EDUCATION

Student’s dance journey leads her to Ole Miss Student Dance Company

Madison Hyatt
Oxford Stories
mmhyatt@go.olemiss.edu

As soon as University of Mississippi sophomore Madeleine Bradley was out of diapers, she was dancing. 

“As soon as I was potty-trained, my mom had me in dance classes,” Bradley said. “My mom was one of those moms who puts their kid in every activity possible. She signed me up for soccer, basketball, ballet, you name it. But ballet was the only activity that stuck with me.”

Dance became something Bradley relied on to get through her week. As Bradley aged, her dancing ability improved, in turn, allowing her to move from level to level within her ballet school in Memphis.

“When you’re little, you start out in creative movement classes, which are basically when your mom dresses you up in a pink leotard and tutu, and the teacher lets you run around like pretty little fairies,” Bradley said. “But as you get older and decide you want to stick with ballet, you start to move through the ranks as you get more experienced.”

Although Bradley’s ballet academy offered other forms of dance, such as jazz, hip hop and flamenco, the movement of ballet is what drew Bradley to the specific form of expression.

“Ballet is very controlled,” Bradley said. “Even though ballet dancers make it look so graceful and effortless on stage, every muscle in your body is working to death to keep your leg straight, your foot on pointe, and your arms strong.

“As horrible as that sounds, there’s a weird beauty to it. You work so hard, and go through so many hours of rehearsal, that once you get on stage, all you have to do is rely on your hard work and lose yourself in the movement. And that feeling of losing yourself in the movement, is the best high you could possibly imagine.”

As Bradley continued to excel in her ballet classes, her workload increased. Starting pointe at the age of 11, dancing up to 20 hours a week became her norm. Even her summers consisted of ballet, with Bradley participating in ballet intensives on college campuses, such as Princeton and the University of Texas at Austin.

Although ballet was what Bradley loved, its major presence in her life forced her to evaluate the reality of a future in dancing.

“My teacher wanted me to start looking at companies, and I wanted to as well,” Bradley said. “The best way to get into a respected ballet company is to go to a ballet academy. I originally wanted to go to a ballet academy for my junior and senior year of high school, but after I got into an academy, I realized that it might not be the best option for me.”

Because professional dancing is competitive and entails a short-lived career, it is oftentimes hard for ballet dancers to make a substantial amount of money relying solely on their dance income. After much deliberation of the pros and cons of professional dance, Bradley decided to quit ballet her senior year of high school.   

“After I quit ballet, I had the worst year of my entire life,” Bradley said. “I was really depressed, but I ended up just trying to focus on sports thorough my high school, which helped a little bit.”

After a two-year break from dancing, Bradley began to reconsider her choice after her freshman year of college.

“Not dancing my freshman year of college wasn’t as hard as in high school, just because I was so busy with freshman life in general,” said Bradley. “I had a lot of distractions. But the summer after my freshman year, I knew something was missing. I started thinking ‘maybe dance is something I should get back into.’ That’s when I decided to join the Ole Miss Dance Company,” Bradley said.

A former student at Bradley’s ballet school became involved in the Ole Miss Student Dance Company at Ole Miss, sparking Bradley’s interest in the program. The Ole Miss Student Dance Company, or OMSD, is a student run dance company at Ole Miss. The board of directors, choreographers, and advisors are all students. 

“It’s really a way for students to get involved in dance without having to deal with advisors and professionals,” OMSD senior member Darby Hennessey said. “It’s just a way for students to express themselves more freely than they would be able to in other platforms.”

Because the OMSD is run entirely by students, the dynamic within the company is also unique. The close interaction from the all-student dynamic enables the performers to bond, according to Head Choreographer Sydney Gibson.

“It’s always really interesting, because the season starts out with a jumble of strangers,” said Gibson. “We all really get to know one another throughout the semester, and once show week comes around, your feet are in everyone’s face and you don’t care. It’s nice to see something come from nothing.”

Connecting to dance again, as well as with members of the dance company, have all been incentives for Bradley.

“Madeleine has such a vibrant personality,” Hennessy said. “She’s always cracking jokes and has a smile on her face. When we were learning the piece we’re in together, she was always energetic and just ready to get it done. She takes everything in stride, and it has been great to dance with her.”

Although the OMSD does not focus entirely on ballet, the opportunity to dance again was enough for Bradley.

“I use the technique I’ve learned from ballet, but nothing that we ever perform is strictly ballet,” Bradley said. “Our performances are more a fusion of different kinds of dance, but at this point, I just dance to dance. Styles don’t matter to me anymore. Dance itself is something I connect to.”

Along with the ability to continue with dance, Bradley has seen a change in herself.

“I feel like I’ve become myself again,” said Bradley. “For a few years, I just felt like something was missing, but being able to dance again has put me in touch with myself. I think, overall, my outlook on most everything has become more positive.”

Bradley’s friends have even seen a positive change in her.

“I really think she just seems more happy,” said friend Wesley Neville. “Last year, she was less focused, but ever since she started dancing, she’s been more upbeat and focused on school. I’m really happy for her.”

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