Dancing with Philadanco
Dana Nichols ’14 has been training with the West Philly-based company since she graduated, and is now making a profession out of her passion for dance.
Professional dancer Dana Nichols ’14 discovered the Philadelphia Dance Company—known as Philadanco—as a sophomore on her first trip into West Philadelphia. She was on her way to an Ethiopian restaurant with friends when they came upon a street sign that read “Philadanco Way,” she recounts. “I saw their sign and thought, ‘Maybe I could be there some day.’ ”
Now an apprentice in the first company and a principal dancer in the second, Nichols went straight from Haverford to Philadanco, which was founded in 1970 as a haven for African-American ballet dancers and a troupe that celebrates black dance.
Four days each week, Nichols takes ballet, modern, and jazz classes at Philadanco, on top of three-to-five-hour show rehearsals. In between she goes for physical therapy, studies choreography, attends dance classes elsewhere, and teaches at a local dance studio. This year Nichols will tour with Philadanco throughout the United States and in the United Kingdom, with a final show at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center.
Despite a lifetime of training, it was a huge leap, admits the Los Angeles native, to go from college student to professional dancer. “I danced every day until I was age 18, then I cut back in college, so I spent a good two years getting back on top of my craft.”
Nichols started classical ballet lessons at age 6 and could have skipped college to attend a dance conservatory, but instead she came to Haverford. “My grandfather was an English professor, my parents are very literary, so it was in my family’s DNA to get a college degree,” she says. “I’m a reader and writer and interested in people, so it was important to me not to bypass college.”
The English major (with an Africana studies concentration) was a member of Bryn Mawr’s dance program and took two to four dance classes a semester. She started the Haverford College Dance Company, which performs and brings in guest teachers. When a Bryn Mawr graduate who danced with Philadanco urged Nichols to consider the company after graduation, she started training with the group and was soon invited to join.
“What’s most rewarding so far is that I’ve truly tested my limits, and now I feel like I can do anything,” Nichols says. “I’ve made my body do things I truly believed I couldn’t do, and that’s remarkable.”