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Jul 24, 2013

Being a part of something bigger than myself

By Paula Polglase ('92, '96M)

JMU dance major Kenisha Washington

Kenisha Washington ('14), dance major, Virginia Beach, Va.

"This past year revolutionized my life." A bold statement—one that dance major Kenisha Washington did not come to easily.

Her junior year was a year of transformation through challenge, emotion, hard work and incredible support from her peers and professors in the theater and dance program. A rising-senior from Virginia Beach, Va., Washington's biggest hurdles were not a challenging dance piece or an intricate set design, but a lack of self-confidence and self-esteem. "I was originally very intimated by how technically skilled my peers were," she says. "The intimacy of the program and the skill level is very challenging."

A commitment to student success
Washington credits the dance faculty for giving her the support she needed while pushing her outside her realm of comfort to become a better dancer. Washington says from the beginning of her Madison Experience she feels like JMU professors invested in her and cared for her. "The faculty of the dance program are incredibly committed to instilling the values of JMU in us, especially being a community," she says. "I see how committed they are to my success, and it makes me want to be all the more invested in this community and in seeing how I can improve this community I'm a part of. I didn't expect to feel a part of something bigger than myself."

"Not only have I learned other crafts, I also have learned how to appreciate how each aspect goes into the total production. You need to be able to see things from the point of view of the lighting designer, the costume designer, etc."

Washington describes her junior year as "especially stretching." She took two very challenging dance classes, one on how to conduct or direct a dance class; the other was a composition class that pushes the student to create a piece of impact. Taking both at the same time was a struggle and brought up many feelings of self-doubt. Luckily her Advanced Composition professor, Cynthia Thompson, was also her academic adviser and someone who she has confided in over the past two years. Thompson knew Washington doubted her own abilities but that did not stop her from challenging her student to do better. Washington would perform a 'draft' and Thompson would challenge her to dig-deeper. "I don't think I would have pushed myself further if Professor Thompson hadn't sat me down and said 'Kenisha, I think this work is great and I'm proud of you, but I think it can be greater.'"

Washington's hard work and emotional journey paid off. "I had never auditioned anything because before this I had never considered myself having anything worth offering," she says. "But in these two classes I was challenged to put myself out there." Washington auditioned two originally choreographed pieces for the Spring Concert, and they were the highest graded in the program this spring.

Dance major Kenisha Washington in the costume shop at JMU
Performance and production design courses help students understand how each craft contributes to a production. Washington (above) spends time in the JMU costume shop.

An education in all aspects of production
Washington is also grateful for the theater and dance department faculty's philosophy of "learning across their curriculum." Courses such as Performance Design and Production Design have given her an appreciation of the many aspects of producing a successful show. These are lessons that she will take with her into her professional life. "Not only have I learned other crafts, I also have learned how to appreciate how each aspect goes into the total production. You need to be able to see things from the point of view of the lighting designer, the costume designer, etc." explains Washington. "All aspects of the production without any one part won't work, so learning to respect and learn those different parts, and the people doing them, is important."

In terms of self-confidence and self-esteem Washington knows that she needs to take the lessons she learned this year and apply them to her future work. "I have to ask myself 'Are you giving this absolutely everything you have or are you giving just what you're comfortable giving right now?'" she says. "These past three years have shown me how much I'm capable of as long as I don't remain complacent—and when I allow myself to be inspired and encouraged by the great people I have the fortune to be around."

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