Choreographing Through Life with BFA Student Jacob Becker
Jacob Becker might be new to the UMN campus, but as an alumnus of the Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (SPCPA) and a professional company member in Crash Dance Productions, he’s already found a place in the Twin Cities dance community. Becker’s dance career began long before he decided to pursue a bachelor of fine arts (BFA) in dance. His dedication to the art began at thirteen when he choreographed his first dance. Over time, he has honed his choreography skills and created pieces for other dancers and competitions.
During his senior year of high school, Becker found himself on stage at Juilliard for a dance intensive. “It was an amazing experience, I would never trade it for anything in the world,” says Becker. “But it helped me realize that I didn’t want the conservatory experience. I wanted something more like the U.” Where a conservatory style of learning focuses on choosing a path and sticking with it for four years of training, the BFA program at the U emphasizes exploring supplementary classes outside the dance studio.
Thinking Dancers & Dancing Thinkers
During his first semester, Becker was introduced to the concept of “thinking dancers and dancing thinkers,” a phrase he directly connects to the style of teaching he’s experienced at the U. Becker elaborates by saying that in the BFA program “we want you to learn how to choreograph but we also want you to learn how to dance and we want you to learn how to think about your world.” Becker emphasizes the importance of the BFA program rejecting the “cookie-cutter ideals” surrounding dancers in conservatory settings and praises the U for the wide array of opportunities he’s exposed to that help him understand the world around him and formulate his identity as an artist.
In addition to the unique approach to his education, Becker admires the staff for their work in the local dance scene. He emphasizes the importance of being able to learn from teachers who continue to learn and create in the community. “I’m so excited next year to be taking composition courses and having somebody in the field who is currently choreographing and creating works helping me foster my creativity into pieces and performance opportunities for my work,” Becker says.
A Day in the Life
Like all first-year students, Becker takes general and liberal education credits beyond his already rigorous dance schedule. The surface level assumption might be that those required credits have no use in a setting outside of their subject matter. However, Jacob and his peers have been taught otherwise. “You can more easily communicate with any person when you have these liberal education requirements under your belt,” he says. He further explains “I took anthropology last semester, and I thought it was pretty interesting, not interesting enough to major in it, but I could talk to an anthropology major and say ‘oh Australopithecus, really cool right?’ You can make conversation and you can make a connection with people.”
In terms of dance classes, there are also classroom-based courses Becker takes to fulfill his degree requirements. He notes that in a conservatory setting, dancers are often provided with academic material, but told to focus primarily on their dancing technique. Becker has taken anatomy-based classes and a music theory class where he’s picked up supplementary skills. Becker mentioned he would apply his newfound musical skills in the future while creating choreography to go with a new piece of music. With his basic understanding, he would be able to collaborate with a composer to control the swells and falls of a song so they can fit his uniquely choreographed movements.
Dance is for Everyone
Becker is no stranger to the UMN, which helped solidify the decision that the University was right for him. Despite the support of family and staff, Becker speaks about monetary fear that often deters dancers and other artists from pursuing their passion. “My parents were always super supportive and they’ve always supported my dreams and what I wanted to do… but I was super worried about that and making sure the money was going to a good place” he says.
After a rigorous audition process to land a spot in the BFA program, Becker was awarded the Grace Day Dance Scholarship and the Janis Larson Dance Scholarship. “To have somebody donate money for a scholarship that is specifically for a dancer, it’s amazing,” he says. “Just to have that confirmation that I’m doing the right thing and that somebody sees that in me and they want to help me become a dancer.”
Becker expresses gratitude to the donors themselves and the special interest they have taken in him and his art. He is especially pleased that the support doesn’t stop financially. While Becker was participating in an on-campus dance performance, donor Janis Larson watched from the audience and approached him after the show. “Just to have that actual support and to know that a person is there wanting me to continue in this field is really amazing,” he says. The dedication to and support of his career as a dancer continues to create a strong, stable foundation that Becker can build a career off of.
As for his next steps, Becker looks forward to learning anything the dance community throws his way: “No matter where you are in your dance career, you’re going to learn something new every day. Whether you’re three years old and you’re learning how to shuffle, or whether you’re 50 and you’re learning how to work with a new age group, a new demographic... Dance is for everyone.”
This story was written by an undergraduate student in CLAgency. Meet the team.