Sure, we go to class. We gain educational values and knowledge that we didn’t have before. Then, there is all the partying and making life-long friendships. But somewhere in between all that, there is a place for us to deepen our real-world knowledge.
College is a time of studying and of staying up late, but it is also a time when opportunities are everywhere we turn. I am writing to tell you about an experience I was not looking for, but one that found me anyway.
One of the perks of being a WKU student is the opportunity to apply for a Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) grant. These grants are available to fund research for any undergraduate students in good standing with the university, who have achieved sophomore status or above. Applications go online each semester.
In order to help better explain just how great this opportunity for research is, I will share the story of my own FUSE journey. I can only hope it inspires you to put yourself out there for similar opportunities.
Sometime in September 2016:
Dance professor Amanda Clark announced to the WKU Dance Company, which I am a part of, that FUSE grant applications were available. We all smiled and looked intrigued, but inside we were questioning what this grant was and if we were even qualified to receive it.
No further inquiries arose.
Later in September:
Professor Clark approached me about the FUSE. She mentioned the possibility of doing research which would ultimately help with my honors thesis, a study of feminism throughout modern dance history. Still, I was not completely hooked, as research takes more than just a little time and money and even these were categories where I was more than lacking.
However, Professor Clark went on to tell me about the $3,000 in funding offered through FUSE grants, as well as the faculty’s willingness to make time for a proper research opportunity.
I immediately looked up the application and began typing away at my proposal for a project which was only an amalgamation of dreams and imagination at that point. After much editing, my proposal was finally ready. It stated my wish to travel to New York City and study the Martha Graham Dance Company through interviews, library research and dance classes.
I submitted it, and it was among the hundreds of electronic applications in the virtual pile. All I had to do now was wait.
Late November 2016:
In an unusual Wednesday dance class, we were given a free day to do research for our final projects. As I sat with my laptop open, studying influential modern dance choreographers through history, I received an email from ‘the FUSE people.’
“Good afternoon, congratulations on being awarded a Faculty-Undergraduate Student Engagement (FUSE) internal grant,” the email read.
I was ecstatic.
Just a few months ago, I barely knew about the FUSE grant. Now, I had $3,000 and only a semi-vague idea of what I was going to do with it.
Winter Break 2016:
My planner and my excel spreadsheets became my best friends. I realized that I now had to make my dream research opportunity into a reality in the span of about two months. I knew that I wanted to spend a week in New York City. I knew that I wanted to study feminism in modern dance through the lens of the Martha Graham Dance Company. I just had to figure out how. Budgeting for plane tickets, ground travel, meals and of course research, I was adulting more than ever before.
The Big Apple would be my final destination, but first I had to get over just how big it is in order to create an itemized budget and finalized itinerary.
Fortunately, I turned to my WKU network to get things done.
While in New York, I would stay with Meg Hoshor, a WKU dance alum who recently moved to New York to pursue a professional dance career. Meanwhile, former WKU dance professor Eric Rivera gave me contacts to reach out to in the city. Professor Meghen McKinley and my best friend Trevor Edwards both had great suggestions of places to go and things to see. It’s almost as if this trip was planning itself.
Early February 2017:
I landed in New York on Monday, Feb. 13. Immediately, I took an unnecessarily expensive Uber from the John F. Kennedy International Airport to Washington Heights.
My work began the next day when I got a call en route to the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. It was Terese Capucilli, a former dancer for the Martha Graham Dance Company. She was one of the contacts I received from Professor Rivera, and she was calling me to schedule an interview.
On my second day in the big city, I headed to Capucilli’s apartment on the Upper West Side. My research began with an hour-long interview about Martha Graham and her female-empowering choreography and life philosophy. The interview was rich with information.
Capucilli spoke of Graham as if her spirit still lives on and ruminates in her choreography. I left the interview feeling confident that the trip could only get better, and I felt like I had already learned so much.
On Wednesday, I got in touch with Denise Vale, the associate rehearsal director for the Martha Graham Dance Company. She invited me to attend a technical rehearsal at the Joyce Theatre to get a first-hand look at Martha Graham’s latest company. Although Graham died in 1992, her legacy lives on through the lives and bodies of her company members.
As I entered the swinging glass doors of the Joyce, I took a quick reality check to make sure I was not dreaming. In the auditorium, dancers with the most defined muscles I have ever seen began to fill the stage. I was in awe of their beautiful bodies, and when they began their warm-up class, my eyes were glued.
After the class, I talked to Vale about Graham as a feminist. In the same majestically enthralled fashion as Capucilli, Vale spoke about how Graham’s work put women at the forefront of stories which were normally centered on men.
“She was not a feminist as we would define them today,” Vale said. “But she emphasized women and their place in all of humanity. She understood the human condition and told about it in her choreography.”
Thursday was a day centered on research in my own body. I woke up and hopped on a train to Brooklyn to take a four-hour Graham-based class. Soon, I realized that I might have been the only one in the room who hadn’t frequently studied Graham technique. My abs were on fire and my back felt broken after about 10 minutes, but I absolutely loved it.
The technique is focused on the actions which compose all of human movement: contraction and release. It made me feel powerful and weak all at the same time. I was hooked.
On Friday, my last day of research, I finally made it to the library. This place was rich with books on Graham and even more specifically on her role as a feminist. It is like I was being handed all of the answers to my questions, and I could not be luckier. After reading for a few hours, I walked about 100 feet over to the Juilliard School to watch another Graham class taught by Capucilli herself.
Finally, I had one more interview with another former Graham dancer, Jacqulyn Buglisi. She took me to get sushi at her favorite spot by the Alvin Ailey school downtown. Buglisi was brimming with knowledge on the origins of Graham’s works. She also spoke about her personal time with Graham in the studio, learning the dances that Graham had danced herself at one point.
“I never worried about living up to those who had danced the roles before me,” Buglisi said. “Dancing them was a selfless act. It made me want to dance for humanity, not for my own self.”
Inspired by the words of these dancers, I would sit and contemplate all that I had learned over the past few days on my way back to Bowling Green. I had talked to so many people I never dreamed I would meet. They were so open and willing to meet with me and discuss Martha Graham and her impact on American society and the world of dance. As I rode the train back to the airport, one thought kept running through my mind.
“Thank you WKU,” I repeated to myself. “Thank you for this opportunity to follow my dreams.”
If you have a goal, question or just some curiosity, I sincerely encourage you to apply for a FUSE grant. The worst that can happen is a rejection and another chance to try again later.
The best? You could end up in a giant city, meeting your idols, having a lot of fun and learning more than you ever thought you could know about a subject. Just go for it. I did, and I have never been happier.
Now, I just have to figure out what I’ll do with the $2,500 in research funding I have left over.