Parsons Dance Virtual Apprenticeship offers professional experience online

February 18, 2021

Aurora Vaughan lunging with arms stretched out to the side wearing a black tank and blue and white striped pants

Aurora Vaughan (BFA '21) has been participating in the Virtual Apprenticeship during her final semester at USC Kaufman | Photo by Taylor Upsahl

Dance companies have learned to adapt and endure to carry on the art form in our new normal. Parsons Dance, located in New York City, fashioned an innovative approach to bring new talent and opportunities to their company. They created a virtual apprenticeship program to introduce collegiate dancers to Parsons Dance as well as the inner workings of a professional company setting.

The virtual program

The Virtual Apprenticeship began to develop early in the pandemic. Eoghan Dillon, Artistic Associate of Parsons Dance, saw the toll COVID-19 was having on young talent looking to break into the industry.

“Dancers across the country were stuck at home and unable to train and cultivate relationships with professional entities. The proof of how badly a program like this is needed came when I posted the ‘seeking virtual apprentices’ listing,” Dillon said. “Within a week, we had over 200 applications. Directing the apprentices every day since I finalized the roster has felt like a dream come true, especially during a worldwide pandemic.”

USC Kaufman alum Rachel Harris (BFA ‘20) is a current member of Parsons Dance. She originally recommended the apprenticeship to her peers at the School of Dance. This semester, Aurora Vaughan (BFA ‘21), Luke Csordas (BFA ‘22) and Simon Schuh (BFA ‘21) are participating in the program in tandem with their BFA training.

The company is currently in residency in Mount Tremper, N.Y. While the dancers collaborate in person, apprentices from all over the country Zoom into rehearsals to learn alongside them.

“It’s a big mix of people who are still in school or have recently graduated,” said Aurora Vaughan, a senior finishing up her last semester at USC Kaufman while participating. “We’re learning eight different pieces of repertory right now. Essentially, our job as apprentices is to know every track as best we can so at any given moment if they need us we can get on a plane and jump into rehearsal and performance.”

Learning choreography online

Vaughan explained that the company focuses on modern dance and bases itself in Artistic Director David Parson’s style. So far, they have been learning choreography by Parsons himself as well as from Matthew Neenan and Chanel Dasilva, according to Vaughan. Neenan recently commissioned a piece for the company called “Past Tense.” Vaughan cites her previous work with the choreographer as an asset in digital rehearsal.

“Matthew Neenan has been pushing for the company to feel that the dance doesn’t look choreographed by him. It should look like the movement is coming from the dancers themselves within the style of the piece,” Vaughan said. “My class, the Class of 2021, was lucky enough to work with him in our sophomore year. I feel like I have an understanding of his movement style already which has definitely been helpful.”

Along with Vaughan, Luke Csordas is taking part in the apprenticeship in addition to his BFA training. While nothing compares to dancing in the studio, Csordas felt prepared for Parson’s virtual experience. He has been able to adjust to the practice since USC moved online in March 2020.

“With COVID-19, classes being online prepared me to dance in my space and accept the space and its limitations,” Csordas said. “Now, I know how I can move and how I need to take care of my body. On Zoom, I have to pay attention to the screen and also know when to step away, take a break and do my own work.”

Luke Csordas dancing in brown pants

Luke Csordas (BFA ’22) wants to learn more about dance company environments through the apprenticeship | Photo by Benjamin Peralta

Exposure to the professional world

For Csordas, he hopes this program provides a better understanding of professional life for a dancer. He has learned about what it means to be a working artist while earning money for his passion and dancing in an environment with coworkers as friends.

“It’s sometimes hard in a work environment, whether it be dance or anything, to know the difference between work and enjoyment, but the company dancers have such a bright energy and they’re so kind,” Csordas said. “That balance is nice to see as someone who’s hoping to dance for a company in the future.”

Csordas also explained that the end goal of the apprenticeship is to eventually rehearse with the company dancers in person. For now, he appreciates the opportunity to build connections online with more professionals in the dance industry.

As a graduating senior, Vaughan credits the program with helping her envision life past college. It has provided more confidence in a professional direction.

“This opportunity has been a cool transition out of college right now,” Vaughan said. “I still feel involved in the USC community, but I also feel like I’m able to take a step back. I can move forward with support from the USC Kaufman family, which is really nice.”

By Brigid Murphy