By Mark Cox
Here’s a recipe with a difference.
Take two young dancers. Add a dash of social conscience. Place in a pioneering university dance program. Throw in an internship with a world-renowned dance company. Shake. (And strut, and spin, and pirouette.) Leave to marinate for a couple of years. And what you get is … Kallyn Rand and Olivia Sando.
Besides a love of rhythm and movement, these two gifted students share a slightly atypical ambition. Sure, they both love dance and see their future in it. But far from nurturing the usual dreams of finding spotlighted glory on a big Broadway stage, these women are entirely focused on the potential of their chosen art form for promoting social good and building a sense of community among young people.
And neither Rand nor Sando, both dance majors at Metropolitan State University of Denver, has seen any reason to wait until graduation before starting her good work.
Sando, for example, has spent the past year teaching with an after-school dance program at Place Bridge Academy, an early-childhood-education through eighth-grade school with many refugee and immigrant students. (Collectively, the student body speaks more than 60 languages.)
Sometimes, the 24-year-old finds herself asking just who is teaching whom. “Not only do I absolutely love the work,” she says, “but I learn just as much from the students as they do from me. Many of the kids show me dances from their native countries – they love getting a chance to express their individuality and share details about where they're from.”
And far from just being good fun, the program also actively builds bridges. “At the school, we use dance as a platform to connect students from different cultures,” Sando says, “because dance is a universal language that all kids are able to use to come together.”
Rand, meanwhile, has been every bit as busy. The 23-year-old teaches dance to lively groups of children and teens at Colorado Centre of Dance in Golden and is already clear about her future career path: “I plan on making dance a big part of my life through teaching and performance here in Denver. That’s where I’m going with this degree.”
There’s no denying that these two dynamos are already a couple of overachievers with big ideas. And they have been given the best possible environment in which to develop and grow.
MSU Denver runs a well-regarded dance program. And the dance major is part of the University’s Individualized Degree Program, which enables students such as Rand and Sando to choose a major or minor specifically designed to their own educational needs. (Because hey, not everyone’s dreams fit into a formal curricula.)
And it doesn’t hurt to have a famous dance company as a partner either. World-renowned company Cleo Parker Robinson Dance collaborates closely with the University to provide dance majors with a truly unique educational experience. Students take classes at the company each semester. Performances are put on at the facility. And students like Sando and Rand have access to one-of-a-kind internships.
It’s hard to overstate the value of the Cleo Parker Robinson connection for MSU Denver students. Imagine you were really into acting and happened to live next door to a house that Meryl Streep and Bill Murray rented out on weekends to give complimentary acting classes. It’s that type of lucky.
Sando explains: “This internship has been a life-changing experience. It's incredible to be surrounded by such high-level professionalism, both with the company dancers and the operational side of the nonprofit business. Interning at Cleo’s has helped me develop a really strong work ethic and taught me how to be versatile and flexible – no pun intended – in the workplace.”
The student interns learn valuable lessons about dance education at the studio. But faculty member Leslie Merrill says the knowledge they absorb about the nuts-and-bolts elements of the dance business is just as important: “At Cleo’s, our students are exposed to many less-familiar aspects of the professional dance world – nonprofit administration, school management, outreach programming and the day-to-day operation of a professional touring company. All these things really matter.”
For Rand, the best thing has been working with and getting teaching tips from the experts. “I have learned so much about how to manage and help the kids,” she says. “It’s opened my eyes in ways I never could have imagined. It’s an absolute blast!”
So things are going well. But the two dancers also have one other source of support and inspiration: each other. Since starting the course, the two have been not only classmates but best friends.
“We quickly became close because we have so much in common, and now we constantly look out for one another,” Rand says. “My favorite thing is going to dance class with Olivia because we always cheer each other on and neither of us can stop smiling. This whole experience wouldn't be the same without her by my side. I know this friendship will last a lifetime.”
Sando agrees: “We push each other to excel, both academically and technically, while also being each other's biggest and loudest supporters. Kallyn and I will always be able to depend on one another.
As for the future, the girls are justifiably confident that promising days lie ahead. The combination of a great University program and unique internship experience, coupled with resolute determination to help others, adds up to a winning formula.
Ultimately, Sando plans to become a dance educator in Colorado public schools, while Rand sees a life of dance collaboration and kinship in Denver. Rand also hopes to own her own studio.
“Kallyn and Olivia absolutely are the real deal,” Merrill says. “I just know they are both going to have incredible careers and make a positive impact on so many young lives. And that’s priceless.”
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