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College of Liberal Arts

University of Mississippi

UM Student Accepted into Prestigious Joffrey Ballet Summer Program

As Alexander McAdams sat in the lobby of the Metropolitan Ballet Studio in Madison in February, waiting to audition for a prestigious New York City-based dance company, one thought kept running through her mind.  “I was thinking to myself, ‘It’s now or never,'” said McAdams, a 21-year-old English major at the University of Mississippi. “I was old to be auditioning for that sort of thing. It’s geared more toward teenagers, and 21 is the last age you can audition. I was thinking, ‘You either get it or you don’t and if you don’t, that’s it.'”

But the Gulfport native didn’t need to worry; she was accepted into Joffrey Ballet School’s summer intensive and heads to New York City in June for three weeks of training.

To help finance her trip, which is costing $1,500, McAdams is performing in a fundraiser at 4 p.m. Sunday (April 26) at the Powerhouse Community Arts Center in Oxford. Tickets are $7 at the door.

The fundraiser, “Celebration of the Spirit,” showcases McAdams’ choreography in five pieces, three in which she is dancing. A sixth piece is choreographed by UM electrical engineering major Christina Bonnington. Ten dancers from the Oxford Ballet School, where McAdams trains and teaches, also are part of the performance.

“What I’m trying to drive home with this fundraiser is to let Oxford and the surrounding area know that ballet is not necessarily so prim and proper,” McAdams said. “It can be emotional, it can be angry, it can be happy and pretty, which is the vision everybody gets with the woman in the tutu smiling on her toes. But most important is to know it’s not just about smiling when you’re having a bad day and you have blisters on your feet. It’s about passion, about what gets us through the day.”

The dances address emotions such as doubt and anger, and one represents religious persecution. One of McAdams’ favorites, choreographed by Bonnington, is an interpretation of the “fall of man” from Eve’s point of view. Another focuses on purging oneself of negative feelings.

The Yoknapatawpha Arts Council, which hosts the fundraiser, also applied for two grants for McAdams. The council recently learned that one, a $300 technical assistant grant, has been approved.

“Alex has got an opportunity to go and do an intensive program, and she’s so actively involved in dance in the community that it’s actually like an opportunity for some of our community to get that knowledge that she brings back,” said Wayne Anderson, director of the Yoknapatawpha Arts Council. “By her going, it’s kind of like sending 10 dancers.”

While McAdams said she was surprised to be accepted into the summer intensive, the dancer’s ballet teachers were not.

McAdams began dancing when she was 3 but said she didn’t get serious about ballet until her mother, Rebecca H. McAdams of Gulfport, enrolled her at Black’s school. Her first dance intensive was a two-week program at the Cary Ballet Conservatory in Cary, N.C., during the summer after she graduated from Gulfport High School.

“That was just for fun,” McAdams said. “I didn’t even think I was going to dance after high school.”

But that began to change when, during her freshman year at UM, McAdams met Genevieve Fortner, founder and director of Oxford Ballet School. Fortner had also studied English in college while continuing to dance. She said she knew that McAdams had what it takes to get into the Joffrey program.

In February 2008, McAdams auditioned for the Atlanta Festival Ballet summer program and was accepted into the company’s pre-professional, four-week program. In return for free room and board, she was a chaperon for the younger students.

“I was pretty encouraged by that,” she said. “Every year I get this itch where I wonder what audition tours are coming near here or Jackson or Birmingham. I just happened to go on the Joffrey Web site and saw they were coming to Madison on a weekend that I didn’t have anything to do.”

Besides being a full-time student, she takes five dance classes each week, teaches a private lesson, works the front desk at Oxford Ballet School and does promotional  design work for the ballet studio. She is also a multimedia intern for the UM Office of Media and Public Relations. Lately, she has been in the studio at least 15 hours a week rehearsing, training, teaching and practicing.

McAdams plans to visit other dance companies in New York, where – after she graduates from UM in May 2010 – she hopes to pursue a graduate degree in English before heading to law school. But, she said she can’t imagine her life without dancing, especially during times of personal tragedy.

“When I was in high school and my dad died, the dance studio was the only place I could go to purge my anger and frustration and grief,” McAdams said. “Dance is something I will always pursue, whether it’s as a professional or as an amateur. It keeps me grounded, and I don’t think I will ever see my life without it.”