Sunday, November 18, 2007

UNLV Student Finds Her Rhythm 

Posted by James at 3:54 PM ET

Dance Major Amber Jackson Discovers Her Life’s Passion in Dance

By April Corbin
UNLV Rebel Yell
From dancing in front of the fireplace whenever her parents had guests over to dancing for hundreds of strangers five nights a week, dance major Amber Jackson has come a long way.

Amber Jackson

At eight years old, Jackson began taking ballet, jazz and tap dance classes at the insistence of her parents, who she said just couldn’t help noticing that Jackson always began dancing on the fireplace when they had guests over. Back then, she said, dancing was only a hobby.

“I had fun with it, but I never took it seriously,” she said. “I used to come [to class] late, chew gum. I was the one any teacher would hate to have.”

All that changed the summer before eighth grade, when attending a performing arts camp in her African-American community opened her eyes to the possibility of pursuing dancing professionally. “I saw a lot of people who looked like me that were dancing,” she explained.

Now 21 years old, Jackson has accumulated an impressive number of dance credentials, including two years on the Arena Football League’s Las Vegas Gladiators dance team, the Gladiator Goddesses. Over the summer, she worked a brief stint as a short-lived show at V-Theatre inside the Aladdin (now called Planet Hollywood). Since mid-September, she has worked as a go-go dancer at Studio 54, located inside Mandalay Bay. There, her job entails dancing at the club as well as doing work on other areas of the resort’s property.

“Before [my current job] I had a regular person job,” Jackson said. “I worked at the airport. But I used to dance there, too. I’d teach my supervisor dance moves.”

Jackson defines dropping her “regular person” job as a turning point in her career. She recalled an opportunity two years ago that involved dancing nearly all day. “It was a 9-to-5 dance job,” she said. “Everyone there had dance careers and they only danced. I was doing this and working at the airport. It was inspiring for me to just know that their entire paycheck comes from dancing.”

Since quitting her job as a ticket agent at the airport to become a go-go dancer five nights a week, Jackson has been doing just that. It’s something she said she has aspired to do for years, despite some hesitations from those around her.

While Jackson noted that her family has always been supportive financially and emotionally, she still couldn’t escape the stigma that gets attached to dance majors.

“When you’re younger, everyone always says you have to have Plan B,” she said. “They always ask ‘What are you going to do with [a degree in dance]?’”

As a response, Jackson chose entertainment management as a minor. However, rather than “Plan B,” she feels her minor compliments her major.

“It’s something that I believe people in my field need to take into consideration,” she said, citing a media marketing class that can teach dancers how to market themselves.

Jackson emphasized that, even without a minor, being a dance major is much more demanding than many people realize.

“Normally, people take four classes for 12 credits,” she explained. “Dance majors take at least 15 credits, like eight or nine classes.”

Sometimes, these classes are zero-credit classes required by the school.

Only one of her courses this semester is a technique dance course. According to Jackson, the rest, a mix of core classes and major classes, require much more studying than people realize dancers do. For a dance history class, Jackson noted having to listen to renaissance music and recognize the piece’s meter, names and instruments simply by ear.

Luckily for Jackson, said friend and fellow dance student Jessica Olivio-Tyson, memory and studying comes as naturally as the classes, leaps and kicks in her dance routines.

“Amber’s there not only physically but mentally,” Olivio-Tyson said. “She’s very dedicated and that’s something that’s important.”

Jackson is hoping her dedication, and perhaps a little luck, will help her get through the spring semester. To graduate in May, she needs to take 22 credits.

“I’m just praying that everything goes smoothly,” Jackson said.

If everything goes well, she will conclude her last days at UNLV with a nine-day trip to Hawaii. After that, she says the verdict isn’t quite in yet, though she has an idea.

“I’d like to focus more on hip-hop as well as jazz,” she said. “I’d like to focus on commercial work over concert work.”

One thing is certain about her post-graduation plans, she said, “they’re not going to be in Las Vegas.” Jackson is focusing on moving to California once she graduates.

Despite an uncertain future, as long as it involves dancing, Jackson said she should be fine.

“I’ve never considered my life without dancing,” she said. “I always tell my friends that if I break my leg and the doctor tries to take it, just kill me.”

After a car accident her sophomore year of college, physical movement was much more painful. Jackson insisted on performing as a Gladiator Goddess, despite management telling her she didn’t have to.

“Just put an icy-hot thing on my back and I’ll dance,” Jackson said.

According to Olivio-Tyson, it’s this steadfast determination and accountability that sets Jackson apart from her peers. “She’s definitely a woman that takes care of herself,” Olivio-Tyson added. “Her energy is always shining through.”

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