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Dancing in a second company but not feeling like a runner-up: DCDC2’s Fara Ling Shu Sean

Fara Ling Shu Sean. Photo by Dave Burgess.
Fara Ling Shu Sean. Photo by Dave Burgess.

The word “second” can have negative connotations – not first, not the best, runner-up, almost there. But it can also mean being prepared and groomed and ready to step in to the “first.” And sometimes the “second” is handed just as many opportunities and is as integral as the more main “first.”

Founded in 1975, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company 2 (DCDC2) allows recent graduates and undergraduates to further their dance training and gain performance experience in a professional learning environment…like a professional. DCDC2, led by Artistic Director Shonna Hickman-Matlock, has performed around the country, participates in DCDC’s established university partnerships, and plays an essential role in the organization’s outreach and education services. Plus, DCDC2 has an excellent track record of transitioning dancers into other national and international companies.

So, what is it like to dance with a second company like DCDC2? Here, we speak with dancer Fara Ling Shu Sean about how she landed the gig, what her typical schedule is like and her dance goals for over the next few years.

Can you tell us a little about your dance background?

Fara Ling Shu Sean. Photo by Dave Burgess.
Fara Ling Shu Sean. Photo by Dave Burgess.

“I grew up in Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, training at Sri Wilayah Ballet Centre with Ms Goh Siew Hiong and Ms Lee Yupin. Very much a ballet girl through most of my childhood, new worlds opened to me when I finally learned how to articulate my spine through modern and dance-grounded! I majored in Dance and minored in Exercise Science at Hope College in Holland, MI, where my training expanded to include jazz, tap, global dance forms, improvisation, composition, dance scholarship and more. In college, I danced with H2 Dance Co., a pre-professional ensemble affiliated with Hope’s dance department. I graduated in May 2023.”

When did you join DCDC2, and what brought you to the company? 

“I joined DCDC2 in August 2023. When I got the offer, I leaped at it. I’ll be honest – audition season in my senior year was brutal. It felt like I was flying blind, breaking myself apart without seeing any fruit. I wanted to dance with a full-time contemporary concert dance company whose work was powerful, full of spirit, and technically and artistically excellent. So when Shonna Hickman-Matlock, DCDC2’s director (and a former DCDC dancer of many seasons) offered me a spot, besides being elated that I had the opportunity to work with a company of DCDC’s caliber, I was certain it would be a good fit. And it has been exactly what I needed to grow.”

What do you like best about the DCDC company and the choreography/repertory and atmosphere?

“I love DCDC’s work ethic and sense of community. People in this company – not just the dancers but also the artistic and administrative staff – work hard, which is rewarding. A former professor of mine (Mary Linda Graham) who danced with the company years ago told me, ‘I never worked so hard before or since – and I mean that in a good way. You will find yourself working with some of the best.’ It’s true! I find myself watching the first company rehearse in rapt silence, in awe of the beauty their bodies create. 

Support for one another and investment in each dancer’s growth undergirds this relentless drive for excellence. DCDC and DCDC2 dancers aren’t just coworkers; we’re friends, and some would even say family. No one is there just to ‘take.’ Everyone gives; it’s part of the company culture. Personally, I think it creates a beautiful and unusually strong bond between people with whom this culture resonates. Many first company dancers are past their seventh seasons, and many of the artistic and administrative leadership were former dancers.”

As a second company member, what is your daily schedule like? 

“We rehearse on Tuesday and Thursday evenings (5:30-9:30pm) and for a full day on Saturday (10am-5:15pm). Each day begins with a technique class — ballet on Tuesday, modern/contemporary on Thursday, and Horton on Saturday with the first company. DCDC2 dancers have an open invitation to take first company classes and observe their rehearsals, which I try to do as much as I can. Everyone in the second company holds regular jobs, which run the gamut from teaching and retail to remote jobs. Our daily schedules keep us on our toes in all senses of the word!”

What performance opportunities do you have with the second company? 

“Short answer: we have plenty! We opened our year with a community performance at the Dayton Metro Library and rounded out the Christmas season, performing alongside the first company for the DCDC’s annual In The Spirit Of Grace and The Littlest Angel. In April, we have our mainstage show. Our other community performances have been or will be at local universities, an indoor market, a synagogue and a rehabilitation center, among others. In between, we bring a 45-minute-long educational dance program to local schools in partnership with Muse Machine, an arts education organization based in Ohio and Kentucky. Those school shows happen weekly some months, so we’re out and about quite a lot. The lovely thing about our Muse Machine program is that we get to continue to massage the work, dig deep and focus on artistry because the dances are already in our bodies.”

Fara Ling Shu Sean. Photo by Dave Burgess.
Fara Ling Shu Sean. Photo by Dave Burgess.

What are your dance goals over the next few years?

“I will continue to pursue a professional career in dance performance and choreography. I don’t know the exact contours of that journey, but I do know the path I’m on. Site-specific/immersive and interdisciplinary work intrigue me, and I want to explore those mediums in addition to concert dance. In the future, I could definitely see myself working in dance science to help dancers prevent and rehabilitate injury.”

Is there anything else you’d like to add about being in DCDC2?

“This applies to dancing in a second company, but really extends beyond it: I try to cultivate a posture of openness in myself. Human hands are so expressive. An image that comes to mind is of holding my hands open, palms facing upwards, to receive. Every place and every person has something unique to offer. Gifts and challenges arrive in a mixed bag. I can’t change the bag I’ve been given, but I do have choices to make about how I live with its contents.”

To learn more about DCDC2, visit www.dcdc.org/about-us/dance-companies/dcdc-2. You can follow Fara Ling Shu Sean on Instagram: @fara_ling.

By Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa.

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