‘Pure determination, blood, sweat and tears’ Stricker journeys to Juilliard for dance


Karina Kitchen

Photos courtesy of Stephanie Stricker

“Thank you.” The friendly yet intimidating ballet teacher tapped the shoulder of yet another young Juilliard hopeful who now quickly scrambled to collect her belongings and maneuver around numerous dancers and bars to leave the crowded class.

RBHS senior Stephanie Stricker, one of as many as 500 hopefuls worldwide and 60 at the audition center, endeavored to keep her attention on the ballet instructor and her technique but couldn’t help noticing each time a dancer was politely asked to leave the studio.

After an hour of ballet, the dark-haired assistant director of admissions read off a list of roughly 30 numbers. The list included Stricker.

“After I made it past ballet,” Stricker said, “I was…really shocked so I was freaking out.”

When Pam Stricker, Stephanie Stricker’s mother, started her daughter in a ballet class at Columbia Performing Arts Center, she had no idea that some day, her blonde blue-eyed child would become not only a dancer, but one auditioning for one of the world’s top fine-art schools, Juilliard, located in New York City.

“I put Stephanie in dance at age three because she loved music, and she was always dancing to music everywhere she went,” Pam Stricker, said in an email interview, but “I didn’t really have high expectations for her. I just wanted her to have fun and do what she loved to do. I did not expect her to become one of the world’s best dancers; however she was very passionate about dancing and she was determined to be the best she could be.”

Stricker was in competition dance by fourth grade at age 10. Now she rehearses 16 hours each week. That practice time consists of ballet, tap and hip-hop classes, as well as competition rehearsals.

Though some grow up dreaming of leaping across a stage as a ballerina, Stricker simply saw all of the time she spent dancing as a hobby. However, when a friend started considering dance as a career, her interest was sparked.

“Last year I decided [to pursue dance] after my friend…decided to do all these college auditions,” Stricker said, “and so I was like, ‘Oh, OK, that sounds interesting,’ because I looked into it and then from then on I was like, ‘This is what I want to do.’”

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Stricker went on to apply to multiple schools, including Marymount Manhattan College, New York University, Southern Methodist University, the University of California-Santa Barbara, the University of Arizona and Juilliard.

“Everyone [said]…‘You should just try out Juilliard, like audition for it, see what happens,’” Stricker said. “I didn’t like expect to get in or anything…I was planning on going to Marymount Manhattan…I just decided to try out for it.”

Juillard holds auditions in five cities, so Stricker and her parents decided she would audition in Chicago. The morning of the audition, she and her parents flew to Chicago to be on site by 9 a.m.

At 10 a.m., the first step of the audition process began ­—the ballet technique class. Those who demonstrated strong enough technique were called back and attended a modern technique class.

“Modern was easier for me than ballet was [because] I have more training in contemporary, and that’s kind of like modern,” Stricker said, “so I was pretty confident about that.”

Following the modern technique class, the remaining dancers performed a solo. After the solo performances and a cut, the applicants learned a challenging combination in the repertoire portion of the audition.

“After learning [repertoire], there [were] only three girls left and four boys,” Stricker said. “It got, like, really tense.”

The final seven dancers each had an interview with the director of dance and other Juilliard dance faculty. The interviewers took notes as Stricker answered a variety of questions.

The questions included, “Who’s your biggest inspiration? What’s your biggest failure in life? What’s the last book you read and how has it affected your life?”

“At the end of the interview, you get this piece of paper saying, ‘Congratulations, you made it past the interview in the Juilliard audition process,’” Stricker said, “and then you have to wait for a month” to find out the results.

For Stricker, the answer came in the middle of math class.

“It’s like a rumor, I guess, that they call you before you get an actual email saying you made it in, and so I didn’t know if that was going to happen or not,”  Stricker said. “So in math class…it was like an unknown number, and it said like, ‘NY’ underneath because [of] the area code, and so I picked up, and it was Katie Friis, the director [of admissions], and she was like, ‘I just thought I’d tell you [that] you made it into the Juilliard program. You’ll be [in] the graduating class of 2018.’ And then I was like, ‘Oh my God,’ and I started freaking out.”

Stricker, her parents and her instructors were astounded. Columbia Performing Arts Center’s competition director, Jen Lee, was amazed as Stricker is the second dancer ever from CPAC to be admitted into the Juilliard program.

“My reaction to Stephanie’s acceptance into Juilliard was total shock,” Lee said in an email interview. “Not shock because I was surprised that she got in, but shock because it is so amazing that she is one in 12 women in the world who got into the school. I was so elated that I wanted to cry, but I couldn’t, and I cry a lot. It was such an amazing day, and I will never forget it.”

Lee, who has worked with Stricker for 15 years, believes the senior’s demanding and intriguing stage presence set her apart from other applicants.

“I think what set Stephanie apart from other Juilliard applicants is that she is a beast, plain and simple,” Lee said. “She commands your attention when she is dancing. So in a room full of dance hopefuls, your eye is usually drawn to her.”

That quality served her well as she danced before the Juilliard faculty, and her determination to be the best dancer she could be has landed her in a rare and exciting place in her life—that of a tremendously talented and successful young dancer on the verge of living a dream. Her dance teacher accurately summed up the reason for her success.

“What makes Stephanie the successful dancer she has become is drive,” Lee said. “She decided that this was what she was going to achieve and she made it happen. Pure determination, blood, sweat and tears.”
By Karina Kitchen
Do you know any dancers? Have you seen Stephanie dance?