When walking around the Mercyhurst campus, any student would be hard pressed not to see one of the school’s many dance majors or see one in a class.
Wearing pink tights and black leotards under their street clothes, it appears to most of us that the dancers are always on their way to or from a dance class.
“We are required to take four ballet classes a week, and we have to fit our core classes around them, so it gets difficult sometimes,” says senior dance major Rachael Levinworth.
The college boasts a rigorous dance program that ranges from concentrations in Performance to Choreography to Arts Administration.
Every year dozens of students, male and female, audition for a spot in the competitive program.
For Levinworth, getting a noticeable role in the spring ballet is not just a personal goal, it could mean a shot at a promising career.
Levinworth has been dancing for 17 years, mainly ballet, and came to Mercyhurst in the fall of 2006 as a freshman.
Originally from Elmira, N.Y., she got her start in ballet at the Gregorian Ballet Theatre in Elmira.
While the Mercyhurst College Dance Department is principally geared toward ballet, it is important that students be well-rounded and participate in other types of dance in order to excel.
To do this, the program incorporates modern, jazz and tap classes.
The Dance Department puts on two shows each year for students, parents, faculty and the community.
One is in the fall and is usually a compilation of different pieces of choreography. The other is in the spring and is usually a classical ballet.
Students audition for parts and are cast accordingly.
Levinworth sighs as she sits behind a desk in the dance department on the first floor of Zurn. A ballet class is going on in the room behind her and she gestures to the dancers as she talks.
“In the afternoon when everyone else is taking a break from classes, we have rehearsal from 3:40-6:00,” she says.
“There really isn’t any time for fun. NO FUN ALLOWED. EVER,” senior Liz Galloway adds.
The sarcasm in her voice implies that she is not joking.
She leans back in her chair and crosses her arms begrudgingly, not a hair out of place in her perfect ballerina bun.
Galloway also came to the college in 2006 as a freshman.
After dancing for 17 years with the National Ballet School of Maryland, she decided to continue pursuing her career as a dancer by majoring in the subject.
Rooted primarily in ballet, Galloway also studied jazz and modern when she was in high school.
“We have ballet class every day except Thursday, when we take an elective; usually tap, jazz or modern,” says Galloway. “We all have pretty hectic schedules between regular classes, dance class, dance club and rehearsals,” she grins.
Preparing for a job in the field goes beyond taking classes.
This year both students are required to take the Senior Professional Seminar, in which students send cover letters to potential employers, create resumes and pose for head shots and other dance pictures to send out with hopes of getting a job.
The goal of most dance majors like Levinworth and Galloway is to audition for and obtain a spot in a professional ballet company.
“I know I want to join a company in Chicago. It’s called Ballet Nouveau,” says Levinworth. “That’s the goal.”
Galloway is still undecided on future plans.
This fall, both are in the same choreography in the school’s fall dance concert and are looking forward to being cast in “La Sylphide,” the spring ballet.
They will work closely with Associate Professor and Department Chair Tauna Hunter and an assortment of other faculty members until the shows are perfect.
Even though both girls are accomplished dancers and excel at Mercyhurst, the final judgment comes when they are on stage in front of a panel of judges in Chicago, New York City or wherever their careers may take them, and are given the chance to share their beautiful talent with the world.