Continuing with our recent alumni profiles. . .here’s an interview with Rebecca Needhammer: ballet instructor, Tolstoy enthusiast, and ex-aspiring lawyer.
All right, so, I put out this call on Facebook for recent alumni to interview, and somebody told me: “you need to talk to Rebecca Needhammer, she entered St. John’s planning to go to law school and now she’s a professional dancer.” And I thought: “yes! I do indeed need to talk to this person.”
I’m actually not a professional dancer yet! I teach at a ballet school in Flagstaff, Arizona, where my father has taught for several years. (He was a professional ballet dancer for twenty years.)
I aspire to join a ballet company in the next year or so. Because I took four years off to go to St. John’s, I have spent the last year and am currently training so I can audition for companies. I dance, either by myself or in class, for at least three hours a day.
Let’s start with highschool Rebecca: why did you come to St. John’s? Did you initially view it as good law school prep, or was it more like. . .“law is the lucrative career I can later use to justify this education”? Did you dance before St. John’s?
Lately, I have trouble answering this question because. . .there is an easy answer but the real answer is long and a little complicated. The easy answer is, when I started looking at colleges, I wanted to go to law school and St. John’s was notorious as a law school prep school.
Now here is the real answer: I have no idea why I went to college at all! I still don’t fully understand high school Rebecca’s motives. As I mentioned, my dad was a dancer so I grew up in that world. I knew Clara’s part in The Nutcracker before I could really walk. My sister and I would sit at the front of the studio while my dad took company class. We had ballerinas for babysitters. I did my homework in dressing rooms of theaters. I started taking class when I was five and never stopped.
Then something happened in middle school or early high school. I decided I wasn’t going to be a dancer. I don’t know why—maybe I thought I wasn’t good enough or thin enough or it wasn’t sensible. I made up all this stuff in my head. I did Mock Trial and was quite good at it. I enjoyed it. I decided that I would be a good lawyer, so I started thinking about law school and schools that would be good for undergrad. One of my mom’s friends is a St. John’s alumna and recommended the school to me as a place that pumps out good future lawyers.
I looked into the school, prospied, and decided that St. John’s was the place for me, not just because it was “a good idea,” but because I could tell there was something magical about that monastic school in the hills of Santa Fe. It was the place I needed to go to school. I was right about that.
But until the day I packed the car to go off to school, I kept dancing at a high level. One of my crowning achievements to date is getting “Distinction” (the highest mark) on my Advanced 2 RAD exam (the second highest level). This qualified me for the Genée International Ballet Competition in Toronto.
The Genée is one of the most prestigious ballet competitions in the world, with some of the best young dancers competing. To be a part of that was absolutely phenomenal. I did that the week before I went to St. John’s. Going to the Genée should have proved to me that I was good enough to be a dancer. In a way it did. However, I was still going to go to college and be sensible and get a respectable job and never have to worry about money.
That’s what I told myself, anyway. Continue reading