More Than Just Steps


Kaleigh is a junior majoring in dance. We sat down with her to hear her perspective on being a dance major at Illinois, learning in the fine arts, and what she hopes to do next.

Kaleigh dancing at the ARC

Have you always known you wanted to be a dancer?

“I would always dance around my house. There are videos of me just dancing around. My parents said, ‘We should put her in a dance class.’ Both of my parents were band people—they got full-ride scholarships for band, they’re very good musicians. I remember when I was in elementary school, they tried to put me in music programs. And I was playing piano and my mom asked, ‘Okay, what do you want to do? Play piano or dance?’ I was like, ‘Mom, I hate to play the piano and I can dance all day.’ And I’ve just danced ever since.”

What’s the dance program like at Illinois?

“I actually just came from ACDA, which is the American College Dance Association … and I felt like our program really stood out. We had a lot of technique, we had really great choreography, and our students were really well rounded in all styles. I felt like other schools were really good at just certain styles. But our school was really good at being okay in any class setting with anybody or any teacher, which I really appreciate. It made me appreciate our program a lot more.”

How is the dance program structured?

“You have to take three technique classes. One has to be modern and one would be ballet. A third would be hip-hop or jazz or musical theater or something else. And then you have to take core classes each semester. There’s music theory for dancers. There’s dance history seminar. There’s teaching workshop. There’s kinesiology. And then on top of that you have rehearsals. You have to have a certain amount of performance credit to graduate. Rehearsals would usually be at night from 6 to 10 p.m. depending on how many dances you’re in. So basically you’re in class all day and then you’re in rehearsal all night.”

Kaleigh on a colorful stage during a solo performance
Kaleigh performing on stage

Do you feel that the dance program allows people to express themselves?

“I think there’s more of a push to be an individual within other people’s work. The way to stand out in auditions is not to just do choreography like everyone else, but what can you bring to the choreography that’s different from other people? What can you bring to a rehearsal process? I think [our dance program] emphasizes artistry a lot more and makes sure that you not only have the technique but that you have something unique about you that makes the technique more than just steps.”

What’s your favorite class you’ve taken?

“I’m TAing for a ballet class that is with all dance majors, which is really nice. And I really like it because it’s giving me teaching skills. I have to turn in a class plan next week. I get to teach the full class twice. It’s really nice to know how to properly teach a class and make a class plan and execute it. …

“I just really enjoy ballet, especially with my professor Endalyn Taylor. She used to be a principal dancer for Dance Theatre of Harlem, which is an all-black professional ballet company. And it is just really nice to see someone who’s African American who teaches ballet, because I don’t think that’s very prominent now.”

Kaleigh on stage with her K-Project dance group
Kaleigh dancing with K-Project, a group that covers Korean pop dances

What have you learned from the dance program that’s not about dance?

“If you’re having a bad day, instead of just being like, ‘I’m having a bad day, I don’t want to interact with anyone,’ trying to be as open as possible and using the people around you to lift up your spirits instead of dragging theirs down as well. … Even if you are feeling bad, you know that when you enter the dance space—or when you enter any space in general—that you’re also going to be lifted up.”

What are you hoping to do after Illinois?

“I really want to dance professionally. Well, okay, realistically next year I’m going to be auditioning for just literally everything and seeing if I get into something. And then hopefully I do. But if I don’t, I want to get my master’s in kinesiology, because then I’d be able to teach dance in public schools.”