All the Right Moves

Caeli Blake ’21 forges a career path in dance and education

Caeli Blake Headshot
Caeli Blake

By Katie Dravenstott

“There’s no problem in having confidence, because if you can’t believe in yourself, then who’s going to believe in you?” – Caeli Blake, SMU Meadows dancer and member of B. Moore Dance

Caeli Blake (’21) learned from a young age the importance of investing in herself. She credits her family, especially her mom, a professional singer and a former professor at Howard University, for instilling in her the drive and fortitude necessary for her to pursue a professional career in dance.

Growing up near Washington, D.C., Blake began her formal dance training at BalletNova Center for Dance in Falls Church, Virginia. She then went on to attend the Duke Ellington School of the Arts in Washington and completed a summer program at Deeply Rooted Dance Theater in Chicago, as well as a number of other programs at companies nationwide.

When it came time to choose a college dance program, Blake says there was no question in her mind about where she would be going. “Southern Methodist University was my number one choice. I had done my research and I knew that SMU was the best school for me.”

Blake will be graduating from SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts this spring with a B.F.A. in dance and is on track to receive her B.S. in educational studies from the Simmons School at SMU in December.

Blake highly recommends students do their research before settling on a college or university. “Do your research based off of what you’re trying to do. What do you want to do now? What do you want to see yourself doing after college? That should determine where you put yourself for college, because that’s going to help build your future after college.”

She adds, “My family definitely made an impact on my decision as well as on my life. I knew for sure whatever decision I was making would be right for me. As an individual you already have an impact on the world, so let’s make this impact so grand that you take over the world and make it yours!”

Blake was initially on the path to a double major in dance and advertising, but later decided to switch from advertising to education. “I made the switch, one, because of time, but then I took pedagogy at SMU and realized that I really enjoyed teaching dance. I liked what comes out of seeing what you can do as a teacher and having students.

“My goal with my education degree is to finish my dance career, moving audiences all over the world. Then I would love to teach at a performing high school and eventually become the Dance Division chair at SMU!”

Blake says her new career path was largely inspired by her own experiences within the walls of the Meadows dance department. The dance faculty has helped her grow into a more intelligent and intuitive mover who is competent not only in ballet and contemporary, but also jazz, modern and African dance styles, she says. Blake attributes her growth as a dancer at SMU especially to faculty members Christopher Dolder, Myra Woodruff, Mark Burrell and artist-in-residence Silas Farley.

“Mark Burrell definitely pushed me as an individual and taught me how to be a dancer in today’s world,” says Blake. “Silas Farley taught me how to grow as a Black woman in the dance world today. Christopher Dolder taught me how to just be honest in the dance world and also be open to always being myself, and to be respectful. And Myra Woodruff has definitely pushed me technically more than I’ve ever imagined in the classroom.

“Those four teachers, for sure, have made a huge impact on my four years here.”

Like so many college students at the beginning of the pandemic, Blake had no other choice but to return home and resume her college courses, including dance classes, virtually last spring. And while it was definitely intense for her both mentally and physically, Blake says there were also a lot of positives to come out of quarantine – the biggest positive being her decision to switch her second major to education.

“Honestly, this whole plan came about because of COVID. Just being at home there were a lot of things piling up in my head and they just started to add up and make sense to me.”

Quarantine also gave Blake the opportunity to reconnect with herself and her love for dance, while at the same time bringing her closer to her professors. “It definitely strengthened my relationship with my professors,” Blake says. “Being at home it’s easy to get lazy and fall back from your responsibilities, so by coming to class and doing everything I was supposed to do – I think that really showed them my eagerness for the art form.”

Blake adds that she really appreciated her professors taking the extra time to check in with her during quarantine. “Every single class they came in and asked genuinely how we were doing. And I was very honest as to how I was doing as a human and as a dancer. So, if I was good or wasn’t good in class that day, they could read that really well because I was honest and very open.”

Blake’s best advice for those entering their first year at a college dance program is to fully invest yourself in what you are doing. She explains, “Give 100 percent at all times because someone is definitely looking. And the reason why I say that is because I was randomly in a rehearsal just enjoying what I love to do and giving my all, and that changed my life completely for the next three years of college.”

Blake is referring to the time she spent working with Bridget L. Moore on her new work Simply, Eartha for the Meadows Fall Dance Concert at the start of her sophomore year. Blake says she had just left rehearsal when she received a text from Moore asking her if she would be willing to meet with her company that weekend. That company is B. Moore Dance, a local contemporary modern dance company founded by Dallas native Moore in 2018. And after momentarily freaking out, Blake says she responded back with “Yes,” and she has been dancing with Moore’s company ever since.

“In the text Bridget said that she loved how I was working and would love to see what I could bring to the table with her company. She also said she would love for me to come to rehearsal on Sunday to see how I move with her other dancers.”

As far as what draws her in to Moore’s work, Blake says, “It’s the rigor and the fierceness that she brings to everything. You never know what she’s going to bring to the table. She’s going to challenge you no matter what, whether it’s a fierce, hard-hitting dance; a jazzy girly section; or something where I’m dancing extremely fast in a costume with bones across my chest!”

She adds, “I have never experienced something so insane and so intense. I am always just being pushed to my fullest potential with her.”

Blake wouldn’t have been able to accomplish all that she has during her time at SMU without the support and consideration of the Meadows dance faculty. “The dance division is so accepting of all the dancers making decisions of double majoring, of having multiple minors or even triple majoring. They’re so flexible to accommodate people’s schedules. They know that dance is our first love, but they are also understanding of our other loves and interests.”

Learn more about the Meadows Division of Dance.