SRU dance student wins invitation to prestigious Cincinnati Ballet Collegiate Intensive


Ashleigh Schuler

Ashleigh Schuler, a Slippery Rock University senior dance major, is among the 16 ballet dancers from colleges across the U.S. and Canada that were chosen to participate in a six-week intensive hosted by the Cincinnati Ballet Company in partnership with the University of Cincinnati.

July 10, 2019

SLIPPERY ROCK, Pa. — Leave it to a Slippery Rock University student to use a metaphor about smoothing rocks to describe the daily grind of a summer research project.

"The last rock is the most polished," said Ashleigh Schuler, a senior dance major from Williamsport. "I'm just smoothing out the edges as far as my dance technique and artistry as well as my educational understanding of the dance field that I'm about to enter."

Before starting her final year at SRU this fall, Schuler is honing her craft with the top college ballet dancers and instructors in North America at the Cincinnati Ballet Collegiate Intensive, June 17 to July 26.

Schuler and other 15 college ballet dancers were selected to participate in the Collegiate Intensive, hosted by the Cincinnati Ballet Company in partnership with the University of Cincinnati's College-Conservatory of Music. The students train with guest faculty, Cincinnati Ballet's artistic leadership and UC Dance Department faculty. Part of Schuler's tuition for the Collegiate Intensive was covered by a $1,000 Norton Undergraduate Research Scholarship. The award is named for former SRU President Cheryl Norton and is awarded each year to undergraduate students in their pursuit of academic research or creative activity.

UC faculty selected Schuler following her audition in Pittsburgh earlier this year. Ballet dancers were chosen from college programs across the country and Canada. Because ballet is such a physically demanding dance style, Schuler said the opportunity to go to the Collegiate Intensive was even more rewarding.

"Ballet fits my personality," Schuler said. "I love challenges and with (ballet) being so hard, there's a sense of achievement when you improve. There's also just the beauty of ballet and the ability to merge classical forms with contemporary forms."

That's where Schuler's research, which is under the faculty mentorship of Jesse Factor, SRU instructor of dance, comes in.

"Ashleigh is considering the art form in a way that goes beyond the practice, so instead of just taking a class or performing, she is considering the tensions between tradition and innovation and she's envisioning the future of ballet," Factor said. "I respect and admire the way she is charting history but also where it might be headed. She thinks beyond the studio."

Factor will advise Schuler when she returns to SRU and creates a new work that she will perform at a concert during the academic year, a requirement of her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance degree program. Her work will draw on her experience at the Collegiate Intensive.

"It's significant for a student to be selected for a highly competitive program that is on the national radar," Factor said. "We are proud of her for going after her interests and pursuing her passion."

In addition to preparing for a showcase performance at the end of the six-week intensive, Schuler's research also goes beyond the studio and into learning and understanding how a professional ballet company like Cincinnati Ballet operates.

"(The Collegiate Intensive) is a career development program because we get a chance to study what contributes the success of a modern ballet company," said Schuler, who would like work for a professional ballet company after graduating from SRU. "This is a catalyst for students interested in pursuing a career in dance. It's like any other student with an internship in another discipline. I get to learn what I'm missing or what I need to work on in my last year to be prepared for a future in the industry."

Although ballet is a required class and a core part of the BFA program at SRU, Schuler said she is one of the few students in the program who is pursuing a career in ballet after graduation.

"That's why (the experience this summer) is important for me to have a platform to speak (to potential employers) about what I do outside the department," Schuler said. "I can share my story and why I love ballet. It has always been my baseline. It feels like home to me."

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