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Cleo Person: Keeping on Track in a Whirlwind

Cleo Person

 (Photo by Jiyang Chen)

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There’s no slowing down at the end of the year for Juilliard dancers, as fourth-year Cleo Person’s April 6—a flurry of rehearsals, a performance, and a bake sale—reveals.

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7:30am Elton John begins to sing “Tiny Dancer” to me out of my trusty alarm clock. Waking up to a different song each morning reminds me of the possibilities of the day, but this is definitely a favorite for performance days. I remember my Dad singing it to me as a kid and feel connected through it to my early love of dance. Before opening my eyes I stretch and try to think of at least three things I’m grateful for (not difficult on what I can already sense is a beautiful morning). My morning routine continues with a sun salutation, watering my plant, and reading a few verses of Rumi’s poetry.

8:30am Breakfast in the cafeteria: oatmeal, a banana, Greek yogurt, and my own almond butter. I have to plan my fueling pretty well, especially on long rehearsal and performance days, and I never skimp on breakfast.

9am In senior year we’re lucky enough to take acting class with the associate director of the Drama Division, Richard Feldman. He’s endlessly insightful and generous, and encourages us to stretch our dance performance in imaginative and honest directions. Today we’re working with masks, and we improvise scenes for each other to watch, four at a time. It’s a rollicking time and I am successively in tears of laughter and then touched to the core by the characters into which my classmates transform and the interactions that emerge.

10:40am In the second semester of senior year, guest teachers active on the current dance scene are brought in to offer us workshops on Thursday and Friday mornings. Today, we have a woman originally from Sweden named Julia Ehrstrand for an amazing two hours of expansive release technique with a lot of floor work (pretty different from what we usually do in our normal technique classes), and we all agree it’s some of the most sweaty fun we’ve had in a while.

12:30pm When Julia leaves, our class sticks around for an hourlong Senior Bow rehearsal. Our Senior Bow will be the very last thing we perform at Juilliard. It’s at the end of the Senior Dance Showcase concert (May 16), where we’ll perform a solo or duet of our choosing as our goodbye to the school. I’m working on a piece called “Duet Mabul” with my classmate Jesse. Bobbi Jene Smith, our beloved Gaga teacher, is choreographing our bow, and it’s shaping up to be a touching farewell with the 22 people who have been my family for the last four years. Since Bobbi is out of the country for the moment, I’ve been elected to run the music and keep us on track as rehearsal director. This morning Larry Rhodes, the artistic director of our department, observes and gives us some feedback. I can already tell that the performance may be an occasion for many bittersweet tears.

1:30pm I get lunch from the cafeteria and eat it in the dance hallway, the most popular gathering location between classes and rehearsals.

2:30pm Back in the studio and rehearsing for Senior Production, which the seniors produce, choreograph, and dance each April. I’m in my classmate Daniel Ching’s dramatic and theatrical piece, and we spend most of our time today figuring out a slightly violent struggle sequence. I can tell my upper body will be sore tomorrow!

4:15pm Tonight is the last student choreography workshop performance of the year and it’s time for a tech rehearsal. I’ve been working with third- year Alex Larson, who choreographed a fun, easygoing piece for me to dance while he plays the guitar and sings onstage, and I’m also doing a solo with a spoken element of some text I wrote and a little music I composed. I aim for the dance to be a tender poem where I can just be me.

4:30pm I drag a friend into a studio with me to help me film a summer conference application video. I found out about it super last minute, so I have to squeeze this in and trust that I’ll do the best I can with the time I have.

6pm Back in the Willson Theater for the tech rehearsal of my solo, I check my sound and lighting cues with the stage manager before running through the piece since I’m choreographing as well as dancing.

6:15pm I help set up the bake sale, our final fundraising event for Senior Production. Second-year dancer Mikaela made the most amazing lemon cupcakes with homemade raspberry buttercream, so we’re sure to do well tonight.

6:30pm The dance hallway beckons for dinner. I make sure not to stuff myself completely since I’ll be dancing soon.

7pm I attempt a nap in the dressing room; sometimes just lying down for 10 minutes can be the most necessary rejuvenation, and then it’s time to get ready for the performance—I do my hair, a little make- up, re-warm up, and get into costume.

8pm I’m onstage and trying with everything I have to be present in every moment. Even though workshops can be pretty casual, every performance is a chance to share something special and possibly even change someone, and this is the last workshop I’ll do at Juilliard, ever!

9:30pm It’s been a whirlwind day, so I spend about an hour in the dressing room by myself to cool down and reflect, and then head back to my room in the residence hall to eat a second dinner snack.

10:45pm I edit and upload my videos for the application, and scan through 50 unread emails from today to make sure there’s nothing urgent. I’ll go through them fully tomorrow—sleep is a priority after I take a shower and spend some time rolling out and stretching. I have to give at least a little time to self-care of my instrument so I don’t regret it tomorrow.

Midnight Thursdays are cleaning days on my floor, so as a resident assistant, I can’t go to bed without first making sure all the bathrooms pass inspection. Happily, I don’t have to file any cleaning violation fines today—that’s certainly not the most fun part of the job.

12:15am After my daily journaling, sleep comes almost instantly. With only five weeks left at Juilliard, I’m thankful to squeeze as much out of every minute here as possible, but also incredibly ready to rest in preparation for the motion of tomorrow.

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