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Making the Most of Every Opportunity: Adrienne de la Fuente on How She Fashioned a Career in Dance

It’s spring 2006, and high school senior Adrienne Cousineau has a plan: Attend the University of California, Berkeley while continuing her ballet training at a dance studio in San Francisco.

The universe, however, has a different plan.

As she sits meditating in the sun on a break during a church service trip to Mexicali, Mexico, she receives a surprising nudge. “I was journaling, and it was the only time I ever heard the voice of God, but it was basically, ‘You cannot go to Berkeley,’” she recently recalled—and she didn’t.

Instead of heading to college 100 miles north of her Salinas, California, home, she moved to New York City to enroll in Fordham College at Lincoln Center that fall.

Lately, the 2010 Fordham graduate and member of the Fordham University Alumni Association Advisory Board, has been reflecting on that fateful decision she made 17 years ago.

She credits Fordham with helping her forge a dual career—as a dancer and manager of a nonprofit dance company co-founded by an Iraq War veteran, and as chief operating officer at Private Prep, a company that offers tutoring and other services to students from kindergarten through college. Fordham is also where she and her husband, David de la Fuente, FCLC ’10, met. He’s currently pursuing a doctorate in theology at the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.

Together, they’re looking forward to returning to campus on Friday evening, June 9, for Block Party, the annual reunion celebration for alumni from all of Fordham’s Lincoln Center-based schools.

Dance Program for One

Because her father served in the military, Adrienne de la Fuente said she and her family moved around a bit before settling in Salinas. And while she may have originally planned to stay close to home for college, she hasn’t looked back since moving across the country.

At Fordham, she double majored in French studies and philosophy and minored in Spanish. And she continued to pursue her interest in dance. Two weeks into her first semester, she enrolled in a class at the nearby Ailey School, the official school of the world-renowned Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and, since 1998, Fordham’s partner in the Ailey/Fordham BFA in Dance program.

When she arrived for that first class, de la Fuente saw her roommate. They looked at each other, very confused, then started laughing: Her roommate, a BFA student, had said she was on her way to class—and “it happened to be the exact same one,” de la Fuente said.

She kept showing up, and after a few weeks everyone assumed she, too, was in the BFA program, so she “unofficially had a dance program experience,” she said.

Dancing Across the Globe

During her time at Fordham, de la Fuente participated in two study abroad programs: in Paris, France, and Santiago, Chile. Before she left for Paris, Andrew Clark, Ph.D., professor of French and comparative literature and now co-director of the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, gave her a bit of advice: “Every little thing you do while you’re studying abroad is part of learning. It is part of your education.”

She took it to heart, spending barely any waking hours in her host home. “I really let loose, and any opportunity I would go for because I [believed]any cultural experience, even social experience, was still actually explicit learning,” she said.

And as much as she had enjoyed and prioritized dance—for its discipline and perfectionism—it wasn’t until de la Fuente was studying and performing in Paris that she said she truly experienced the joy of dance for the first time. She thought, “Wait, I actually do really love this, and I do really want to do this, and I’m not just doing this because I started it and I’m seeing it through.”

Cue Exit 12

Adrienne de la Fuente

Adrienne de la Fuente performs at Exit 12

Back stateside, de la Fuente had a new mission: to dance professionally, and to figure out how to support herself in the process.

As part of her senior honors project, she interviewed any and every freelance dancer she knew, asking, “How do you make the finances work? How do you get your dance gigs? How are you finding fulfillment in this? What should I make sure I do out the gate?”

They all said the same thing: that she needed a paying job and she needed to network to find auditions and earn gigs. So, she secured an internship with the Ailey School, and she decided to tag along to a rehearsal with one of the dancers she’d interviewed for her project. The dance company? Exit 12.

Founded in 2007 by a U.S. Marine veteran of the Iraq War and two ballerinas, Exit 12 is a nonprofit contemporary dance company that uses dance “to educate audiences about the reality of war, advocate diversity,” promote the idea that art heals, and give people who have been affected by violence and conflict an opportunity to share their stories.

De la Fuente was fascinated, and she later auditioned and began dancing with the company. What started out as just a dance gig ended up connecting her more to her roots as the daughter of a veteran. “It became something that was so important to unpacking my own family’s military connection,” she said, including how the armed forces “shaped my world and my family dynamics.”

It also helped her see that “people need to have a way to process” trauma, and “how powerful the arts are” in helping them do that.

She still sometimes dances with the company, and now she also serves as company manager as well. On May 26, the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, the company will premiere “Truths Collide” at the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum in New York City, the culmination of an eight-week series of workshops with veterans and refugees.

Connecting the Dots

Adrienne de la Fuente

Dave de la Fuente and Adrienne Cousineau were married by Damian O’Connell, S.J., in St. Paul the Apostle Church, located adjacent to the Lincoln Center campus. She credits Father O’Connell with helping her to see the “bigger historical perspective on faith and religion and also how community-based it can be.”

De la Fuente, who was raised evangelical Protestant, hadn’t heard of the Jesuits before applying to Fordham, but she joked that one “found” her right away. She met with Damian O’Connell, S.J., then assistant director of campus ministry, about once a week for most of her college career, and she said she’s grateful to him for the opportunity to always question and explore her faith.

She’s since converted to Catholicism, and she believes it all—dance, religion, and healing—ties together.

“The presence that you give in dance is something that is just inherently valuable,” she said. “You are sharing of yourself, an opening that allows for dialogue, allows for people to see you as human and to humanize. That is so powerful, and I do see that link.”

Fordham Five (Plus One)

What are you most passionate about?
I’m most passionate about helping people realize their vision. Whether it is a student achieving a certain score on a test or a U.S. Marine veteran wanting to start a nonprofit dance company to help more veterans use the power of art to process their deployment and return to civilian life, I thrive off making an idea become reality.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
Once you know what you’re aiming to accomplish, let everyone around you know your aspirations. When you avoid making a direct ask for help, you’ll be surprised by the support and connections that come from unexpected places.

What’s your favorite place in New York City? In the world?
The northwest section of Central Park, where you truly can forget you are in the city, or any rooftop with a view of the water. It’s too hard to choose my favorite place in the world, but I do feel at home in Paris.

Name a book that has had a lasting influence on you.
Too many to choose from, but I would say Ender’s Game is the book from my childhood that I still think of when taking stock of my own sibling dynamic as a third child, and of the important questions of how we perceive “the other” and our “enemies.”

Who is the Fordham grad or professor you admire most?
Also a tough call. Professor Andrew Clark took a vested interest in my life as an undergraduate and beyond, teaching my French 101 section and fostering my interest in language to skip ahead two courses, utilize his office hours to fill in the gaps, and give me the confidence to study abroad and become fluent in French. I see how he continues to guide each Ailey/Fordham BFA student’s path through the University and beyond.

I also greatly admire biology professor Jason Morris, Ph.D., and his vision for teaching science in a way that draws the connection among the various disciplines of the sciences and humanities so that those of us who do not plan to go beyond the undergraduate level can cultivate and hold on to the scientific knowledge we need to be informed in our modern world. I also appreciate how he [ties]the thread of the University’s Jesuit mission with this method of teaching and mentoring and clearly reflects deeply on his teaching values and practices.

What are you optimistic about?
I am optimistic about the power of art to heal.


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