Second-year Skye Schmidt has performed in “The Nutcracker” eleven times. She practices dance for up to 30 hours per week and there have only been three weeks since August during which she has not been rehearsing for an upcoming show.
“I was always told that I had the right proportions for dance. They always told me that I had talent,” Schmidt said.
UC Irvine’s dance department offers Bachelor of Fine Arts degrees in performance and choreography and is ranked second in the nation. Outstanding performers like Schmidt help maintain this status.
The Early Years
A ballerina working toward a BFA in dance performance, Schmidt began dancing at age four in her nearby hometown of Fountain Valley, California, where she took classes at the Southland Ballet Academy.
“My mom always liked dance, so she wanted me to be in dance. It didn’t become my thing until I was nine.”
At nine, dancers at Schmidt’s studio begin to wear black leotards, rather than pink tutus.
“I was like, okay, that is cool. This is really serious,’” Schmidt thought.
By age 15, Schmidt reached the advanced level at the academy. Almost all of her friends had already dropped out.
“It’s a level at any studio, but also a concept. I remember being 14, 15, and pushing myself, so that maybe I would become more advanced. That push never stopped.”
When Schmidt arrived at UCI last year, she fully immersed herself in her dance studies in a way she had previously not been able to.
“I was able to really give dance my all. I got a lot stronger and it made me much more capable. It made it all work better,” Schmidt said.
Last fall, Schmidt also joined a professional dance company, Festival Ballet Theater, which performs four ballets every year, including “The Nutcracker.”
Schmidt feels most comfortable on stage when she gets the opportunity to act while dancing, and become the characters she portrays. A significant aspect of performing well as a dancer is using the appropriate facial expressions for every style of dance — ballet, jazz, tap and modern.
“Ballet has always been my thing,” Schmidt said. “It’s always the same character.”
This continuous character, Schmidt explained, is one that might appear in a Disney movie or a fairy tale — an elegant smiling figure.
Yet Schmidt also likes to challenge herself with other forms of dance, and encompass their corresponding personas.
“A big goal of mine is, when I’m doing jazz, to look like a jazz dancer.”
In the dance department’s recent “Dance Visions” show, Schmidt first appeared on pointe in a piece choreographed by Professor Molly Lynch, and then had only ten minutes to change and return to the stage for Professor Chad Hall’s angsty modern piece, “Substrata.”
“That was a huge character switch,” Schmidt explained.
To improve on her characterization and technique, Schmidt finds that watching videos of herself performing in past productions is most efficient.
“Sometimes it can feel like you’re doing one thing, but it doesn’t look like it,” Schmidt said. “Throughout the struggle times, looking back at little improvements was helpful,” she added. “You can see things that you really improved upon. It’s still funny to look at my old videos.” She also explained that improvements in her dancing from one year to the next are often immense.
In December, Schmidt danced the role of the Snow Queen in Festival Ballet Theater’s production of “The Nutcracker,” the largest role she has ever danced.
“It has a lot of jumps and jumps are my favorite thing. If I’m nervous and I do a lot of jumps, I’m okay. I like to fly.”
What She’s Doing Now
Schmidt has recently begun rehearsing for her company’s production of “Giselle,” a sorrowful tale of a peasant girl who dies of a broken heart. Next quarter at UCI, she will also appear in a classical rendition of excerpts from “Swan Lake,” one of two of the dance department’s productions of the classic ballet.
In the future, Schmidt hopes to continue dancing in a professional dance company. She is grateful for the high caliber of the 25 individuals in her dance company, as well as the sense of camaraderie she feels while with her fellow company members.
“I wouldn’t mind doing that for a long time.”