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Too Many Goodbyes

Alta Millar
Alta Millar

This morning, I said goodbye to the friends I made at Laban, to my housemates and to the memories I’ve collected over the months. I’m not heading back home quite yet though. I’ve decided to take a month to explore Europe and collect Plan research before I’m homeward bound in January.

If I’m being very honest, I can say that I didn’t want to leave London today. I didn’t want to hug my friends farewell or to pack up my things. Tears were shed and long hugs were exchanged. Even though this may appear sad and difficult, it’s actually a good sign, right? It means that I had such an amazing time to the point that I didn’t want to leave it. It means that I was able to make a meaningful little life here, one that is filled with people I love and a sense of belonging.

A couple of days ago, I got my closest friends together for a farewell celebration and I thought it was just going to be a couple of people who were going to show. I was mistaken, practically my whole Laban class came to my little flat and crammed themselves in my little room. We shared stories, laughed a ton, reminisced on the difficult times and the good days in the studio. We cried and talked about when we can all meet up again.

People gave me parting gifts, mostly little cards and chocolates. The best gift I received was a little model house that lights up from inside. My housemate, Barbara, gave it to me to remind me that I always have my home in London no matter where I go. This little house is much more than four thin walls with a little light in the middle, it’s represents the mobilization of my memories and stories from my time in London into whatever may come next.

I think the next step in learning how to study, live, and enjoy being abroad is figuring out how to carry it with me in the next thing I do. I’m heading to Europe to dance and gather Plan research, but it’s also a test to see how I feel moving on. How do I take everything I’ve just gained into my next adventure?

The last thing I’d like to reflect on while in the midst of transition is that I don’t want to disconnect my experiences from one another. Even when I return back to the states, I want to try my best to fully soak in what I’ve done here and continue this level of absorption at home. The practice of being fully present might be one of most difficult and persistent lessons I’m learning with my time abroad.

Final Exams at Laban

Alta Millar
Laban class photo, Alta Millar

Now with my exciting term at Trinity Laban sadly coming to a close, I’m able to reflect on the differences between this conservatoire environment and Marlboro College. There are plenty of differences—too many to list. But the one that stands out the most for me is how the final exams are conducted here at Laban.

For most of my finals, I did not write any massive essays or reflective pieces on my work, which was strange coming from Marlboro College. Instead, I danced for outside evaluators who assessed my technical proficiency and calculated how I’ve progressed in my classes. These exams were also recorded for them too look back on for grading. For me, this was unusually stressful and…not exactly my cup of tea. I don’t always enjoy being recorded on a camera and having notes be made on my dancing. I know this is something I’ll need to get over, but for now it makes the whole process of dancing feel very formal.

I had three exams where my classes were recorded and assessed, and for each one I endured spikes of adrenaline and, at the risk of too much information, excessive sweating. With all of this being said, it was great practice for me and I’m glad I have this experience under my belt. The exams went well, and I feel very proud of my personal technical developments over this term. No matter what the evaluators may note, I know that I worked hard and approached the assessments with a relaxed—if a bit sweaty—yet determined attitude.

On top of these evaluated classes, I also had plenty of presentations for my Performance Design class and Choreography. For these exams, I had to defend my research and share with my professors what I’ve learned. I was comfortable doing these kinds of assessments because I have plenty of experience with public speaking and presentations via Town Meeting, Board of Trustee meetings, and simple class discussions.

After surviving finals week and enjoying the absurd stress of it all, I can now reflect on what I know I’d like to work more on. I know that I want to become more comfortable with being recorded dancing and to pick up movement phrases quicker. These are all skills that are demanded of you at auditions, so it’s essential that my nerves and mental anxiety don’t get the best of me.

It’s differences like these final exams that made me want to study abroad at Trinity Laban. I knew I wanted to see how I’d function in a strict and rather formal conservatoire educational model. There were of course some parts of Laban that I won’t take back with me, but those are surely outweighed by the amount that I will keep.

With my time at Laban wrapping up, I feel beyond grateful for having had this opportunity and am thrilled to see how my new wealth of knowledge feeds throughout my studies back home.

Bungee Jumping, the Dance

Alta Miller

One of my favorite courses at Trinity Laban is Choreography, which invites our independent artistic and creative endeavors. I look forward to it everyday Tuesday evening because it’s a chance to play with movement ideas and occupy the position of teacher and director.

In one of the projects I’m working on now focuses on how two people, when connected with literal or imaginative string, can manipulate and influence one another. I’ve been interested in the negative space between them and how I, as the choreographer, can produce a visual tension between them.

A lot of my research actually involves watching videos of bungee jumpers, observing how their cord moves through space, and taking note of what happens after the rebound of of their body. This sensation of spatial distance and reconnecting is where my creative process seems to be leading me. With enough visual, literary, and auditory research, I then took my ideas into the studio. Our choreography class here is three hours. At first I thought this would be painfully long, but once I get deep into a creative process, the three hours can go by fast.

I was randomly paired up with two dancers who I had no prior experience working with and hardly knew. I told them what I was interested in and what kind of movement concepts I wanted to try. They seemed interested and eager to work, focused and capable. I knew I wanted them to first find a common rhythm between them, maybe it’d be a swing, a walk, or just their breath. This rhythm was going to be our base to build movement on top of so I knew I wanted them to be honest in this investigation and find something that was genuine to their bodies and personalities. From there, I introduced particular imageries, sounds, and sensations to them as part of an improvisational score to interact with.

What was so exciting for me in these rehearsals was that my dancers knew exactly what I wanted. I was using Laban notation terminology (from a course that we study here) to describe the movement. With this shared language, they were able to pick it up instantly and visualize my ideas in real time.

I still have a couple of more rehearsals to polish my work before presenting it to my class and professor for feedback, but regardless of how the end product my look, I know that I have learned tons working with these two dancers. I’ve learned how to professionally conduct rehearsals, teach my choreography using a universal language among leading dancers today, and most importantly how to trust my creative process.

Finding Home in the Routines

Alta Millar
Crepes!

With only three weeks left of Trinity Laban’s fall term, I’ve been thinking a lot about my return home and how I’m going to share my experience. Honestly, sometimes I really don’t know. Obviously, I know how I will share my dance training and my studies in workshops and performances, but how can I share my actual lived experience of studying abroad? Can I? Or are there experiences that are meant only for myself?

I think it may be impossible to share the smallest of details that make up my life here, my routines and the rhythm of my days, and yet my routines are how I’ve become comfortable here. By knowing the rhythms, the ebbs and flows of not only my living quarters but my place of study, I’ve become immersed in a new home with its own experiences, stories, and memories.

I can honestly say that I’m beyond comfortable here. I’m in the groove of things. I’m working hard but my body isn’t sore. I’m strong but not exhausted. I understand how Laban works in terms of expectations and I know how my house feels. I have started to understand myself here. This is a big accomplishment for me, one that’s been built up over time. I’ve had to work hard on making my house a home, and have had to be patient with navigating the new terrain of Laban Conservatoire.

While reflecting on how I got to this point of stability, with only three weeks left of school, I’ve realized that my routines are what has helped me to stabilize and enjoy living abroad. In an effort to share with you all my genuine experience of living abroad, I’ve created a list of some of my favorite routines:

  • Cooking dinner with all of my housemates in one little kitchen
  • Walking home after a long day
  • Late night talks with my housemates
  • Listening to Queen (any song really, but Another One Bites the Dust is my favorite currently)
  • Snacking between classes (absolutely necessary while dancing all day)
  • Eating my weekly Snickers (guilty pleasure)
  • Making too much coffee in the morning
  • Leaving my soap in the shower
  • Packing my bag in the morning
  • Waiting for the bus
  • Taking the bus
  • Annoyed at the smells while in the bus
  • Grocery shopping
  • The sound of the open markets on Wednesday afternoons when I do my shopping
  • Meal preparation for the week and the daily struggle of figuring out what to cook

Maybe there will be some things I don’t want share, or maybe there are some things I can’t articulate when I first arrive home. That’s okay, right? But these routines will probably be what lingers most in my mind when I return home. Isn’t this almost the best part? I think there’s something special in having these little experiences and stories that only I know. There’s something in this that makes my life feel a little fuller, almost like my mind has become a wondrous file cabinet full of moments and stories.

Riding the Creative Process

Alta Millar
In the beginning of my term here in London, Laban was hosting open auditions for the Master of Fine Arts choreography performance. In addition to getting some auditioning experience under my belt, I felt fortunate to be selected for one of these performances. I knew I would learn about another choreographer’s creative processes, how they produce movement, play with ideas, and craft a finished product. But what I did not expect is that I’d be asked to sing and dance while blindfolded in a room full of strangers.

I, along with nine other dancers got selected to work with a choreographer named Tuesdae for her MFA performance in December. Tuesdae focuses on making collective energies in her work and fosters a sense of community between us as dancers, humans, and social beings. She focuses on notions of tribalism and is currently investigating what it means to share and support one another in both rehearsal and performance. In her rehearsals, we’re asked to open ourselves up to try anything she wants. This is where the fun, scary, strange and wonderful experiences come in.

During the first rehearsal, nobody knew each other, and we were all a little timid and unsure of what to do. In order to start getting to know each other, Tuesdae turned off the lights and made us contact improvise with each other. In the pitch dark, we had to first find each other and figure out how we individually and collectively move.

In this same rehearsal, she also made everyone perform an improvised solo while blindfolded and plugged into bluetooth headphones. The best part about this surreal sensorial experience was that nobody knew what music Tuesdae was going to play in the headphones. This was exposing and vulnerable, experiences I’m all for trying out.

In our most recent rehearsal, we worked on generating our own music for the final performance. We started by covering our eyes and, while standing in a circle, find each other’s heartbeat. Once we found a collective rhythm in our heartbeats, we decided to have this be our baseline. On top of this baseline, we improvised and played with different sounds and pitches to layer on top.

Despite being exhausted from a whole day of collaborating and dancing, there’s something gratifying in every rehearsal. Watching everyone walk in and get ready for rehearsal makes me feel like we’re forming a little family. For just a couple of hours, we are all here not because we’re getting paid (although that is the goal), but because we want to be. And despite the fact that not all of us can sing or really keep rhythm, we all enjoy the experience of being an empty canvas, a willing guinea pig, and a tool for Tuesdae’s creative process.

When in Bath…

Alta Millar
Friend of Alta’s demonstrates where one might go in Bath, England

Trinity Laban, my host institution while abroad, recently had their mid-term break. It’s a week meant for studying, exam preparation, and some much-needed relaxation. I knew that I wanted to make the most out of this break, since I’m only studying here for one term. This was a call for adventure, so I packed my bags and went with my friends to a cute little city in England called Bath

There were many highlights in this trip, such as going to museums, eating classic British meals and having my first traditional afternoon tea. But what sticks with me the most, on reflection, was simply walking around and exploring with my friends. It made me feel like a child again, frolicking in new streets and letting my interest lead me to the next destination.

On one of these adventures, my friends and I stumbled upon a Roman bath. It should be said that these are pretty much all over the place—figures since the city is named after them. Centuries ago, ancient Romans discovered a way to make natural hot pools. These baths were made as a communal space for socializing and relaxing.

The particular bath we found had a whole fancy spa department next to it, with steam rooms, facials, and overpriced massages. It was modernized, to say the least. My friends and I decided to treat ourselves and buy a ticket for two hours access to the spa and Roman bath.

I have never felt so pampered in my life. With marble seating in the steam rooms, calming essential oils everywhere, and fancy hydrating drinks in-between rooms, I practically melted out of joy. I hadn’t realized my body was so tight and overworked until I got into the infamous bath. My muscles, having been so sore and tired from dancing, finally had a moment to release.

And this wasn’t even the best part—When my friends and I explored further in the spa, we found a rooftop pool! Let me just repeat for emphasis on this level coolness, a rooftop pool. During sunset! It was something straight out of a movie. It’s these kinds of moments and absurd experiences that I’ve been enjoying so much while studying abroad. The snippets and collection of stories I’ve been gathering are what’s going to stay with me the most when I return home.

Expectations Abound Abroad

Alta Millar
View from Alta’s dance studio.

You know when you’re really excited about something and you keep imagining it over and over again? How you go through each moment, analyzing each scenario, as if you’re mapping it out before it even happens. This is probably one my favorite things to do. It calms my nerves before a big day, like a dance audition, performance, or even travelling to London like I am now. But what happens when things don’t go according to plan? I’ve had to ask myself this question a lot these past two months.

Studying abroad for me has been a lot about letting go of expectations. I sometimes catch myself wanting my education to be a certain way here at Trinity Laban. I want the teachers to teach me in the way I crave, and even for the students to be a certain way.

I was having a case of homesickness on a Friday afternoon, after a dance technique class where I felt inadequate, uncoordinated, and confused on the combinations. After class I went outside to get some fresh air when a friend of mine called me over. At first I thought, “I don’t want to talk to anyone,” but somehow I found myself crying in her arms. I talked to her about how I was feeling frustrated that nothing seemed to be how I pictured it.

I was surprised to find she felt the same way. In fact, everyone here pretty much feels the same way. With a large international student body, tons of my classmates feel a little lost and disoriented here. In a way, knowing this made me feel quite a bit better. Having this moment with my friend made me realize that it’s important to share your experience with people because more often than not, they’ll relate, understand, and help you through it.

Once I was able to accept the fact that things abroad are simply different than I had imagined and that I can’t control them, I’ve been able to enjoy what it is that I do have. I have friends, good food, a place to dance and place to call home. In the end, who am I to complain? Studying abroad isn’t always about making your imagination into reality, sometimes it’s about going deeper into the experience that’s already in front of you.

Detours

(a mostly random selection of Marlboro microdestinations)