DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
BURNET — Eight years ago, Ryan Winkler made up her mind.
She was going to dance. And not just as a hobby. She wanted to make dance a career. Now, with her Burnet High School diploma in hand, she’s heading to New York City to take the next step in that direction.
“I never let anything else enter my mind,” Winkler said. “I knew if I did, if I doubted it or thought maybe I should do something else, I wouldn’t follow through. So I just kept focusing on dancing.”
Winkler landed one of 32 spots for freshmen in Pace University’s commercial dance program. More than 600 auditioned.
“I felt confident (after the auditions), but I didn’t know for sure,” she said. She initially was on the “wait list.”
Pace University started the commercial dance program about four years ago as a way to prepare students for the job market in the big city. Students study several styles of dance, including ballet, modern, hip-hop, tap, jazz and ballroom. Two of the newest styles include aerial, in which students utilize long silk banners hung from above, as well as a style that mimics combat.
The program isn’t just a dance study, but one that helps students become employed dancers in many areas of the industry. The instructors do this by teaching students what the market needs (without skimping on dance.) Winkler said the faculty also encourages students to audition for parts while attending college while other schools just want students to focus on their program.
Choreographer Rhonda Miller leads the program.
Winkler met Miller several years ago when the Burnet resident attended a dance workshop at which the choreographer was teaching. Upon hearing about the innovative college program, Winkler promised herself to follow up on it. Over the next several years, she kept attending the workshop, so Miller came to know her.
But that relationship didn’t make Winkler a shoe-in for the program. The entry requirements to the Pace program insisted upon a solid dance background of a number of styles.
“You didn’t have to be great at all of them, because I’m not a tapper, but you have to be strong all around,” Winkler said.
Winkler didn’t have an incredible dance pedigree. She didn’t study in a big-name private dance academy. All her dance classes were in Burnet, and all in the same studio, now called Studio 29 Dance Centre. The past 10 years, she has studied predominately under the tutelage of Jenn Moore, the studio owner and director.
The common thought is that a small-town studio doesn’t give the experience required for a student to land a spot in a NYC dance college, but Winkler never doubted her studies or herself. Throughout the years, she ventured into other projects where she saw she was every bit as good as those who studied in larger cities.
The key, she said, was to surround herself with people who supported her.
“That’s so important in whatever you choose, whether its dance or something else,” Winkler said. “You need people who are going to support you and believe in you. But they have to be willing to challenge you as well, not just say you’re good or something like that.”
When auditions rolled around in November, Winkler made the trip to Dallas. When she wrapped up her audition, Miller said she would be hearing from the program, but Winkler didn’t get over-confident.
“There were a lot of great dancers auditioning (around the country),” she said.
When she was wait-listed, Winkler didn’t lose hope. There was always a chance one of the selected dancers would choose another program.
In April, she was in class when her phone rang.
“Of course, I didn’t answer it,” she said. But, when she checked the message later, it was Miller offering her a spot in the next freshman class.
“Yeah, I was pretty excited,” Winkler said.
Now with New York looming in her future, this Burnet girl is confident she’ll adjust to the Big Apple. Plus, she sees the move as an opportunity to surround herself with some of the best dancers in the business, create those networks that are so valuable in finding dance jobs and learn the subway system.
“That way, when I do go on auditions (after graduation), I can focus just on that and not on how to find my way around,” Winkler added with a grin.