Hello! My name is Frances Tirado, and I am a student in the CLI Conservatory. A little about me: I’m big into musical theatre, ballet and salsa dancing, and studied writing and theatre at the University of Pittsburgh. Getting to combine all of my favorite things at this conservatory has been the biggest privilege, and I’m excited to show you a peek behind the scenes of what we do here!
I’m going to take you through one of my favorite days so far: when Chris Scott, Eddie Torres Jr. and Princess Serrano came to teach us original In the Heights choreography. (P.S. We had two days with Chris Scott, and recently filmed something really special from our second day with him, so keep an eye out for that, as well as other behind-the-scenes videos on our Instagram page @cliconservatory!)
For now, I’ll take you through that Monday, sprinkling in some general information and fun facts about our experience here in Easthampton.
We start the day with ballet. It is getting COLD over here in Easthampton, so a good warmup is key to getting through the day! Charles and Rose Flachs are our resident ballet teachers, and we love them dearly! Rumor has it that they taught Teddy everything he knows about ballet. Nine times out of ten we start the day at 8:30 with ballet for an hour and a half, but sometimes we have yoga or a Teddy warmup. If a guest choreographer teaches ballet, they might sub for the day. When Jermaine Spivey and Spenser Theberge came, they taught ballet every morning that week.
After ballet, we have an hour class until our first break. Sometimes we have Gyrokinesis with Casey Gonzalez, or if we have a teacher from the surrounding area like Barbie Diewald for improv and modern or Debra Vega for yoga and jazz, they might teach during that slot. Otherwise, we will have contemporary with Teddy!
On this lovely day in November, we had a great class with Teddy. If you’ve taken a class with Teddy, you know how high energy they can be. On this day, we learned a combo to a Finneas song. The energy in these classes is pure excitement, love, and support for each other. It’s been great to see how everyone has evolved in his classes from the first week. We will be masters at space holds and using our back space by the end of the program!
We have a break every day from 11-12, long enough to go get food if you need to. There’s a supermarket nearby, and since it’s New England, Dunkins galore. Sometimes we get food donations from the Hackworth School parents. (Huge SHOUTOUT to them!)6
In the Heights with Chris Scott and Eddie Torres Jr.
The 12-3 block is typically when we have our guest choreographer. Sometimes we have them the whole time, sometimes it’s split up into class and rehearsal. We are preparing dances for our end of the year show in May, and are all sort of pre-cast in a certain number of dances. I won’t bore you with the details, but it just means that we often split up during the day, some people heading to one studio to rehearse with a choreographer, while the rest of us take a different class. Oftentimes we will have student-led classes, a Teddy class, or a class by one of the instructors at the Hackworth School (like Teddy’s mom!) when we split up like this.
Chris Scott and Eddie Torres Jr. were teaching In the Heights choreography and then Chris would lead a production workshop the next day, so we were not rehearsing for our end show with them. We had the 12-3 block with them and spent the whole time learning original In the Heights choreography! Eddie Torres was the Latin choreographer on the film, and Princess Serrano was his assistant. They taught us the Latin moves (which I had a LOT of fun with) and Chris taught us the intro and the tap breakdown section from the opening number.
Near the end of classes with guest choreographers, the production team (Devin Jamieson and Patrick Anthony) comes in to film. We’re really lucky to have CLI behind this program because the quality of video that we get from in class is awesome! It definitely helps to stand in the middle though, because even when we split up into groups, there are a lot of us. Geo Santillan takes the pictures that you can see in this blog and on many of our Instagram posts.
From 3 to 4 we have another break. We change studios at 4 because the younger dancers start to come in to the Hackworth School. After this break, we typically have Q&As, seminars, rehearsals, music class, or student-led classes. This day, we had a Q&A with Chris Scott, Eddie Torres and Princess Serrano. Often our Q&As are on zoom but this time we were lucky enough to have them in person. Everyone who comes through is so interesting and happy to talk, and we could ask them questions for hours.
Some highlights from this session were finding out how young Princess Serrano is and being able to relate to her as many of us are in the same boat, e.g. choosing “between” college and beginning a dance career while you are still learning who you are as a human and artist. Hearing Chris and Eddie talk about how they found each other and how they were so passionate about the other’s work was really cool, as well as how they explained the filming of the song Carnaval Del Barrio. As a Puerto Rican myself, hearing them talk about how much it meant to the latinx actors and dancers made me tear up with pride and admiration. (I am tearing up again thinking about it!)
Ok, now here’s one of the coolest things about this program. If you’ve watched any of our videos in the last two months, you’ll have seen two different studios. Our main one that we use every day, we share with the Hackworth School. The space with the three paneled backdrop and cool lighting is the CLI space, where they film regular CLI classes. A few times a month, we get the chance to “audition” to assist in a CLI class. It’s less high stakes than it sounds, though, as that just means we know during our class with the choreographer that we can get chosen to assist later that day.
Me and 6 other dancers were chosen to assist Chris in a CLI challenge. These are the shorter combos that you can post directly to the CLI website to be seen by your favorite choreographers and interact with the rest of the CLI community all over the world— so it was really cool to be a part of this one! Mum’s the word on what we learned that day since it hasn’t been released on CLI Studios yet, but keep an eye out for my cameo!
Our days can go from 8:30-7, so by the time we get home, we are tired to say the least. We all live with other conservatory dancers, so we’ll debrief with each other, cook dinner, and (ideally) go to bed early. Some dancers work or take classes remotely, and others keep collaborating and creating phrases or videos together after class, so the days don’t always end at 7!
Each week is different, depending on who’s coming in and what Teddy has in store. We film a lot, and film schedules depend on lighting and availability of location, so that can often mean an early Saturday morning, like when we filmed with Lucy Vallely and with Chaz Buzan. Both of those videos are available to watch through CLI Studios. Some weekends and weeknights we have more social events like our vegan dinner with Chef Deuce, or our plan to see West Side Story in theaters together in a week!
While the schedule can be intense, we are all here for a reason. This is our dream, and we are so incredibly lucky to have the experiences and opportunities that we do! On Fridays, we have a group check-in, and the responses can range from honest confessions about struggles with certain thoughts and feelings, to declarations and celebrations that are life-changing and inspire us all as a group. And this is the coolest thing about a Day in the Life of a CLI Conservatory Student: you are surrounded by people that feel like family all day long. We have gotten so close in the span of a few months, and I’m so excited to see where next year takes us!