For dance major, ‘life is choreography’

MiKayla Young, dressed in black, sits outside on a bench on VCU's campus

At just four years old, MiKayla Young’s parents signed her up for a dance class at the local YMCA in Baltimore, Maryland. Little did they know, this class was Young’s introduction to what would ultimately become her passion.

Over the years, she practiced the styles and techniques of Katherine Dunham and Lester Horton, laying the foundation for her own modern dance aesthetic.

“But,” she says, “I knew that there was so much more to dance that I just wasn’t going to learn unless I actually went to an institution and studied it.”

That’s what led Young to consider the VCUarts Department of Dance + Choreography. She knew she wanted a program that was equal parts dance and choreography, and many in her local dance community graduated from VCUarts.

The real turning point came when Young visited campus for her audition. As she listened to current students answer questions from the auditioning dancers, she says, “I could sense there was a community—something I didn’t even know to look for within a university.”

With that—and the help of a Carpenter Foundation Scholarship—Young made her decision.

Now a junior, Young is finding the more complete approach to dance that she had been seeking.

“The two [dance and choreography], they kind of go hand in hand,” she says. “It’s actually hard for me to stick with those two categories because there’s so much more; it’s nice to have that relationship as a dancer and a choreographer and a mover.”

She’s also finding ways to expand her practice far beyond plies and chasses.

A teacher once told her, “Life is choreography, and everything we do is choreographed,” and the message resonated. It comes to mind when explaining Young’s parallel interests in social work and psychology. She was a Service-Learning Teacher’s Assistant last year and plans to declare a minor in social welfare this spring.

“There are so many institutionalized systems in the world—like the prison system—and there’s a lot of different ways to tackle them,” she says. “I can do that through social work and working with people, and I can do that through dance.”

Young is an open book about where the combination of dance and social work will take her. She sees possibilities for working in schools, mentoring students, and creating a safer dance and studio environment.

“A lot of people ask me [about combining the two] and I used to struggle with that answer,” she says. “They’re two different interests, but I know there’s a way for me to bring them together.”

“I feel like we should all do something that we’re good at that helps other people.”

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