Matilda Mackey - Judges' Choice Sept 2014

I have been dancing since I was two years old, and over the past fourteen years I have grown as a dancer. I dance at Nolte Academy, a dance studio in Coralville, Iowa, and there I study ballet, pointe, contemporary ballet, modern, contemporary, jazz, and hip-hop techniques. Contemporary is definitely my favorite.

I would like to thank my mom for always pushing me to be my best, my dad for always encouraging me, my modern teacher Leslie Nolte for teaching and mentoring me since my first dance class, my contemporary teachers Emily Loya and Christy Scimeca for helping me further explore my favorite type of movement, and my ballet teacher Grace Snider, who I am so thankful to have as a fundamental ballet instructor and mentor.  

I got the inspiration to choreograph after my third summer dance intensive, which was at Alvin Ailey in NYC. I loved the program so much and being there made me realize all that dancers have to offer, including choreography. So by scavenging and probably by luck as well, I found a song that I immediately connected with – “Silhouettes” by Sleeping At Last. I reserved a studio space at my dance studio and started by playing the song very loudly, and improvising to see what movement came naturally out of me. I picked actions within my improvisation that struck me as interesting and put them together in my piece, along with other movement that I choreographed specifically with the music. I found a simple costume, put it on stage, and realized how comfortable and lovely it felt to do my own choreography. I am currently choreographing my third solo, and each one varies from the other. I base the dance off of what I have learned at the summer intensives I attend previously, which is really cool to look back and see how my movement quality and technique has changed throughout the years. I have not choreographed for other dancers, but I would like to if given the opportunity.

This upcoming year will be my 10th year competing. My favorite competition is Spotlight Dance Cup, and there is where I won my teen national title with this dance, Silhouettes. I think three top benefits of competitions are being able to perform onstage, learning how to be a team member, and watching and learning from other dancers on stage. Some advice I would give to younger competition dancers is to see what is really going on around you. Instead of just watching other dancers backstage or in the audience, really see what they’re trying to say through their movement, and don’t view them as a threat. When you’re young, winning that first overall trophy seems like the most important part of a dance competition, but there is so much more you can gain from seeing what other dancers have to offer.

I love attending summer dance intensives. I have been to one Joffrey Ballet program in NYC, two Joffrey Jazz and Contemporary programs in NYC and LA, two Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater programs in NYC, and one Juilliard summer program in NYC. I have also taken master classes and attended workshops at the University of Iowa Dance Department in Iowa City, and at Steps on Broadway and Broadway Dance Center in NYC. Juilliard is the most recent intensive I have been to, and I value my experience there so much. After every intensive, I come back home with so much more knowledge and experience that visibly benefits my dancing. I strongly believe that every serious dancer needs to go to at least one summer intensive, because they not only give you dance experience, but life experience as well. If I were to give audition advice to young dancers, I would say to approach the audition calmly and remember that it’s really only a class. Do your best and show the instructors that you are focused, ready to apply their corrections, and can work well under pressure.

The other dancers around me are what inspire me to dance. I love seeing how dancers at my studio, at the competitions, and at the summer intensives move. I get the biggest urge to join in the locomotion by watching others dance and wanting to step in.

I have thought about my future a lot, but I am willing to change my plans if need be to fit any circumstance. I am graduating from high school a year early so I can start college a year earlier in NYC. My goal is to attend the Juilliard School for college, and then join a contemporary or contemporary ballet company after I graduate. While being at Juilliard this last summer, I realized what it meant for me to be there, and I truly loved my experience there. The companies I have had my eyes on for a while now are Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. I would also love to be a part of the new up-coming contemporary works, or to work with Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot, international works, etc.). 

Thank you very much for granting me this scholarship!