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NCDC Dancer at Jacob's Pillow

Words of Wisdom

In this new series, NCDC Founder Jen Bradford reaches out to Alumni, Staff, and Current Students to share advice and insights into their careers both in dance and in life.

Meet Ella – She is a Senior at NCDC and will be auditioning for companies and applying for colleges.

JEN: You had the fantastic opportunity to attend both Jacobs Pillow Dance Festival and Arts Umbrella International Summer Intensive in Canada this past summer. How did that happen?

ELLA: The process of getting accepted into these programs was rigorous!  Jacobs Pillow was primarily focused on Musical Theatre Dance training, while Arts Umbrella concentrated on Contemporary Ballet, meaning that both programs sought different materials to represent me as an artist. As a result, I spent countless hours filming ballet class, contemporary, tap, and jazz combinations, and in addition to all the dancing, two songs, and monologues. It was crazy! After all the material was filmed, I compiled it all into a video and sent it to each program. The most challenging part, however, was the time between auditioning and getting my acceptance letter which was about three months; I was just dying to know if I had gotten in or not. 

JEN: Jacobs Pillow is such an iconic, world-renowned program; how did you feel when you found out you were accepted?

ELLA: I honestly could not believe it. It was such a magical moment, and there was definitely a lot of screaming and joy-filled tears. I felt so honored to be a part of something so much bigger than myself. I have watched so many of the dancers I looked up to growing up attend these programs and to finally be in a place where I have the opportunity to also have these experiences was a bit surreal. 

JEN: What was your daily schedule like in both programs?

ELLA: The daily schedule was intense, to say the least, at both programs.

During my time at the Pillow, I was pushed to the limits, with my classes starting at 8 am and rehearsals going until 10:30 pm. We would spend the morning hours taking classes to improve and fine-tune my artistic voice and skills, and the night hours were dedicated to rehearsal as the whole intensive was a workshop for the Broadway Musical 1776 opening this fall. I was so fortunate to play the role of Rodger Sherman and spent many hours unpacking how to play this character as a woman in a twentieth-century world. After rehearsal, however, the day was not finished, as in-depth homework assignments were the norm and were commonly due the next day. When I was not dancing, completing homework, or memorizing lines, I had the incredible opportunity to attend performances at the Ted Shawn Theatre/ Henry J. Lier outdoor stage, learn from industry professionals, and take nature walks. I also made great new friends, not only the fantastic artist but also some bears, mice, and porcupines kept me company during my time there. 

During my time at Arts Umbrella, I would dance from 9 am and not stop until 6:30 pm every day. The day always started with a ballet class and then transitioned into various styles of Contemporary/Modern technique and repertoire. As a result, I had the fantastic opportunity to dive deeper into my movement and discover new ways of thinking that improved my dancing in all genres. On the weekends, I spent my time discovering and taking in the beauty and culture of Vancouver. 

JEN: How do you feel changed as an artist due to these opportunities?

ELLA: I believe that I matured into not just a dancer but an artist because of these opportunities. I have always loved telling stories through movement since I was a little girl. However, because of these opportunities, I am more aligned with my artistic voice and feel more confident in my ability to story tell through my dancing more effectively and truthfully.

JEN: How did your training and preparation not only help you get into these programs but also prepare you for their mental and physical demands?

ELLA: Well, I would never have been able to achieve these things without my training growing up at Northern California Dance Conservatory. I feel so grateful to have this space in my life. NCDC is the place where my love for dance originated. That love has been the constant throughout my training and is what keeps me pushing forward in this field.  Logistically, however, NCDC has prepared me physically through intense and high-level training six days a week through some of the dance industry’s best teachers. I have also been taught the importance of self-care, proper nutrition, and how to survive the mental demands a dancer faces through programs such as the healthy dancer challenge introduced this past fall and various other master classes I have taken throughout the years. All that I have gathered from my time at NCDC, combined with my passion, love and dedication, is truly what has granted me these incredible opportunities and has prepared me for their demands. 

JEN: What are your most memorable moments while there in Massachusetts and Vancouver?

ELLA: My most memorable moment while in Massachusetts was getting the opportunity to perform on the Henry J. Leir outdoor stage; it was a moment I will never forget and cherish. My mom presented work there as a choreographer in 2011 so to follow in her footsteps and have her in the audience was really special for me. In addition, I absolutely loved working with and learning from such talented artists and artistic staff, pillow cast parties, and soaking in nature. Oh, I also encountered a bear alone in the woods on my way back from rehearsal which was a terrifyingly memorable moment, to say the least. While in Vancouver, special moments include making friends with people from all over the world, enjoying yummy food at the nearby marketplace, and exploring different styles and teachers’ thoughts about dance. 

JEN: What advice would you give to younger dancers hoping to attend one of these programs in the future?
ELLA: I would say never give up on yourself or limit yourself. You are capable of so much more than you could ever possibly imagine, and as cheesy as it may sound  if you dream it, you can achieve it. I was never the young dancer that people thought was naturally talented or going to be successful as a dancer. But I wanted it more than anything else in my life. I had some teachers that did not believe in me and even though that was hard,  I guess in a way it inspired me to work harder and prove myself. I also had teachers that saw my work ethic and how much I loved it and they pushed me to be better by helping me recognize my unique talents as a performer. I guess I would also say remember that dreams are only as good as your work and sacrifice to achieve them. Be audacious and soak up all the opportunities, big or small, that are presented to you. It’s so exciting to be a dancer, so remember to  enjoy it and find that love in every opportunity big or small.

About NCDC Founder Jen Bradford: 

Jen Bradford began dancing early in Utah and continued her training in the California Bay Area and New York City. While in NYC, she received the Steps on Broadway scholarship. Jen attended Brigham Young University, where she was awarded a dance scholarship and a degree in personal studies in dance therapy. During her 20-year career, she has reached notoriety as an innovative dancer, choreographer, producer, and influential educator. As a choreographer, she has created over 60 full-length works performed by Professional Companies, Theaters, Universities, and schools throughout the United States, France, Germany, Austria, Costa Rica, Mexico, Bulgaria, and China. 

She has received numerous awards for choreography and artistic achievement. She has been the Artistic Director of Teen Dance Company of the Bay Area, Momentum Dance Company, Impulse Dance Company, Impact Dance Company, and in 2006 founded Northern California Dance Conservatory, where she established an acclaimed training curriculum in which she teaches, choreographs, and mentors young dancers. [FULL BIO]