An Interview with SFCD student Madison Hoke

In 2008 I came to the Bay Area to study at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, and in many ways I have never left. Though I have independently pursued a project-based freelance career and a path in dance writing, I still consider the Conservatory my home. Currently the Conservatory is in the midst of its summer session, where students come from all over the country to train a rigorous nine hours a day. I caught up with current Conservatory student Madison Hoke to get her perspective on her experience training at SFCD.


Emmaly Wiederholt: Why did you choose to attend SFCD in the first place?

Madison Hoke: At the time of my first audition, I was in search for a place to train that could help me become a strong, intelligent, well-rounded person and dancer. I wanted to begin training at a level that would challenge my body and mind. This would allow me to discover where limits exist and how I could push those limits. Initially, I chose to audition for the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance based off of details I had read about the school online. I was impressed and drawn in by the uniquely raw quality of both the summer and year-round program curriculums. SFCD also has an extensively multi-talented staff with many years of experience, making them experts in their fields. Even prior to my audition, I had a very confident feeling that the Conservatory was exactly where I needed to be. Ultimately, Summer Lee Rhatigan, the Artistic Director of the Conservatory, is one of the biggest reasons I chose to pursue training at SFCD.

EW: How is your experience in the summer program different from the year-around program?

MH: Having been a dancer during the summer and year-round programs at SFCD, I found the two programs to vary in many ways. The summer program is quite different from the year-round program. These differences, however, serve to train the dancers in multiple work environments. Compared to the year-round program, the summer sessions are shorter in overall program length. The year-round program is scheduled as five days a week and about six hours a day. Dancers generally train for eight to nine months over the course of the fall and spring semesters. Summer sessions, on the other hand, last for a duration of four to six weeks a session. There are three sessions that occur during the summer months of June, July, and August. In summer sessions, dancers are in the studio for roughly nine hours a day, working vigorously with new choreographers and repertoire. All of the dancers work with one another, learning quickly how to adapt to unfamiliar conditions. I find great value in this type of program set-up, for the reason that all attendees are able to grow exponentially in a short period of time. The idea of work becomes essential. In the year-round program, a much more intimate learning environment is established. With 8-10 people in the program, there is an ample amount of time to explore complex ideas and concepts about dance. Dancers become comfortable as vital relationships form. I believe that both programs, although different, are equally valuable to the dancer.

EW: How has your understanding and scope of dance changed in your time at SFCD?

MH: Since I began dancing at SFCD I have had the opportunity to broaden my knowledge in many categories that continue to influence my dancing and daily life. Training under such intense conditions, one learns a lot about themselves and how far they are willing to go in order to reach their most magnificent state. As a dancer at SFCD, I am almost ritually reminded of concepts such as color, physicality, dimension, space, imagery and imagination. Musicality plays a major role in all aspects of the Conservatory’s curriculum, as well. The dancers are taught to be driven by music- letting it carry the movement. Another important concept instilled in the dancers of SFCD is the significance of understanding that we already have exactly what we need. We use the people we are surrounded by, the training, and our own history, encouraging the excellent endeavor that is our life as an artist. Not a single day goes by that I do not experience both mental and physical stimulation.

EW: How have different members of the faculty changed your conceptions of dance in different ways?

MH: Each faculty member at SFCD has an incredible skill set unique to themselves. The San Francisco Conservatory of Dance exists as a representation of its students and staff members. Summer Lee Rhatigan, director, is truly an amazing human being. Summer has the ability to bring to the surface some of the best the qualities in each dancer that has the unforgettable opportunity to take class from her. Every faculty member is personable and extremely intelligent. The entire staff offers their expertise in such a way that keeps the dancers sharp and curious. I respect the relationships I have with each member of the SFCD faculty. Unlike other training programs, these teachers do not present themselves as superior to students. The dancers are respected by the staff, while the staff also receives a high level of respect and gratitude from the dancers in turn. Alex Ketley, an SFCD staff member and brilliant choreographer, has helped me to approach my dancing through a more mature eye. He pushes the dancers to search for color, articulation, and meaning behind their work. Christian Burns, world-renowned improvisor and SFCD staff member, has also made an important impact on my dancing. From his encyclopedic knowledge about improvisational technique, I have learned of the countless ways to expand upon my improvisation foundation. One can only go deeper, I’ve discovered, into the realm of possibilities brought on by options you can create by yourself.

EW: Where do you see dance taking you next?

MH: So, what comes next? That, I cannot predict. Currently, I am striving to eventually work in a company setting in order to increase my experience. After years of training, performing with a company would be the greatest reward I could receive. However, I do not intend to force anything. I want to keep training and commit to my work. In the process, I will begin to audition for potential companies or project based work. I feel that my momentum will bring me to where I need to be. That is not to imply that I am not determined to dance professionally. I strongly believe, though, that if you want to accomplish something you just have to do it. For the summer, I will be working on a project with Zhukov Dance Theatre, directed by Yuri Zhukov. I am extremely excited to have this opportunity and eager to find out what will happen next.