Michelle Press shows off some of her skills and form as a ballet dancer. (Dance photos provided by Natalia Bell Photography)
When Michelle Press ’18 dances in the fall Hartt School Dance performance, it will be a groundbreaking accomplishment. The sophomore from Richmond, Va., is majoring in physical therapy (PT) in the University’s College of Education, Nursing and Health Professions and minoring in dance in The Hartt School. Granted, these are two of the University’s relatively new programs, having both been established in the last 15 years. Still, Michelle is poised to become the first PT major to perform with The Hartt School's Dance Division and to complete minor degree requirements in dance.
This is significant because, although there have been first-year students who want to major in PT and minor in dance in the past, no one has done so because of the difficult demands of each program.
“I think of myself as a dancer. That’s who I am,” Michelle says, noting that she has been involved in dance classes and performances since she was 12. “But at the same time, I want to be a physical therapist. I have seen other dancers struggle with injuries, and it would be really rewarding to be able to help other dancers be able to continue to do what they want to do.”
Thanks to carefully planning her schedule, Michelle is on track to complete all requirements for the dance minor, of which the recital is one, in the spring of 2016 and to complete her bachelor’s degree requirements for physical therapy in the spring of 2018.
“She is a savvy and very determined young woman,” says Barbara Crane, an associate professor in physical therapy and Michelle’s academic advisor. Crane adds that Michelle takes additional science classes during the summer so that she can continue to spend time in the dance studio during the year.
Michelle admits that working out her academic schedule to stay on track in both programs has required quite a bit of extra effort. “Making my class schedule each semester is like a bad game of Sudoku,” she laughs.
The important thing for Michelle is that she is doing exactly what she envisioned when she chose to attend the University of Hartford. “This is what I was looking for in a school, someplace with a strong PT program and a strong dance department. And I’ve had that since my first day of classes, when I started with a biology/chemistry class and then went to the Performing Arts Center to take my placement class for the dance program,” she says.
Michelle credits the strong support and encouragement of faculty in both programs with making this opportunity possible. She says the time that Professor Crane and Amy Lesko, coordinator in the Hartt School’s Dance Division, have devoted to helping her coordinate this demanding schedule has been remarkable.
Crane says Michelle is the main reason this has worked so far. “She has goals and she is very committed to those goals,” Crane says. “But she also has a mature perspective on how she wants her undergraduate life to be.” Remarkably, Michelle also finds time to work as a tutor in biology and chemistry for first- and second-year students.
Michelle says that she plans to continue her involvement in the dance division even after she completes the requirements for her dance minor. “There is so much I want to do in the dance division, so much I want to learn, and this performance is only the beginning of all those things,” she says. (Click here for information on the Hartt Senior Dance Performance.)
Michelle credits her dance and physical therapy classmates with giving her a boost towards her goals. “Every day I am around people who inspire me, and that pushes me. I want to stay up with them,” she says.
“Science is hard, and dance might be even harder,” she admits, “but I wouldn't want it any other way.”