There was a time, not so long ago, that the term “gap year” would be whispered with shame, eliciting concerned facial expressions and pity pats-on the shoulder from extended family members. Once associated with a less-than-lucky college admissions cycle, the decision to take a year off between the end of high school and the start of college is now decidedly in vogue. And while many who do make this choice opt to globe-trot, Anna Beeman instead took the time to gain experience in her chosen field. At just eighteen, while most of us were rifling through orientation packets, Beeman began as a trainee of the prestigious Joffrey Ballet in Chicago.
“I was an eighteen-year-old living a twenty-two-year-old’s life,” Beeman, now a senior at Vassar, explains, “I was living on my own in Chicago. I had to be very disciplined.” Though Beeman was not a full member of the company, she was well on her way. She reported for duty daily, working with a variety of choreographers in what she now describes as a mixed experience. The pressure, Beeman says, was intense; “You’re forced to evaluate yourself every day. You spend hours staring at yourself in a mirror. That kind of environment is really strenuous. A lot of my fellow trainees couldn’t handle it.” But, for Beeman, it was the dream.
“I started ballet when I was four,” she recounts, “and committed to working towards wearing pointe shoes at eight. Instead of going to P.E., I’d go to ballet class.” Five days a week, three to five hours a day, Beeman would leave high school early to train. Dance became her identity. “I gave up a lot of those big, classic high school moments,” she says, “but it was all worth it. It led me to my gap year, which ultimately led me here” to Vassar.
Now an environmental science major, Beeman says the choice not to pursue ballet singularly anymore was a tough one, but one that she had to make because of the uncertainty a future in dance would bring. Leaving behind a world of focus and fixation and coming to a place where people were still figuring themselves out was a jarring but welcome change for Anna, who now appreciates the balance between dance and school. She’s traded Joffrey for Vassar Repertory Dance Theatre, and couldn’t be happier. “It’s still rigorous” Beeman says of her new tribe, “but without all of the competition. You’ve got to fulfill what you’ve committed to, but missing a rehearsal isn’t going to end you.” For Anna, the best part about VRDT is the trust in student creativity. Additionally, no longer surrounded strictly by ballerinas, the presence of modern dancers has allowed her to expand her skillset.
As Anna prepares to return to the real world, she couldn’t be happier that she took her gap year as a test run. “Dance will be part of me forever,” she says, “It’s meditative at this point.” Finding a way to keep moving will be a necessity, though she hopes this drive will stay with her past the far future. Through laughter, she adds, “I want to be the old lady who still goes to ballet classes. Not for the body, but for the soul and mind.”