Two recent graduates of the Conservatory of Theatre & Dance at Southeast Missouri State University are enjoying success in their careers as professional dancers. Alumnae Hannah Matheny and Shannon O’Keefe will both advance their careers this fall through coveted professional positions.
This month, Matheny, a 2016 Southeast graduate with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance, will begin a post-graduate Professional Studies Program at the prestigious Jose’ Limon Dance Foundation. Another Southeast graduate, Shannon O’Keefe, will begin her career in October as a professional dancer with Carnival Cruise Lines.
Based in New York City, New York, the Limon program focuses on modern dance technique and the natural movements of the human body.
“I had experience with the Limon technique when I was a student at Southeast,” Matheny explained. “The Department of Dance brought in someone from the Limon Company to set a piece called ‘Psalm.’ I’m proud I got to be part of it, and I learned so much as a dancer.”
Just before graduation, Matheny learned that Limon had a professional training school, and her prior exposure to the Limon technique prompted her to apply. Matheny is one of only 15 students accepted to the program.
Matheny, who has been dancing since she was three years old, is originally from Bradford, Tennessee. She became familiar with the Conservatory of Theatre & Dance when her sister, Kelcey Matheny (Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance, 2014) was a student at Southeast. Now the sisters are both living and dancing in the Big Apple.
“I have already moved to New York, and it has been great!” the younger Matheny said. “Right now, before the Limon classes begin, I am focused on exploring the city and getting a feel for it. I expect my new life to be very busy and fast paced. I’m excited for this new adventure!”
As part of the Limon training, Matheny will be taking regular technique and movement classes, learning and rehearsing the Limon repertory, doing research, and preparing a performance project.
“It is definitely a vigorous program,” she explained.
O’Keefe graduated from Southeast in 2015, also with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in dance.
“I looked at Southeast because of how affordable it was. I liked that it was close to my home in Festus, Missouri,” she said. “However, when I visited the River Campus, I immediately fell in love. The idea of having my own campus completely dedicated to art students was amazing, and when they took us to the Bedell Performance Hall, my decision was made. I could not wait to dance on that beautiful stage and share my passion with southeast Missouri.”
As a performer on the Carnival Pride, O’Keefe will be cruising between Baltimore, Maryland, and the Bahama Islands, stopping at ports in Florida, Costa Rica, Mexico, the Dominican Republic and Panama.
O’Keefe explained that the cruise line audition process can be “long and grueling.” Usually the audition begins with dancers filling out paperwork and being assigned a number. Dancers are then taught several short dance sequences, each more difficult than the last. Several dancers are cut after each round of learning and performing the combinations. The longer the audition lasts, the greater the likelihood the dancer will get a job, she said.
“It can be tiring,” said O’Keefe, acknowledging that life as a cruise ship performer may also require “rehearsing at strange times, including all hours of the night, because of performance and guest schedules.”
She said she feels well-prepared for her new life at sea. In addition to dancing, O’Keefe will also be required to “learn all Coast Guard rules and emergency procedures,” adding, “we are employees 24 hours a day, seven days a week. There is no request that is ‘not your job.’ We are there to ensure that every guest has a relaxing and enjoyable experience.”
Both alumni praised their professors in Southeast’s Conservatory of Theater & Dance for preparing them for the realities of life as professional dancers. Matheny said her professors “treated us like professionals. Whether technique classes or auditions, my professors were the very best at preparing me for the dance world.”
“Southeast helped me become a well-rounded dancer, prepared for any curve-ball thrown at me in an audition,” she said.
The dancers both cited the varied professional backgrounds Southeast professors bring into their classrooms as a key factor in the success of the University’s dance program. As O’Keefe explained, “when someone asks me ‘what are you going to do with that degree?’ I answer, ‘anything I want to do.’” She believes she is ready for any opportunity her career may present.
“There is no one defined ‘job’ as a performer. As a working dancer, you will have many different gigs throughout your life. The B.F.A. professors helped me to open my eyes to all the different choices I have, O’Keefe said. “My degree from Southeast has given me unlimited career options. How many people can say that?”