There is one word that sums up Nicholas Kao’s dance abilities and his decision to enter the field of dance itself – improbable. With dance, as with many things in life, what amazes us are the feats that we cannot imagine performing because of a lack of strength, grace, technique or a combined lack of all three. Kao’s performances are filled with these qualities as well as physical feats that seem to defy gravity.
“I like the unexpected and seeing what the human body is capable of in terms of balance, what looks like defining the law of physics and performing things you wouldn’t see in normal life. I want to show that it is possible not just by one person but by many people,” Kao said.
Unlike his contemporaries, Kao did not start dancing as a young boy. Instead, he experimented with hip hop and break dancing in middle school and high school. In fact, his formal dance training began at Collin College, but that was only after he abandoned the idea of earning a business degree.
“It wasn’t formal and upright. Modern is a rebellion of ballet. I am interested in anatomy and kinesiology. It is amazing what the body can do. My Collin professors can attest that I wasn’t at same point as other dancers. If I wanted to make it into the Collin Dance Ensemble and attend a university, I had to step it up, so I took all the dance classes I could,” Kao said.
Kao’s perseverance earned him a Collin scholarship, and he was accepted in the dance program at The University of Texas at Austin in 2014, where he is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in dance.
“I made it into UT Austin with only two years of classical ballet from Collin. At UT Austin, I got the chance to choreograph and perform my own solo. I developed my own ‘voice’ as an artist.”
Kao is flourishing at UT Austin. In fact, he is performing in four out of 11 pieces in the spring dance repertory concert. Ultimately, he wants to choreograph, start his own dance company and teach dance.
“Fine arts are important. They influence society. That is why I am pursuing a dance degree,” Kao said with conviction.
Unlike Kao, Shelby Davis has been dancing since she was four years old, but this dancer’s appreciation of the ability to move far outshines her peers. Davis’ mother was diagnosed with Polio at the age of two.
“She can walk, but her ability to move is diminishing. At work, she walks with a walker or uses a wheelchair. It is hard for her to stand for a long time. She has always been so supportive of me dancing. My mom is my number one fan. When I was thinking of pursuing dancing, she said, ‘Go for it!’”
The first in her family to attend college, the decision to pursue dance was a challenging one for Davis because of a concern regarding financial stability coupled with her initial lack of confidence.
“I was insecure, so didn’t think it was an option for me. In my Collin ballet class I gained confidence in myself, and I began teaching at a local studio. I live in Dallas County, and I made the choice to pay more money and come to Collin because Collin can provide me with opportunities that I can’t get elsewhere. In class, they encourage you to be yourself,” Davis said.
Today, Davis’ confidence is soaring. She recently received a dance scholarship and performed in the college’s faculty show.
“Being on stage with the curtains coming up I felt so free in the moment. Even though tons of people were watching, it felt like I was doing something for myself out of my love for it. When I dance, it feels like anything is possible,” she said.
“I go to school early because I am so excited to be at Collin. If you have a passion for something, always pursue that no matter what others think because at the end of the day you have to make yourself happy. Be confident. Confidence is key,” she added.
Collin alumnus Jake Harkey, a core member of Flock, New Orleans’ newest dance company, describes dance as paid vacation. Flock has held performances in New Orleans, Los Angeles and Berlin.
“The idea behind the company is to collaborate and travel together. Each of us brings new ideas and takes turns leading and guiding the company. We take dance to an abstract level, to the basis of human existence and the human form. Each piece is its own living organism. We performed “The Lipstick” in three different cities, and it was different every time but with the same cast of five dancers,” he said.
“With dance, there can be a lot of self doubt. You have to fit into these clothes and shapes, and your body has to look like this. I quickly found that my body was never going to be good for a ballet company. At Collin, I cultivated positivity in my body. I learned not to doubt myself and threw myself into every possible move. I learned to say yes because saying no doesn’t get you anything. I believe with a dance education from Collin you can go anywhere.”
Harkey’s attitude and skill paved the way for a Collin scholarship and additional educational opportunities. His audition tape, filmed through a tiny window of a racquetball court, provided him with auditions and acceptance letters from his top university choices. He earned a bachelor of fine arts degree in 2015 from the California Institute of the Arts.
“In addition to dance, I learned professionalism and etiquette at Collin. It was nice to go to into a conservatory-style environment at Cal Arts and be ahead of the game technique-wise and professionally. Today, with my creations, I don’t want to tell the audience what to experience. I want them to leave with questions that lead to more questions and the use of different lenses. It’s OK to feel however you feel about a performance. Dance is self discovery,” he said.
For more information about dance, watch this video https://youtu.be/–gYi4bOVyQ or visit http://www.collin.edu/department/dance/. Visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UDKOvERYxco&feature=youtu.be to see an episode of “6 in 60” featuring Jake Harkey.