Meaghan Dutton O’Hara’s hands follow the rhythm of her speech in lilting movements.
As a corps de ballet member of the New York City Ballet (NYCB), she possesses an innate sense of craft that shows in her gestures, however small. It’s a craft she’s worked on all her life.
But Dutton O’Hara, like most dancers, understands that her chosen path has physical limits. Just as her career is beginning to flourish, she is preparing for life after dance and she’s doing it at Fordham.
Given Fordham Lincoln Center’s proximity to the ballet, it’s not entirely surprising to learn that a quiet relationship between the two institutions was forged several years ago through Fordham’s School of Professional and Continuing Studies (PCS). The relationship does not have the imprint of Fordham’s Alvin Ailey partnership, but nearly half of the current NYCB dancers have taken classes here and 26 are currently enrolled.
As a young ballerina, Dutton O’Hara went to the School of American Ballet and could see Fordham’s campus from her dorm. Despite the fact that her family is based in Maryland, she could safely lay claim to the title “Upper West Sider.”
“My mother also did her undergraduate degree here, so Fordham is in the family,” said Dutton O’Hara, who now lives in her mother’s old apartment.
Rene Dutton O’Hara, FCLC ’87, was a media studies major and went on to become a director of advertising and promotion at NBC. She said the Lincoln Center location was convenient while she continued to work and get her degree, much as her daughter is doing right now.
“I liked that it was in the middle of the city and in one building. I worked full time so I didn’t have time to walk a mile to my next class,” she said.
The demands of a career, for both mother and daughter, did little to dilute their Fordham experience. For Rene, the spiritual dimension sets the University apart from other continuing education programs.
“It gives a nice balance and it makes the school more grounded as a community,” she said. “Some may be deeper into it than others, but it’s always there.”
Meaghan said the campus’s proximity to the Koch Theater makes it possible for her to fit in class and library time with a tight performance schedule. The program also offers an intellectual respite from the rigors of practice and performing, though she said the commitment is no less intense.
“As a dancer you know that it is going to take an extra-long time for you to complete your undergraduate degree,” said Meaghan. “It’s really something that you have to be committed to, especially since we’re going to be at Fordham for eight to 10 years.”
Glen Redpath, associate director for admissions at PCS, said strong ties with the School of the American Ballet and the Professional Children’s School, both of which sit within blocks from Fordham’s Lincoln Center campus, helped foster the program. High school graduates from the Professional Children’s School enroll at Fordham during their “gap year” as they await an apprenticeship with a ballet company.
“With Fordham on West 60th Street, we’re at the heart of the dance community,” said Redpath, adding that the benefits are reciprocal. “Most of the dancers are extremely detail-oriented and highly motivated and they bring those qualities into the classroom.”
While Fordham has made its presence felt within the dance community, it’s harder to gauge whether the dancers have made their presence felt within Fordham.
“Our schedules are so hectic that we don’t have time to get up to Rose Hill and be like ‘Go Rams,’ but we’re just as much a part of the Fordham community as any other student,” said Meaghan.
For her part, Rene has no doubts about her own contribution to the University.
“It’s nice to have a legacy kid,” she said.