KSU Dance Senior Rehearses Renowned Dance Company

Shari Purnell
Dancer Shari Purnell advises: "Be your biggest fan and advocate." 

Hard work pays off with important professional opportunity

KENNESAW, Ga. (Mar 31, 2020) — Kennesaw State University (KSU) senior Shari Purnell gained critical professional experience in January when Department of Dance Professor Thang Dao invited Purnell to assist him in staging Roked for Philadelphia Dance Company (Philadanco) in New York City for their upcoming season and tour. In fall of 2019, Roked was performed by a cast of 17 dancers from the KSU Dance Company, in which Purnell was a soloist.

Each fall semester, faculty at the Department of Dance choreograph works for students to learn and perform, and Prof. Dao choreographed Roked as part of the production SLANG. Purnell proved to be skilled at not only learning how to analyze movements, but also how to decipher movements to teach fellow dancers. “During our rehearsals,” she says, “Professor Dao tasked me with retaining choreography and teaching parts.” Prof. Dao has a history with Philadanco, regularly working with them over the past several years, and when they asked him to set a new work for their upcoming season, Roked was an obvious choice, and he enlisted Purnell as his rehearsal assistant.

Shari Purnell

Images above and below: Shari Purnell.

“Philadanco’s dancers are a miracle of skill and energy,” writes Dance Magazine. “They work in a range of idioms most companies don’t even try to possess…a company that can do more than anything. It can represent the human spirit through dance.” Purnell knew this was an exciting and challenging opportunity. “I was scared at first,” she reflects. “The first day, my voice was shaking as a tried to teach, but the dancers were really nice. We loosened up and every day turned out to be so much fun.” While the experience in and of itself was quite the opportunity for a dance student, one aspect stuck out to Purnell: “I think the professional development side of it was really exciting for me. I tend to be really nervous about getting out there to meet companies and network, so I feel like that gave me a chance to develop something before I graduate: a relationship with a company that I could possibility work with in the future.”

Scheduled to graduate in fall 2020, the Douglasville, Ga. native has pursued her degree in Dance—with a concentration in Modern—while also studying for a minor in Business Marketing. “I heard KSU has the best dance program and I said, ‘that’s where I’m going!’” she recalls. “The business program was a draw as well. When I toured the campus, [the guides] talked about how big the business program is. They gave so many facts—I realized the business program is a good opportunity.” Purnell intends to take both her Dance degree and Business Marketing minor into the dance world. She says, “I’m really interested in doing marketing for a dance company. I think it’s very similar to the way I communicate within dance…just another medium for me to communicate with an audience.”

Shari Purnell

“I think I’ve gained more confidence,” she says of her Philadanco experience. “I’m still nervous here and there, but being in that experience where I knew the information and knew how to teach it, there was no doubt that I was going to deliver. I didn’t always think that, but I now have more confidence to tell myself ‘no, I know how to do this,” and realize I can bring value to someone’s company.” This confidence has been developing over the course of her studies at KSU and this experience with a professional dance company cemented that growth. “I’ve seen over my time here at KSU,” she says, “that the [Dance] department has really put an emphasis on professionalism that we need after we graduate. That has been really important to me.”

“You have to believe in yourself,” she advises aspiring dancers. “If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. You have to put that in if you want to continue, and those around you will see if you don’t believe in yourself. Be your biggest fan and advocate.”

--Lauren Richmond; images courtesy of Summer Davis and Matt Haffner.