As a professional dancer in training, choosing the right place to do your final years of study can be challenging. Will you study at university, or will you manage your own training via open classes? Will you move abroad and immerse yourself in a new dance scene? At Peridance Capezio Center, Artistic Director Igal Perry and Certificate Program Director Nikki Holck have tried to bridge the gap. The Certificate Program was created by Yarden Ronen-van Heerden in 2009 in collaboration with Perry as a vehicle to train aspiring pre-professional dancers. Two years of formal training, a set curriculum with an open class element, in the heart of New York City – with faculty who are currently working in the industry themselves. That’s the basis of the Certificate Program at Peridance, and it works. We spoke with Holck and two Certificate Program alumni to find out exactly what makes this program so unique.
“The Certificate Program is a two-year post-secondary course aimed at students who’ve already graduated high school, who are looking to make the transition from being a student to a professional,” explains Holck. “We offer this I’d say in lieu of someone doing a four-year BFA program, and the program is essentially a condensed version of what a BFA might offer minus the general studies courses. The students are aged 17-25, from all over the world. It includes a total of 36 weeks of study per year, so 72 weeks of work over the two years. And we have two different tracks. The ballet/contemporary track is focused on students who are interested in doing more concert dance work, and perhaps joining a contemporary company. Then, our commercial track is aimed more at students who are interested in Broadway or the commercial scene – dancing with artists or in music videos. The students all come in with very different goals.”
The Certificate Program aims to provide students with a high level of technique in a variety of dance disciplines, and foster the students’ knowledge of whatever track of study they’ve decided upon. It’s about helping students advance their understanding of dance as an art form, nurturing their artistic sensibilities and developing their performance skills. And not only that, but Peridance provides a platform for students to work with established artists who are currently shaping the local New York and international dance arenas. Students leave the course prepared to work with major dance companies, on the concert stage or to work within the commercial professional environment.
To Holck, it’s about more than just getting the dancers to a certain technical standard. “It’s very important to us that each student is nurtured into reaching a high level of artistic potential. The goal is the students leave and find work, and a lot of them do, but I feel that the dance world is constantly changing, and it really has made a big shift recently, especially in New York. We are moving away from the traditional company idea, and more and more young artists are being asked to create their own paths, and learn how to create a career out of many different opportunities. I’d like the students to come out of this program being able to guide themselves and be accountable for where their careers go.”
The students agree. Italian alumnus Adriana Recchia says, “What I loved the most was the learning process as a dancer and the growth that came with it as a human being.”
It’s true that growth is a huge part of the process during the two years of study. Holck adds, “Igal and I both see potential often, and we are excited by students who seem like they have the ability to really grow. We’ve seen it happen again and again – those students who come in and surprise you. It’s incredible the amount of work they put in and where they end up.”
César Brodermann, a Certificate Program alumnus from Mexico City, says, “The program really helped me develop as the artist I am today. I really appreciate the push that I had from my teachers; they opened my eyes to a broader dancer world. I really enjoyed working with people from different places and cultures, and the freedom that was given to me within the course.”
Of course, it’s the immersion in the New York City dance scene and the access the students have to this “broader dance world” that sets the program apart from other formal study options. Holck emphasises the significance of this. “The faculty we have here are shaping the dance scene internationally and here in New York. There is so much value working with people who are currently working in the industry, and it plays a major role in the students’ development, because they are exposed to so many different ideas, and things they are going to be hit with in the professional world as soon as they leave here. They’ve already been introduced to what it will be like in the real world, and that’s one reason why within this program, in addition to the curriculum classes, about 30 percent are from our open schedule. They can be inspired and challenged by the professional dancers who came to take class that morning. The idea of networking is something we teach and deal with a lot here, so the domestic students often get work within their time in the program, because they are seen in class and asked to do projects. They learn about how to hold themselves in class and make these connections, some of which will last a lifetime.”
And, whilst international students on their F1 visa are not able to work during their two years of study, there’s something else on offer that sets Peridance apart. “When they finish the program, they can get their OPT, or Optional Practical Training,” explains Holck. “That means one year of work in the United States in the field they graduated in – dance. They can get a lot of things on their resume during that time, so for the students interested in staying in the US longterm, the program can be a stepping-stone for that as well. During their year of work, they can create a case to apply for their artist visa.”
Brodermann highlights this as one of the main reasons he recommends the course to so many others. “I truly believe that the program gets you ready for a professional career as a dancer, and as a international student, it is much easier to work once you complete the course. You get your OPT, you are able to work for one full year, and then it becomes easier to get your artist visa from there.”
Yet, perhaps the biggest draw of the Certificate Program is its focus on creating flexible, adaptable dancers. Holck describes, “Even within our ballet contemporary track, we ask the students to do a little hip hop, and if their focus is only ballet, we still ask them to be highly proficient in contemporary. In our commercial track, everyone still takes ballet, modern and contemporary. So we are putting out well-rounded students through a rigorous curriculum that also allows students to find themselves as young artists. They do academic studies – theory classes, composition, dance history, criticism, anatomy, music, solo performance studies, singing and a thesis project each year. And they do student choreography. They are in charge of putting on their own performance at the end of the year, working with our theater staff, so they see all angles of what it takes to be within the dance world. We are not looking to create perfect technicians; we are looking to create artists.”
And those artists go on to work. Certificate Program alumni have done everything from dancing behind Beyoncé to performing with some of the biggest companies in the world, including Batsheva Dance Company, Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Les Ballets Trockadero and, of course, the Peridance Contemporary Dance Company. And the way Peridance helps the students get there is simply by creating an environment where the students are valued as artists in their own right.
As Recchia says, “Peridance has the most amazing mentors, teachers, dancers and choreographers. The training is intense and will help you reach the next level as an artist and human, and all this in a warm, cozy, safe environment. I had the feeling of belonging to something. We created this amazing dance family that was hard to leave after the program finished.”
Students interested in joining the Peridance Certificate Program can find out more information here. Peridance runs international audition tours and accepts video applications for the course.
By Emily Newton-Smith of Dance Informa.