“I was a flower girl in a wedding, and I wore ballet slippers for shoes, and I just fell in love with the shoes, and I wanted to dance,” said Sayer Mansfield ’10, recalling the first steps of a long and prosperous dance career. After eleven years of rigorous study at a Royal Academy of Dance studio in Georgetown, Massachusetts, Sayer Mansfield spent this past Spring Break strapping on her ballet slippers backstage at the Phyllis Bedells Bursary in London. Sayer is a member of Blue Strut, the Andover Dance Group, and continues to take dance classes at Phillips Academy. She acted and dance in this past Fall Term Theatre 520 performance of “Urinetown,” and said “I definitely want to continue [being involved in theatre.]” “Every year since I was like six or five, I have taken an exam. And it’s not a written exam, it’s a performance,” said Mansfield. This exam is administered by the Royal Academy of Dance (RAD), a dance company based out of London, which has certified studios across the globe. Dance students learn sets of choreography, then are tested on their technical abilities and graded based on their performances. The grades range from Fail, Pass, Pass with Merit and Pass with Distinction. This past October, Sayer Mansfield took the Advanced 1 examination—the second to last RAD examination—and passed “with distinction,” enabling her to travel to London for the Phyllis Bedells Bursary. Sayer Mansfield and Carolyn Calabrese ’09, a fellow Phillips Academy and Ballet Arts student, were the only two American girls to attend the international competition. “I grew up around here and I still live around here,” said Mansfield. Her proximity to her old dance studio has enabled her to have two places of dance instruction—on campus and at the Ballet Arts studio in Georgetown with instructor Alicia McDonald. From November until March, five days a week, Mansfield practiced technique, a required piece, and a piece of her choice for the Phyllis Bedells Bursary. She said, “To be in a really high pressure situation, pretty intense, lots of competition… all the preparing for it took a lot of discipline…. In general, it made me a much stronger dancer.” On March 16, Mansfield and Calabrese danced from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. alongside girls from around the world. “We spent the entire day together,” said Mansfield, “and there were people from Canada, from Australia, from Italy… lots of people from London, right from the Royal Academy itself. Basically, there were people from all over the world.” Having Calabrese beside her throughout the process was a tremendous comfort to Mansfield. “We carpooled all the time and did our rehearsals together; it was definitely a collaborative effort…. We went out there together,” said Sayer Mansfield. In front of an audience and a panel of four judges, Mansfield performed a required choreography piece and a fairy variation from “Sleeping Beauty.” As she stepped off the stage, Sayer said she gained a sense of accomplishment and a realization of her place in the dance world. While two students from the Royal Academy of Dance based in London won the competition, Sayer won the satisfaction of knowing that an impressive eleven years of dance training had paid off–all while managing to keep up with her schoolwork. “I could definitely tell that I would be much better off in terms of dance if I danced all day… I go to Phillips which obviously has demanding academics, and academics do come first,” said Mansfield. She explained that regardless of its effect on her dance career, coming to Phillips Academy is a decision she does not regret, and she has found her place in Andover’s arts community. Mansfield also plans to spend the summer at a dance program with the Boston Ballet and plans to complete her twelfth and final Royal Academy of Dance examination next year. After this, her plans are up in the air, but what she does know is that she will continue to be involved with dance at Phillips Academy.
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