From the B. Iden Payne Theater to national television, UT dance graduates Cooper Neely and Chelsea Pierce have come a long way in the few months following their May 2012 graduation.
Neely, BFA ’12, and Pierce, BFA ’12, will appear on tonight’s episode of A Chance to Dance, a docu-series and dance competition created by So You Think You Can Dance co-creator and judge Nigel Lythgoe. The new Ovation network show, hosted by former London Royal Ballet dancers Michael Nunn and William Levitt, aims to form a new dance company by pulling from the top talent in Salt Lake City; Washington, D.C.; and Austin.
In April, Nunn, Levitt, and the A Chance to Dance film crew paid a visit to UT’s Department of Theatre and Dance on the Forty Acres.
“We were in technique class at school when we were told we were getting the surprise opportunity to be seen by Michael and Billy,” Pierce remembers. “The next day, the crew was filming us in the Anna Hiss Gym.”
While a segment of tonight’s episode was filmed on campus, the actual auditions were hosted downtown at Ballet Austin. Pierce estimates that 20-25 UT dancers participated in the grueling, seven-hour process. But only two moved on to the next round in New York City.
“It feels really special to be chosen knowing the talent that we went to school with,” Pierce says.
Both Neely and Pierce, who took time out of their final UT semester to film the show, have unique backgrounds as dancers. Pierce grew up competing as a gymnast for 14 years before turning to dance, which she says “creatively spoke to her in a different way.” Neely, on the other hand, had no prior dance experience before college.
“The show was great because it showed me where I was in relation to other dancers,” Neely says. “And I’m not as far behind as I thought I was—though there were some speed bumps.”
One of those speed bumps: learning to work around the cameras.
“The most difficult part was definitely dancing around the cameras,” Neely says. “They would be weaving in and out of us—and we couldn’t hit them because they were so expensive!”
Despite the challenges, both dancers are grateful for the platform to showcase their skills and bring attention to the school that trained them.
“It’s surprising to a lot of people. UT is a Tier-1 research school, and oh yeah, we also have a dance department that is becoming a formidable force,” Neely says. “I think in the future, people are going to be sending their dance résumés to UT first.”
Watch the beginning of Neely and Pierce’s A Chance to Dance journey at 9 p.m. CST tonight on Ovation.
Chelsea Pierce and Cooper Neely. Photo by Jeff Heimsath.