A conversation with Anijah, a performing arts student
What did you do this past summer?
My summer was busy! I traveled to the Dominican Republic (DR) through Global Glimpse, for two weeks and worked with locals to cook and clean. I got to know so many great people. I got to do my capstone project at a low-income school in the DR and built soccer goals, a football court, and basketball court.
When I came back, I started my month-long Ladder for Leaders Internship at Theatre Works USA. We put together workshops and performances for elementary school students in underrepresented communities.
I was also participating in the Exploring the Arts Tony Bennett Apprenticeship at the American Ballet Theatre. I helped with processing papers, filing, and payroll sheets, which was fun!
I was also fortunate enough to participate in the French Academie of Ballet summer program through a scholarship. I’m a senior now, so I had to start my college applications as well.
That’s an ambitious summer! How do you find so many opportunities and stay organized?
A lot of it is going out and researching. I have a mother who supports me and allows me to participate in things.
I have three planners; my phone, my school planner, and a calendar. On my calendar, I write in everything: when I submit something, when the deadline is, when I’m supposed to hear back about something. In my school planner I write what I’m supposed to do for school, such as responding to a teacher, asking for a recommendation letter, or application deadlines. I add small tasks and dates in my phone and set timers.
If I know what I want my summer to look like—I look for opportunities, put them all out, see what comes back, and then align them with my schedule.
How did you get into dancing?
I’ve always loved to dance, since I was two. I used to dance in front of the computer, have my mom record me and see if it was good. I attended an elementary school in Brooklyn and we did African dance, which was one of the first styles I learned. It lead me to do ballet, a little bit of tap, and modern. With those experiences, I was able to attend a performing arts school in the city. I get amazing opportunities by training every day, such as doing Carnegie Hall’s West Side Story in my sophomore year.
What’s it like being in a performing arts school?
It’s all about preparation and making yourself ready for the moment. I first applied to The Professional Performing Arts School in middle school. I had to be able to sing, dance, and act. When you get to high school, it’s more about figuring out what your major is (musical theater, dance, etc). In middle school, I wasn’t prepared. I made it my duty to come back and audition for high school and be more focused on what I want to do.
For middle-schoolers who are interested in going to a performing arts school, it’s important to train and focus on what you want to do. Make the time and act on what you want to do, don’t be lazy about it—so you get into the school that you want.
You sound so determined to achieve. What challenges do you face growing up and how do you overcome them?
At our age we [try] to listen to things people tell us and fit this mold. In school we’re told to get all A’s, pass your classes, and get into a good college. You have to do well on your SAT and ACT. We’re forced to listen to outside opinions and it can be hard for me to focus on myself and remember I’m in charge of myself and my success not anyone else.
With such a busy schedule I don’t get to go out as much—to movies, see friends, or other things teens do. But that’s OK. I find joy doing what I do. Being able to volunteer, go to school, being at dance—I‘m able to hang out with my friends so I do see the positive side in it as well.
It seems like you have so much on your plate. What do you do to relax in between everything?
I love music! I listen to R&B: 90s and 80s music. It’s calming to me.
I use Instagram to catch up with what’s going on with my friends. Snapchat obviously; I love the filters and streaks. My highest streak lasted for 436 days.
I also like to cook. A lot of pasta. I’m a vegetarian, so lots of peppers, mushrooms, and omelettes.
Balancing college applications and dance, what has the process been like for you?
Since 9th grade, I’ve been looking at colleges; figuring out where I want to go, what things I want to do in college and seeing where I’d be a good fit. At the end of my junior year, I made ‘yes’, ‘no’, ‘maybe’ cards. I started with a list of 30 colleges and made a comparison worksheet. It allowed me to compare things like tuition, what programs they have, and if they offer study abroad and internships which are big for me.
I’ve been attending NACAC college fairs at the Javits Center. Dance Wave is another program that showcases colleges with dance programs. You can watch performances from current students and also audition for many colleges at one time.
I’ve been looking at colleges with dancing and pre-med programs; I have dreams of being an anesthesiologist. I’m also considering international relations, inspired by my summer experience with Global Glimpse.
It’s been hard, I won’t lie. Sometimes I get overloaded. There are so many things you need to write; like the essays. You want to make it sound convincing and like this is who I am. It’s stressful, but by March I’ll be relaxed.
What do you hope to achieve in the next few years?
I’m a multifaceted person and it’s hard to figure out just one thing to do. My main goal is to do everything I want to do by age 50. I want to be an anesthesiologist, be able to dance, give back, travel the world, have my own home, give myself and family a good life.
I want to be an example of someone who despite adversity—not growing up with a father, and being around friends who have had that—still put in the effort to achieve her goals.
Coming from New York, there are some many opportunities, not like when my mom was growing up. Everything is at your fingertips.