Contemporary Dance Meets Modern Medicine


Photo Courtesy of Alyssa Taylor

By Crystal Wong

Taking the ball of her right foot and brushing it against the hardwood floors before bringing her heel to strike down, Alyssa Taylor’s tapping foot makes loud, striking sounds. As she continues to count threes under her breath, the taps get faster, but the footwork is still nonetheless crisp and clean. She’s warming up her feet, ready to take on tap class.

Rewind to only earlier that morning, and the nimble dancer dips into the world of jazz dance, a style completely different from tap. With feline-like leaps and no boundaries, her movements are fluid and the emotion in her face is raw. Taylor’s movements syncopate to the ups and downs of the music. Catapulting into the air, she twirls her hands and head to the choreography. Modern and ballet are different in which you get to make artistic choices without changing the choreography, but in jazz there is no limit to what you’re allowed to express or change.

“I think the reason I like contemporary and modern so much is because they’re so expressive,” Taylor says. “As I got older and became more passionate about dance, I started dancing for myself because I love it. [I don’t dance] for the technique or to win competitions, but purely because dance is my outlet and the way that I express myself.”

In between the ten-minute break from transitioning out of jazz class to tap class, Taylor laughs and chats with classmates who come and go all while switching from soft-soled jazz shoes to loud tap shoes.

As shoes change, so does the conversation. Taylor has organic chemistry on the brain. As a dance major doubling in biology, she thinks a lot about carbon compounds all while counting the beats to the music she dances to.

She’s about to ask her friends Jill Oates and Greyson Hanson whether or not they finished their lab, but gets interrupted by another dance peer. The topic shifts again from organic chemistry to Taylor recalling whether or not she is teaching dance class that night back at her old studio. As the break ends, Taylor says her goodbyes to Oates and Hanson before standing up and clacking her steeled tap shoes on the wooden floor with each step.

The dance classes in the mornings and the biology courses in the afternoon don’t comprise her entire schedule. Besides getting paid to teach at her old studio, she’s also a part of the Claire Trevor’s School of Arts dance company, Interface, run by one of the dance faculties here at UCI. On top of that, Taylor is trying to switch into exercise science, one of UCI’s newly added majors in 2015.

Over the course of high school, Taylor has unfortunately accumulated an excessive amount of injuries. After too many visits to her chiropractor for her reoccurring back pains, Taylor’s new found interest in pursuing a potential career as a physical therapist for dancers has sparked.

“I have always wanted to go into some area of the medical field, but after having so many injuries I knew that I wanted to be a physical therapist because I could personally relate to people with [dance] injuries,” says Taylor.

Taking 22 units spread equally between STEM and dance courses, Taylor has a schedule that’s not easy to manage. Whenever she hears about people looking down on majors in the Claire Trevor department because of the lack of workload compared to others in the STEM department, she shakes her head.

For Taylor, workload as a dance major means having the motivation to discipline herself enough to attend all the dance courses she’s currently taking no matter the body aches or how exhausted she may get after a long night of rehearsal before repeating the process over again. Although the term “workload” may be different as a dance major, it still involves the same amount of energy required for STEM courses.

“The academic classes have a lot of work involved whereas the dance classes don’t have any ‘homework.’ But since the dance classes are an hour and a half to two hours long, they take up a lot of time and energy,” Taylor argues.

Her schedule is particularly busier and almost equivalent to someone working full time. She rarely has any free time, dedicating whenever she’s not at school, at work, or at rehearsal to stretching out her muscles and trying to maintain good mental and physical health.

With two majors to pursue, Taylor knows firsthand how difficult it is to transition from one field to another all while trying to keep everything under control.

Although more of a physical toll on her body than a mental toll, dance will always be Taylor’s number one outlet and priority despite the overwhelming number of challenging STEM courses she encounters. She wouldn’t have it any other way, though, as she believes that one degree in dance and another in biology will help her future tremendously as a physical therapist.
From the spacious dance studios in Claire Trevor, to the lab all the way across Aldrich Park in Rowland Hall, Taylor’s life revolves around movement. If not in lab or in the studio, then she’ll be teaching younger children for the remainder of the night before finally collapsing into bed.