NU student balances studies with dance career

NU student balances studies with dance career

By Cassidy DeStefano, news correspondent

The clock reads 6:15 a.m. It’s time for Andy Garcia to start his day.

After eating two fried eggs, oatmeal and a cup of coffee, Garcia heads out of his Jamaica Plain home to catch the train to the Boston Ballet headquarters on Clarendon Street. He arrives at 8:30 a.m. and heads to the physical therapy room to train and stretch before the rest of the company arrives.

Company class starts at 9:45 a.m., and Garcia is hyper-focused, applying each and every correction from the arch in his back to a curl of his arm. He is the dancer in the corner, marking steps as he waits his turn, internally pushing himself to leap higher, turn faster. When he takes the floor, he doesn’t dance. He glides.

Class ends at 11:15 a.m. but, on some days, Garcia will spend the next seven hours at the studio – and his work does not end there.

Garcia, 21, is one of 30 dancers enrolled in the Boston Ballet’s partnership with the Northeastern University College of Professional Studies (CPS). The program allows dancers to take online courses through the university at a discounted rate to supplement their professional training, according to Grant Dauber, CPS assistant director of partnerships and alliances.

“We’re talking about world-class dancers who are practicing six days a week,” Dauber said. “This has been their life for the past 20, some of them 30, years. Education has not been their top priority before this.”

Garcia, an organizational communications major specializing in public relations, sees tremendous value in dancers working toward degrees.

“We can dance longer because we have these marvels of modern medicine, but it still ends,” he said. “Ballet isn’t forever.”

The arts have driven Garcia’s life since he could walk. After taking preliminary ballet classes, Garcia trained at Ballet Austin in Austin, Texas for 11 years before reaching a crossroads during his sophomore year of high school. Driven by a passion for his craft, he moved to Seattle to join the Pacific Northwest Ballet while simultaneously working toward his high school diploma.

On a whim, Garcia crossed the country for a five-week summer program that carried over into a pre-professional contract with Boston Ballet II and then a job in the company corps de ballet. He is currently in his second season.

Russell Kaiser, Boston Ballet assistant artistic director, has worked closely with Garcia ever since.

“I met Andy a while ago when he joined BB II, and if you watch him, he’s got a work ethic like nobody else,” Kaiser said.

He added that Garcia’s trademark as a dancer is his ability to adapt.

“He is a mover,” Kaiser said. “You know, there are people who are turners, some are jumpers; but he is a very versatile dancer. You can put him into many different styles of dance and he will find what the essence of that movement is supposed to be.”

Though he loves the life of a professional dancer, Garcia is just as passionate about the other half of his life as a generic college student.

“I got my Husky Card, which was exciting… I felt like ‘oh my gosh I’m a student.’ I think the people working at the little card center thought I was crazy,” he said.

Due to his heavy commitment to the ballet, however, Garcia feels he has missed out on some aspects of college life.

“I mean, of course I want to know what being in a lecture class is like because I’ve never done one,” he said. “But I can’t really complain because I’m getting both. It’s like I have my cake and I’m eating it too because I’m a professional dancer at one of the best companies in America and I’m also working my way toward a degree and my future.”

According to Garcia, the key to successfully pursuing both worlds is compartmentalizing. Oftentimes, he will email his professors with requests to complete work ahead of time, especially during peak performance season in November and December.

“‘Nutcracker’ is such a tough time mentally and physically for everybody. You go into the theater and it’s light outside and by the time you come out, it’s dark,” he said. “And you’re just thinking ‘oh my gosh I need to go home, I need to cook dinner, I need to feed my cat and I need to prepare my body to do it all again the next day.’”

Starting out in the role of a mouse, Garcia has worked his way up to perform in the Spanish, Russian and party scenes of the renowned ballet, which runs from Nov. 27 to Dec. 31 at the Boston Opera House.

Even in crunch time, Garcia makes time to excel in both of his careers.

“I’m reaching my half-life,” Garcia said. “And that’s kind of scary because you spend so much time working to get to this point and once you get there your career lasts maybe 20 years. So you have to have a plan, and I think it’s really important to give 100 percent of your attention to both, but not at the same time. They’re both incredible worlds to be in, but I would find it impossible for them to overlap.”

Photo by Gene Schiavone, courtesy Boston Ballet

Leave a Reply