April’s LeadHER of the Month: Alexandra Clark

As this academic year comes to an end, highlighting the last LeadHER is an absolute pleasure. Her smile will light up any room, her positivity is contagious and uplifting, and her dedication to Howard University’s Fine Arts program is beyond commendable.  April’s LeadHER is none other than Alexandra “Alex” Clark, a Junior, Dance Major, History Minor, from Fairfax, Virginia. She currently serves as the Co-Director of Student Advocacy for the College of Arts and Sciences student council and the Howard University Dance Arts Promotions Manager.  Alex has worked diligently to fight for the students within our Fine Arts program. Despite many obstacles she’s had to face as both a student and a leader, she has never given up. I hope her story can inspire you all as much as it has for me…

 

 

Asha: Why are you so passionate about Howard’s Fine Arts department?

Alex: I truly looooove Fine Arts. The Division of Fine Arts is home to some of the most passionate, hardworking Bison on campus. Learning alongside such talented people is so blissful. Being a Fine Arts student helped me realize first-hand how important it is to support the arts at HBCUs. I’ve thrived in the Department of Theatre Arts because I get to study with a group of phenomenal Black men and women, and I probably won’t have too much of that in my career. Did I mention how talented everyone is? It’s like I’m living in an episode of Fame. Seeing everyone excel in their artistic fields pushes me to want to become a better dancer. They also inspire me to keep working hard in my leadership positions because I want everyone to continue to shine.

At the end of my Freshman year, I was really interested in finding some way to help Fine Arts students because the neglect was evident. My roommate worked on the campaign for COAS Forward and told me that I should look into applying for COAS Council staff. Sure enough, there was an opening for a “Fine Arts Ambassador,” so I applied and got the job. Representing Fine Arts lit a fire under me because I realized that I could use my love for Fine Arts and do some good on campus. I wouldn’t say that I’ve done anything monumental or groundbreaking, but I’ve learned the importance of having a seat at the table, and I hope I’ve made everyone proud.

 

Asha: How long have you been dancing/choreographing?

Alex: My mom put me in ballet classes around age four. Over the years I’ve studied ballet, modern, African, tap, jazz, hip-hop, and a little Irish (that was interesting lol). I was also in my high school’s color guard. Dance has been a continuous presence throughout my life, and I can’t imagine myself living any other way. I started choreographing through the dance composition class that all majors take Sophomore and Junior year. It was a quantum leap for me, but my work was featured in the Fall Student Choreography Showcase!

 

Asha: What are the biggest challenges you’ve faced while being a student in Fine Arts?

Alex: Fine Arts students put in A LOT of hours. In the dance major program, we take several dance and non-dance classes during the day and have rehearsals in the evening. We often miss out on the fun stuff happening on campus. Our professors discourage us from doing activities outside of Fine Arts because they think that we’ll be less dedicated, but with so many things to join on campus, it’s difficult to not want to get out there. I wasn’t allowed to join anything as a Freshman because dance majors are on “probation” in their first year, and if you don’t improve steadily each semester there’s a chance that you’ll get kicked out of the department. It’s taken a lot of dedication and time-management to balance everything, but I’m three years in and I’m holding up pretty well. The worst thing is probably that I’m tired all the time. I’ve been known to doze off in an academic class from time to time. When I get home from rehearsal I want to leap into bed, but I force myself to handle the checklist of things that I need to do. I need to ice my legs, roll out on a foam roller, do homework, send a few emails, and I try to squeeze in an episode or two on Netflix. I go to bed at one or two o’clock on a good night. I’m still working through a few injuries, so some days I’m in incredible pain and I can barely walk home. It’s funny that most days I really don’t mind it. I guess dancers are trained to push through everything, so even if my legs are about to fall off (I’m only half kidding) I barely show it.

 

 

Asha: How can other Howard students support Fine Arts and its students?

Alex: The best thing that other students can do is show up. Come to dance concerts, plays, musicals, art exhibits, concerts… We feel it when there’s a heavy student presence in the audience. It changes the energy in the air. During the run of Urinetown, we came together as a campus to support the show, but we need to keep it up year-round for every department within Fine Arts. I attended a wonderful jazz concert this week featuring the Howard University Jazz Ensemble and Afro Blue, and I was delighted by their talent and musicianship. The music students hold concerts nearly every week. I’m not sure how to go about changing the campus culture, but we need to make attending these shows a priority. The future Taraji P. Hensons and Phylicia Rashads of the world are performing on our campus for $5! And we feel it when there’s a heavy student presence in the audience, it changes the energy in the air.

 

Asha: What do you feel is the most important aspect of you being a student leader?

Alex: The most important thing for me is being present, accessible, and friendly. Many students get intimidated by the “Power Hall” culture and think that they can’t even walk down the hallway, but how can we help students connect with their representatives if they don’t even know where the offices are located? There should be no separation between students and student leaders. I mean come on, the word student is in the title. I try to maintain accessibility by engaging with my peers on social media and answering questions that come up when I post council-related graphics. I chat with people after classes and do my best to pass on important information.  I make it a personal priority to attend performances and events in all three departments. First I’m an art lover at my core, two it’s my duty as a student leader that represents these groups to show support, and three because my friends and peers constantly support dance performances, so I feel obligated to do the same.

 

 

Asha: In many of these articles, I’ve focused on the difficulties being a Black woman, a student, and a leader all simultaneously. What are some hardships you’ve faced balancing being all of these and what advice do you have for other Howard women, rising leaders on our campus?

Alex: The hardest pill to swallow is that sometimes I simply can’t do it all and I can’t do it alone. My mom raised me to be strong and steady (we’re both Tauruses), but every now and then I push everything to the side and lay down on my couch. I’ve had to learn that it’s okay to ask for help, and it’s okay to say no to things when you feel overwhelmed. Being a Black woman, a student, and a leader simultaneously can leave me dizzy, so I really lean on my friends to help me through the toughest days.

 

Asha: What is your favorite saying or quote and why?

Alex: “Everything you can imagine is real” — Pablo Picasso. I love this quote because it reminds me to keep dreaming of the possibilities. The ambitions that we keep in our heads can materialize right in front of us with the right combination of imagination and hard work. It’s already there, we just have to reach out and grab it.

In the spring dance concert, I was cast in a piece choreographed by my professor and it was difficult both technically and emotionally. The subject matter was somber and I had difficulties letting myself feel these emotions while dancing, which sort of spilled over into the technical aspects. Every time I left a rehearsal I would think to myself, “ugh that was terrible. You’re not dancing as well as the other girls. You fell out of that turn.” I improved by practicing visualization, just sitting by myself, listening to the music, and imagining myself doing every step flawlessly. Once I tapped into my own technical potential and opened up my emotional side, everything came together, and I wasn’t imagining it because I made it real.

 

 

Asha: Who inspires you most and why?

Alex: My Grandma Frances. She had an amazing career as an educator in Montross, Virginia. She went from teaching in a little schoolhouse to teaching in public schools, to being a principal and a member of the school board. Her resilience is awe-inspiring and she reminds me that greatness is in my blood and that generations of powerful Black women paved the way for me to be who I am today.

 

Asha: Oprah Winfrey once said, “doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.” What does this statement mean to you?

Alex: That reminds me of the saying “stay ready so you don’t have to get ready.” I got into the habit of keeping a copy of my headshot and resume with me just in case, even on vacation. You never know who you’ll run into. In Jenifer Lewis’s memoir, she wrote that she saw the musical director of a show at a cafe in New York and begged him for a chance, and he happened to be looking for an actress to fill a role. She made her Broadway debut like two weeks later. I’m not sure if something like that will happen to me, but stranger things have happened.

 

Asha: Any updates on the grand opening of Fine Arts?

Alex: There aren’t any big updates at the moment, but we WILL officially be the College of Fine Arts in Fall 2019!

 

“You are the designer of your destiny; you are the author of your story.” ~Lisa Nichols

May Alex’s story remind us all that although we may not be able to control all of our circumstances, we can be bold enough to persevere and make a positive impact along the way. This last LeadHER of the academic year serves as a dedication to the stories of Black women all over that are continuing to remain fearless and impactful. May we continue to thrive in our own power and potential, always. #hcxo