable floor for the year. For a home sprung floor, I decided to build a floor with a lower frame under it. With the spring from the 2 x 4 planks and the carpet, dancing on the home floor would be a little closer to dancing in a real studio. 

Placing the 2 x 4 planks in a lattice formation was the first step. About 50 screws later, the lower frame was complete. Then, I placed and attached the wide wood planks on top, and laid down marley for a smooth floor.  

Finishing this project was very satisfying. It took some time to figure out all of the measurements and purchases for the floor, and I felt successful completing a solid floor. This past year has brought quite a lot of change, and my new floor has allowed me to adjust to the new circumstances of my virtual ballet training. 

While dancing at my old studio, had watched the crew at my previous ballet studio build props in the back room for years, so I enjoyed working on the other side for this project. Building this floor was a new vantage point for me within the field of dance, and I hope to explore other facets like this in the future. 



Early Days

By Kayla

Ballet class before sunrise is definitely a shock to my system. Last week, I started dancing with American Repertory Ballet’s virtual trainee program in Princeton, New Jersey, but I still live in California. I’m slowly getting used to the early start each day, shifting my sleep schedule for the year.

Even though I am dancing at home, dancing as a trainee is already different from dancing as a conservatory student. New choreography and classes accompany the daily ballet barre, and I enjoy working with the variety of teachers and professional dancers. Learning repertoire from the ARB company dancers is especially interesting, as they recently performed the pieces that they are teaching us. Dancing as a trainee is a preview into what the schedule of a company dancer is like.

We’ve already started learning classical repertoire and contemporary choreography. Learning so much new choreography adds to my creativity – I’ve really enjoyed the variety of works we’ve learned so far. Because I don’t have a physical spot in the pieces, the typical stress of casting is lifted, and I can concentrate on the choreography and the tone of the pieces. I plan to focus on my personal artistry this year without the goal of a solo and with the goal of finding more depth in my dancing.

Zoom rehearsals aren’t the standard corps de ballet experience, but I’m finding different ways to learn from others. I can apply the other dancers’ corrections to myself, and observe their strengths to finetune my own dancing. I can also work to make sure my timing and musicality match that of the other dancers – provided that the internet doesn’t lag too much!

Occasionally, it is difficult to dance with expression and presentation within the walls of my home, but my teachers’ corrections and the pianists’ music push me to dance for an audience beyond the Zoom screen. I can’t wait to continue working in my virtual trainee program!

Ready to Leap

By Kayla

The past six months have both raced and crawled by at the same time. Finishing senior year of high school and the last year at my ballet studio from home was unexpected, but I’m grateful to have spent more time with my family. It’s bittersweet to leave places I’ve called home, but I’m ready to start the next chapter in my life. 

This summer brought me a balance of meaningful work and play. For four weeks, I participated in State Street Ballet’s virtual summer intensive. With my kitchen counter as a barre and a sheet of marley taped to the tile floor, I trained with a new group of people through my laptop screen. Even in the 5’ by 7’ space in my kitchen, I was able to push myself out of my comfort zone and gain a new understanding of dance. I’ve also enjoyed the downtime – a Uno game with my parents, a spread-out picnic with my friends, a new book finished – and especially getting to connect with the people closest to me 

In July, I worked at my ballet studio when they reopened, helping to keep everything sanitized and everyone safe. Cleaning floors, barres, bathrooms, tables, chairs, and hallways kept me busy, and gave me respect and appreciation for essential workers. Training and working gave me a surge of motivation and valuable experience – a good bridge to my gap year.

I’ve wanted to take a gap year since junior year so I could gain more experience before college and continue my 14 years of dance trainingI plan to attend the trainee program at American Repertory Ballet in Princeton, New Jersey – most likely virtually. I hope to grow as an artist and to learn more about the relationship between dance and other disciplines (such as science)also plan to volunteer locally, especially by tutoring younger students in ballet or academics. I hope to improve my interpersonal skills and to contribute to my community, even through a Zoom screen. During my gap year, I want to further explore my academic interests, including neuroscience and art history, and to uncover new interests as wellThis summer has helped me gain the adaptability I need for a gap year, and I’m ready to start exploring. 

Wherever I am, I hope to improve my work ethic and explore different methods of communication and creation. I’m excited to be a part of the Duke Gap Year Program, and to discover new passions and ideasI can’t wait to see where my gap year takes me.

Thanks for following my journey

By Leah

It’s hard to believe how quickly this year has come to an end! It seems like only yesterday I was completing my application for the gap year program, and suddenly I am preparing to attend university. It would be a lie to say that I am not worried about the fall. With so much uncertainty, it is hard not to be. I have been juggling questions regarding whether or not it is a safe or appropriate time to move towards some form of normalcy. Should I take a risk and attend school on-campus, or play it safe and take classes online? As much as I want to meet everyone in-person, and immerse myself into the Duke community, I remain quite cautious, due to the rising number of COVID-19 cases in North Carolina. It might just be too early to tell. While I have been feeling anxious, due to the uncertainty of our circumstances, I do not let them get the best of me. If my gap year taught me anything, it was how to deal with uncertainty! As our summer progresses, and we move towards the upcoming school year, I encourage everyone to remain positive and keep an open mind. While this year has been quite crazy, I am certain that some amazing things are bound to happen.

While my time with you all has come to an end, I still have a bit more planned before university begins. Starting next week, I will be participating in Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s Pre-Professional Virtual Summer Intensive. I am beyond excited! With a full month of learning the company’s works, choreographed by the likes of Crystal Pite and Peter Chu, I cannot wait to see how I grow. Additionally, I will continue working on choreography for a concept video I have been planning for the past month. From formulating a message to creating choreography to learning how to use editing applications, it has been quite a difficult yet rewarding task. I cannot wait to share my message with the world and see how the final product turns out!

As this is my last social media post on this account, I would like to say thank you to everyone who has followed the journeys of the 2019-2020 Duke Gap Year Program cohort. If you have been considering taking a gap year, I hope we inspired your plans! It was quite special sharing my experiences with you all and I cannot wait to see what is in store for this account and the upcoming cohort of gap year students!