CCM Dance co-ops create pipeline from student to professional artist

Student Grace Mccutcheon and alum Hannah Holtsclaw share how the program has impacted their careers

UC’s College-Conservatory of Music Dance program offers a co-op program that connects students to professional ballet companies while they complete their BFA degrees, creating a pipeline that leads young artists to their future careers.

Students have participated in co-ops at professional dance companies throughout the country, including Cincinnati Ballet, Nevada Ballet, Tennessee Ballet, BalletMet, Louisville Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, U.S. International Ballet, Colorado Ballet, Fort Wayne Ballet, Ballet Pensacola and many more.

Rising junior Grace Mccutcheon begins her co-op with the Fort Wayne Ballet this August and will continue dancing at the company through May 2021. Although it is largely the student’s responsibility to make connections with the professional companies, Mccutcheon says that CCM faculty Gema Diaz Lugo, Isabele Melo Elefson and Tricia Sundbeck have been influential role models in helping her reach her goals.

“I have never met teachers such as these who are so willing to work with us, correct us and help us improve,” Mccutcheon says. “These women are so kind and generous with their time and experience, and I feel lucky to have trained under them the past two years.”

Grace Mccutcheon dancing.

Grace Mccutcheon/Photo provided.

Cincinnati audiences may recognize Mccutcheon from her principal role of Medora in “Le Jardin Animé” from Le Corsaire, presented as part of CCM Dance’s “The Art of Motion” performance in December 2019. She was also a Flower Girl soloist in “Kitri’s Wedding” from Don Quixote, presented as part of a mixed-repertoire performance at CCM in November 2018. “Deirdre Carberry coached me in each of these roles and gave me the confidence that I have now in my ballet training to exude elegance and grace,” she says. Watch a rehearsal video of her role in “Le Jardin Animé,” provided by Mccutcheon and filmed in CCM’s dance rehearsal studio.

“The faculty at CCM prepare us every day to reach our goals of becoming professional dancers,” Mccutcheon says. “The training and performance experience we gain from attending CCM Dance prepares us to enter the field at a professional level.”

Typically, seven to 10 dance students participate in co-ops each year. Some students choose to stay with a professional dance company for two years while they complete their degrees, and others choose to co-op with a different company during their senior year. Recent graduate Hannah Holtsclaw (BFA Ballet, ’19) co-oped at Ballet Pensacola for two years and is now a principal dancer at the company.

The co-op experience has been an amazing pathway to the professional stage. The opportunity to co-op was the reason CCM was my top choice of all college conservatory programs.

Hannah Holtsclaw

A photo of Hannah Holtsclaw dancing

Hannah Holtsclaw. Photo by Amber Fletcher.

“CCM creates an encouraging environment to finish the degree program while starting a professional career," Holtsclaw says. "When I graduated from high school, I did not feel ready to join a company, and a trainee program didn’t feel right for me either because I did not want to put off my education. CCM gave me time to build my resume and grow as an artist.”

Holtsclaw first connected with Ballet Pensacola when Artistic Director Richard Steinert came to CCM as a visting guest artist to teach a class during her sophomore year. Steinert attended a CCM Dance rehearsal after the class and offered Holtsclaw a trainee position for the 2018-19 season with Ballet Pensacola.

“After dancing for the company for five weeks, Richard offered me a position as principal dancer,” Holtsclaw says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would be a principal dancer and a student at the same time. CCM made this possible.”

CCM Dance brings a guest choreographer to visit campus and work with students each semester, giving students the opportunity to work with artists of all different styles of dance. “Within two years, I had the opportunity to dance the repertoire of George Balanchine, José Limón, original works by my professors and classmates and even the classics,” Holtsclaw says.

Holtsclaw started choreographing during her sophomore year, when her piece Letters From Reims was included in CCM’s 2018 Student Choreographer’s Showcase. She also choreographed Ravel’s Boléro in collaboration with the CCM Concert Orchestra and Director of Orchestral Studies Mark Gibson for the college’s special “Con Amore” concert, presented as part of CCM’s 150th anniversary season. Watch a video of the Boléro performance with the CCM Concert Orchestra on Holtsclaw’s YouTube channel.

“I was taught how to professionally direct a piece, while attending professional production meetings and learning to collaborate with lighting designers, sound designers and stage managers,” she remembers. “Although we all study in different departments at CCM, students come together for theater productions on campus. We experience each other’s crafts and work together to create beautiful productions. My experience as a choreographer at CCM allowed me to develop a passion for collaborating and creating art and it is something I will strive to do for the rest of my life.”  

Now entering her third season at Ballet Pensacola, Holtsclaw has enjoyed the opportunity to dance many amazing roles at the company, including Cinderella, Dream Clara in The Nutcracker and the titular role in Paquita.

“I was very fortunate to obtain a job while I was still completing my degree,” Holtsclaw says. “I could not be this far into my career without CCM’s co-op program. During my two years of co-op, I was able to focus on my school work and dancing. Since graduating, I have taken on additional responsibilities such as teaching for Ballet Pensacola’s Academy and expanding my work as a choreographer.”

A headshot of Grace Mccutcheon

Grace Mccutcheon. Photo provided.

Grace Mccutcheon is a Ballet major at CCM. She will be completing a co-op, dancing professionally with Fort Wayne Ballet in its upcoming 2020-21 season. She is a Zanesville native who previously attended Muskingum Ballet Academy, where she performed numerous roles including The Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker. She also performed with The Central Ohio Youth Ballet, performing roles such as Titania and Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kitri in excerpts from Don Quixote and Odile in Swan Lake. Mccutcheon also competed at the Youth American Grand Prix, and in 2018 was invited to attend the University of North Carolina School of the Arts Summer Intensive Program following her performance.

At CCM, Mccutcheon has had the chance to perform a Flower Girl Variation in Dierdre Carberry’s Don Quixote, as well as Medora in Carberry’s "Jardine Anime." She has also performed as a soloist in Qi Jiang’s En Tourne and as a demi soloist in Karen Burk’s Cinderella. Mccutcheon is also pursuing a second major in Business Economics from UC’s Carl H. Lindner College of Business. Mccutcheon has experience in tutoring economics and mathematic classes at Ohio University and working as an administrative assistant for the CCM Dance Department. She loves working with dancers as well, as she has years of experience teaching and choreographing in styles such as ballet, modern and jazz to students of all ages.

A headshot of Hannah Holtsclaw

Hannah Holtsclaw. Photo by Amber Fletcher.

Hannah Holtsclaw is from Andover, Connecticut, where she began ballet training at Connecticut Concert Ballet. Holtsclaw is entering her third season as a principal dancer with Ballet Pensacola, where she has performed the roles of Dream Clara, Cinderella and Paquita. Holtsclaw recently graduated magna cum laude from CCM earning a BFA degree in Dance.

During her on campus studies, Holtsclaw was selected to work with three guest choreographers, performed the principal role of Nikiya in La Bayadere, and choreographed and staged two original pieces for the CCM Concert Orchestra and Student Choreographer’s Showcase. Holtsclaw continued to choreograph off campus and was conferred the 2019 Choreography Connection Award by Regional Dance America (RDA) for her original work staged at the 2019 National Choreography Intensive. Prior to attending CCM, she was a resident student of Bossov Ballet Theatre at Maine Central Institute, where she studied the Vaganova method and performed principal roles in Don QuixoteGiselle, The Ugly Duckling and The Nutcracker.

About CCM Dance

The Dance Department at CCM is a professionally oriented dance program offering a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree with an emphasis in ballet training. Through a rigorous academic and studio curriculum, dancers receive advanced training while cultivating their artistry and stimulating creativity. The BFA candidates graduate with a thorough knowledge of the dance world and how to function in it, going on to perform and teach in professional dance companies and dance education organizations.

Key elements of the program include:

  • Dance and audition with professional companies while earning your BFA
  • Highly-recognized faculty, guest choreographers and artists-in-residence
  • One of the few programs in the country to require a year of somatic studies (Alexander Technique, Pilates, Yoga)
  • Seasonal and internship opportunities with professional dance companies while enrolled as a full-time student
  • Onsite physical therapists and athletic trainers
  • Three large dance studios with observation booth, therapy and dressing rooms

The CCM Dance Department boasts a distinguished, dynamic faculty, state of the art facilities, multiple performance opportunities, and a diversity of new and challenging experiences for its students. A team of dedicated full-time faculty: Shauna Steele (department chair), Qi JiangDeirdre Carberry and Michael Tevlin; along with dedicated adjunct faculty members, frequent guest artists, company directors and professionals from the field are committed to nurturing highly technical, passionate and artistic dancers.

Learn more about the BFA program.

Feature image at the top: Hannah Holtsclaw dancing. Photo by Amber Fletcher.

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