Saturday, March 15, 2014


Not too long ago was I sitting in Café Du Monde, New Orleans, sharing laughs with my teammates over cafe-au-lait and beignets (so-OH many beignets!), and now, as I sit here on the plane ride back to NYC this early Wednesday morning, I have become aware of the fact that Spring Break is nearing an end and "real life" is drawing near.  However, before I begin to wrap my mind around the concept of rehearsals for Spring Dances starting back up in a day, there are many thoughts permeating my mind about my week spent in New Orleans.  Although I (along with the rest of the team), am running on few hours of sleep, my brain is buzzing, and I feel compelled to get my thoughts down while they're still fresh.

This was my third trip to New Orleans via Juilliard's ARTreach New Orleans Service Project. I have been involved as a team member since my freshman year at school, and this year was my first time serving as one of three student leaders.  I freely admit that it is no easy feat making this project happen and I have an even greater appreciation for past team leaders, now having experienced what that means.  

Coordinating logistics for a sizable group of students, including but not limited to, finding creative and lucrative ways of fundraising $17,000, coming up with agendas for our weekly three hour meetings leading up to the trip, as well as deciding on and solidifying our agenda while in NOLA, coming up with a performance program, rehearsing the program, teaching and learning team-building games, etc.  Mind you, all of this is thought through and discussed with the team advisors and student leaders either at 8 am on weekdays before school starts or in between classes on our lunch break, as well as through a multitude of emails.  At times I was overwhelmed by the magnitude of work that needed to be done, and money that needed to be raised in a relatively short amount of time, compounded by everyone's crazy school schedule.  However, I had faith that our team would find a way to pull it together and make it happen - and, we did!

It is incredible how much work can get done when each person on the team is fully committed. This commitment held true throughout the week in New Orleans in each new task we took on, whether it was someone laying wood panels on the muddy ground of the Habitat site so that no one would slip, grilling paninis for our team dinner even though it was not their designated night to cook, doing dishes after a long day of laborious work, giving massages (which proved to be very necessary), or putting coffee on, first thing in the morning. Needless to say, the teamwork was palpable.

Practicalities aside, something I shared at last night's final team meeting is that this project represents the essence of Juilliard.  Spending just one week with only a fraction of the students at school, I feel more in touch with my art form and the direct effect art has on those around me, and, most importantly, why I wanted to come to Juilliard in the first place.  I crave to be around artists who can't help but perform and entertain, who break out into song and dance because the music overtakes them. It comes from somewhere deep inside and cannot be taught, even in the hallowed halls of a famed conservatory.

Although Juilliard certainly attracts artists of high caliber, the unadulturated, organic qualities that make us who we are as performers and as people, is sometimes overshadowed by the desire to be "perfect" and better than the next one. While technique is absolutely necessary (and a little healthy competition is sometimes needed), it can also be a hindrance.  I have learned specifically from this project to not always harp on the details or allow others define who I am, but to let go and be myself.

Every single team member oozes with talent, and seeing these talents put to use, sometimes in their most bare-bones state, is the most inspiring.  For instance, performing on a grassy, untamed lawn at Habitat, with no marley floor rolled out for the dancers, a lack of proper acoustics and music stands for the musicians, no lighting and set design to inform the actors' monologues, or piano to give us our "A" to keep Ain't No Mountain High Enough in tune, was extraordinarily liberating.  As a result, it allowed us to simply love what we were doing while doing it, and our audience responded.

A special moment for me was after our performance at Trinity Episcopal Church when a young girl whom I have taught for the past two years in New Orleans, both at Dryades YMCA and through the Shalom Zone, came up to me and give me a big hug.  She knew I was a dancer, but this was the first time she had seen me in my element. She smiled and looked at at me wide-eyed, and could not stop hugging me. In this moment, I realized that although our time in New Orleans is fleeting, the impressions we leave are lasting, and this warmed my heart.

I am forever grateful that this project has been a part of my life and a truly defining experience in my Juilliard career.  It is important to venture away from New York and from 60 Lincoln Center Plaza to gain perspective and other life experiences, and to make genuine connections with those you may not otherwise find the time to meet and get to know. Make that time, prioritize it, because art is meant for bringing people together.  Who are we in this world if we cease to make connections with other people?

-Kelsey Connolly

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