Kennesaw State graduate has all the right moves
Dance alumnus lands role in professional dance company
(Jul 31, 2019) — Avery Gillham is a man on the move. A professional dancer, Gillham appeared recently
in the musical Hairspray at the City Springs Theatre in Sandy Springs.
His appearance as an ensemble member of the cast capped off a very busy year for Gillham, who graduated in July with a B.A. in Dance from Kennesaw State University.
“My track for this show consists of 11 dances, all of which require high energy and full out dance moves, with vocals on top of that,” Gillham said. “From working on this show, I have learned that dancing is not just about the moves you can do in rehearsal or on stage. Instead, this fast paced and high energy choreography requires lots of practice and background knowledge on what it was like dancing in the 1960s.”
The Kennesaw native also performed in September in the City Springs Theatre’s inaugural show, 42nd Street.
“That show had all kinds of dancing from jazz, musical theater, to tap dancing,” said Gillham. “42nd Street was a show that took quick changes to a whole new level. This show challenged me as a dancer because I had to be comfortable going from a smooth jazz dance scene to a very high energy tap dance. Some movements even required the dancers to tap directly on top of coins placed on the stage.”
When the opportunity to perform in a professional company came along, the 22-year-old Gillham knew he had a decision to make..
“It’s been a challenge. I’ve had to turn down many jobs during my four years at KSU because at the end of the day, school comes first,” he said. “I had a wise professor who once told me, every time you skip a day of class you should rip up a $100 bill because that’s roughly how much you are paying for your education. He said these are my learning years and that my earning years will come.”
But choosing to be part of a professional company while in school, proved to be a major turning point.
“With these shows I was able to discover that someone with strictly a dance background can find dance jobs in professional theater,” he said. “These shows proved to me that what I have learned in a dance-only environment can be used in other performance opportunities. It’s opened doors for me that I thought I would never walk through in my career.”
Working in metro Atlanta has also given Gillham the chance to work with some KSU alums who are already fixtures on the local dance scene.
“One of the most surprising things that happened to me was finding out that within the Hairspray ensemble, two were KSU Musical Theatre alumni,” said Gillham. “And one of the first dance majors to ever graduate from KSU was in 42nd Street with me.”
Gillham said he felt these shows were especially important for his education because it gave him insight into the real world of dance.
“Unlike in college, we don’t have all semester to prepare for a show,” said Gillham. “There are only three weeks of rehearsals and one week of technical run-throughs, with the opening of the show on the last night of tech.”
A standout student, Gillham’s choreographic hip-hop work, Judas’ Kiss, was chosen by the faculty to be performed at the KSU Dance Company Student Dance Concert in April at the Dance Theater on the Marietta Campus.
Gillham had some valuable advice to share with his fellow Owls who aspire to a career in dance.
“Take as many classes as you feel uncomfortable in as possible, especially tap class,” he said. “The more well-rounded of a dancer you are, the easier it can be to find a job. Limiting yourself to one style/genre will limit the professional work you can get outside of school.”
As for what comes next, Gillham is under contract with City Springs Theatre and will be part of their shows for season two.
“Alongside that, I plan on performing with cruise ships traveling the world as a performer,” he said. “I will eventually move to New York or Los Angeles to further my career in dance.”
– Robert S. Godlewski
Photography by Jason Getz and Bubba Carr
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 41,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the second-largest university in the state. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 126 countries across the globe. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.