It is not uncommon to see Indian students making it big on the international stage. One such student is Arjun Kochhar, a 20-year-old USC student from Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph Online Edugraph, Arjun shares his journey from Delhi to being a student at the University of Southern California.
Today, on International Dance Day, read on to know more about the pursuit of one's passions, the value of cultural exchange and of course the love that one has for the world of dance.
Q. Share your background in dancing
A: I was one of those kids, whose parents were over-enthusiastic. My mother put me into all sorts of classes like horse riding, classical music, basketball, theatre, and dance. My mother wanted me and my sister to experience all sorts of extra-curricular activities and I loved all of them. But the one that stuck with me was dance. I think I fell in love with it in my first class. It was the most of myself I’ve ever felt. I got enrolled in the Danceworx Performing Arts Academy, which is run by Ashley Lobo in Delhi. Eventually, from one class it became five and within a year I was dancing every single day. I used to come home after school, and walk to the studio and practise for 3 to 4 hours.
When I turned 13, they asked me to join as a professional dancer, which I continued for another 5 years.
Photographer: Rose Eichenbaum
Q. How did USC happen?
A: After the pandemic hit, with the classes being shifted online, I had to take a break from dancing and started to focus on my school and academics. I have always been interested in journalism and used to write for the school newspaper and participated in Harvard University’s MUN where I received the best journalism award while I was in class 11. I remember when I won the award, I called my mother and started to cry because I realised that this was the first thing I accomplished next to dance.
Following this, I was appointed as the editor-in-chief of my school magazine. Eventually, I was looking for colleges to apply to and this time the journalism programme at USC stood out for me. I did my research on the school and while applying, I stumbled upon the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. The faculty, the dancers, and the courses there just called out to me and I immediately knew this is where I am going. I applied and had to undergo auditions. I told myself that if I get into this school I would pursue this as my career path. And if not, I'd leave dance and get into academics.
Q. Tell us about the application process at USC.
A: The Glorya Kaufman School of Dance at USC is a highly competitive one.
The admission process for me was different. As it was during the pandemic, it was all online. But typically at Glorya Kaufman School of Dance, with USC being one of the biggest names, the selection process is highly competitive. They get more than 600 applicants, out of which only 25 applicants make it. Their acceptance rate is at 4%.
The admissions team at the dance school sent us videos of certain classes and styles that we had to record ourselves doing and send them back as a portfolio. In that portfolio, there were three sections - contemporary, ballet and hip-hop. So, we had to record each style along with the common applications and send them back as a portfolio, along with a couple of supplementary essays for USC.
Around mid-February, I was informed that I had moved to the next round so I had to submit a round 2 video which was a solo performance. It could either be choreographed by me or by one of my teachers. I choreographed a solo and uploaded it as my second round. The 3rd round was an interview, which also included an impromptu dance performance at 3:30 am (cue time difference).
I started my application process in August, started to work on my portfolio in October and submitted in December. By the month of March, I was informed that I had made it to the Glorya Kaufman School of Dance.
Dance performance Photographer: Hayden Rivas
Q. Your career aspiration and how your degree is helping you?
A: I am looking forward to pursuing a dual degree as it will provide me with a range of options when I graduate. I would hopefully work with a dance company for a few years. Of course, Broadway is a dream, but my long-term goal is to be an arts and entertainment journalist. To be working closely with the arts but through the journalistic lens. Reviewing, reporting, and critiquing, is the kind of journalism I am trying to get into.
Technically, the first two years at USC you study the degree you have enrolled into. But in the third and fourth years you can add on a degree, so you can graduate with both majors. So, a degree in dance and a degree in journalism.
Q. How have you been balancing between dance and your passion for writing/journalism
A: It has been a hard journey so far, they are two very different fields, but also very similar. One requires physical movement meanwhile the other requires a lot of brain and mental capacity. The balance for me has been through my self-practice and what I choose to do during the day. While I do have my classes in college, in my free time I photograph something or write a piece for the student-run newspaper at USC, which is called The Daily Trojan.
I am also taking journalism classes where I am working closely with a few professors. Now that I am studying both these fields, when I watch a performance, film or an event, I start to visualise how I will put this event into words.
Q. Any words of advice to fellow dancers and youngsters on following their dreams?
A: I would like to say this to everyone - Go out there and explore the art that you are so passionate about. Every opportunity you get, try and make the most out of it. Follow your dreams. You have to show up, not for anyone else, but for yourself and your passion.
This is not an easy career, especially for a male dancer from India. A career in arts is still a tough pill for people to swallow. I hope that anyone who is reading this is going out to follow their passions and not shying away from it.
Q. Any Notable shows and names you have worked with?
A: Last spring, USC did a performance in Beverly Hills at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, which is a big thing in LA. We performed amongst international choreographers. Luckily, I was the soloist in the performance. This was my debut moment in the USA and having to perform in front of people who are in this industry and Hollywood was a huge moment for me. Additionally, in India, I was a part of the 75th year of Independence celebrations, where I got to perform in front of the Prime Minister!