#ElonGrad 2020 Spotlight: Shelby Durham, Dance Performance and Choreography, Arts Administration

In this series, Elon College, the College of Arts and Sciences is shining the spotlight on distinguished members of the Class of 2020 from a wide array of disciplines.

Shelby Durham

A double-major in dance performance and choreography and arts administration, Durham earned the Outstanding Senior Award for Dance Performance and Choreography.

What led you to your majors?

I always knew that I wanted to be a dancer, but I also knew that I had so much more to learn before I could make this art form a career. I was not only interested in performing, but also the artistry, choreography, design and business side of the arts, which is what led me to choosing my majors of dance performance and choreography and arts administration at Elon.

Which Elon experiences were most valuable to your education?

Throughout my time at Elon, I was able to participate in study abroad. I studied dance and business in Florence, Italy, in the spring of 2019. This semester abroad presented many challenges but through them all they all helped me realize the one thing that I am 100 percent certain about, which is that I need to be creating and dancing.

I was able to participate in the Internship experiential learning requirement not once, but twice throughout my years at Elon, both on and off campus. On campus, I was the production assistant and the on-campus intern for Elon University Performing Arts, all while performing and choreographing for the Fall Dance Concert in 2018. I was also the marketing and social media intern for In Balance Pilates, while also training in Chicago and traveling to choreograph commissioned works in the summer of 2019.

Which performances were most valuable to you as a student?

As a student, I genuinely feel as though all of my performances were valuable, because they each presented a new challenge for myself as an artist. I always loved having the ability to showcase my classmates’ research and movement throughout the Choreography Salon, which happens every Fall semester, as well as our mainstage productions which I have been in since I was a first-year. Performing the work of classmates was always so compelling and exceptional to me, it was so intriguing to see how artists all have very special perspectives on how to create and set a work.

Performing the work of guest artists also provides a unique lens: How can you be a professional? Having the ability to work with working and current professionals has not only heightened my personal sense of professionalism, but also just creates great contacts. Every guest artist I have worked with has been incredibly welcoming and open to conversations, both inside and outside of the rehearsal studio.

One performance that really changed me as an artist was Abby Corrigan’s College Fellow Thesis Concert in February 2018, “Of Those Who Live.” I found her process extraordinary and exhilarating. She really allowed for her dancers to take ownership of the movement; I became so much more confident with my movement and myself throughout that rehearsal process.

“​Rites of Seasons,” ​ the Spring Dance Concert for 2020, was also a once-in-a-lifetime performance. Being able to work with live musicians, singers, and composers was something I had personally never done before and it was so inspiring. Everything about this show was so special: the stage design, the costumes, the choreography… It was the very first full-evening length work that I had ever performed in a mainstage production! I was able to perform in Renay Aumiller’s “​Fall” and Yoshito Sakuraba’s “​Winter.” Although at the time of this performance the senior class and myself had no idea that it would be our last time performing at Elon, I believe it was the best possible show to end my time at Elon with. “​Rites of Seasons”​ will always be a show that I am immensely proud of and grateful to have been a part of.

What is your proudest accomplishment while at Elon?

I would have to say my proudest accomplishment at Elon would either have to be receiving the “Outstanding Senior Dance Performance & Choreography Award” this past fall, or being the very first Elon dance major to have their choreographic work selected to be presented in the Fall Dance Concert for two consecutive years. It’s amazing to receive recognition for all of the countless hours and years of hard work put into this incredible art form.

How have your relationships with faculty furthered your educational goals or helped you grow?

Throughout my years at Elon, the entire dance department faculty has served as my mentors. They have been the most helpful and understanding people and served as massive motivators throughout all of my years. They have pushed me beyond limits and constraints I had no idea existed, been there for me in some of my darkest times, and opened doors to opportunities that have deepened my sense of artistry and training.

Assistant Professor of Dance Renay Aumiller has served as my modern professor, choreography professor, academic advisor, choreographer as well as my choreographic mentor. She has been life-changing. She has completely allowed me to become my most authentic self as a person and artist, and has truly helped me find my artistic voice. She not only would offer feedback, raise challenging questions, and help me as a mover, she also would just listen. No matter what the topic was, Renay would always listen with open arms and help me talk through any problems, concerns, or challenges that I was going through. I am so thankful for everything that she was able to share with me. Renay is much more than a professor to me and I am sure that many students can say the same.

What are your future plans?

Originally after graduation, I was supposed to be joining HS Pro, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s professional program and second company. Unfortunately due to financial instability as a direct result of COVID-19, this program was canceled. I was also supposed to be joining Hubbard Street Dance Chicago this June for their Pre-Professional Choreographic Program, but that was canceled as well.

However, I am still all set to go to Los Angeles this July and train with ATE9 dANCE cOMPANY through their Summer Course! They only accept 15 dancers into this program and this serves as the company audition. As for my Fall 2020, I have been accepted into multiple professional programs in Chicago and New York City, and am excited for all of the company auditions from the Spring to be rescheduled this summer. As of now, I could end up moving to Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, or Los Angeles! I cannot wait to see what the future has in store.

What advice would you give to future Elon students?

One piece of advice that I wish I had known as a first-year is that you do not have to feel guilty for being different. I have always been someone who is highly motivated and driven, and someone is ready to work for what they want. I always thought that people would judge me or talk about me negatively because I was often absent from social activities because I was in the studios late at night improving, in my room choreographing and planning my next rehearsal, watching rehearsal videos and footage from professional companies to gain inspiration and knowledge or simply was always in rehearsal. I never knew that my work ethic would be one of the things that I love most about myself. So, first-year Shelby, never apologize for working hard and being different.

What’s your favorite Elon tradition?

My favorite Elon tradition is not necessarily a tradition, but rather a trait of Elon University, and that is the relationships that are built here. The faculty are all so welcoming, full of knowledge, and truly care about each and every one of their students, even if they are not teaching a class that is within your major or minor. These relationships foster growth that would most certainly not have been there otherwise. The relationships that you build between faculty is unmatched with any other university I have ever heard of.