On her toes: Working on technique in the Wallace Dance Building and Theater
Sameer A. Khan
Russian art, library time — and plenty of dance

“There’s something about dancing that you can’t help but be happy,” says Peyton Cunningham ’20, who has been dancing since she was 3. Cunningham performs with the Princeton University Ballet (PUB), the diSiac student dance company, and the University’s dance program. We caught up with her on a Thursday as she was preparing for three dance shows in three consecutive weeks in December. 

Morning routine I woke up at 7 a.m. I do my best work in the morning, and it’s nice to get a couple of hours of studying in before my classes start. I listened to “The Daily,” which is a New York Times podcast, as I was getting ready, and I went to breakfast at 7:30 — I sent some emails while I was eating. 

ART 213 I went to Marquand Library, which is where my art history precept at 10 was held. I had a presentation about Russian constructivism and the politics that were associated with the art movement. My partner and I looked at specific manifestos by different artists and how they were tying their art to communism and political change in Russia. We never actually had a chance to meet in person — we did almost the entire project with Google Docs and sending each other messages and photos. 

The new Lewis Arts complex It’s incredible dancing in there. The studios are enormous — the biggest studio I’ve ever been in my life is the third-floor studio [in the Wallace Dance Building]. They’re sleek and crisp, and it’s just so nice to have a space that inspires you. It’s been exciting to feel like I should dance better because this space deserves it. 

Peyton Cunningham ’20 on her feet during a late lunch at Frist.
Sameer A. Khan
I was headed over there to do a little bit of work and then get ready for co-curricular ballet, which happens at noon almost every day of the week. They have one open-level ballet class, and it’s a great time for you to work on your technique and your alignment, the placement of your torso, making sure you’re working your feet and pointing them. I try to go five times a week — it’s worth it. I’d rather be in ballet class than having a leisurely lunch. At this point in my dance career, I’ve probably learned about as many ballet steps as there are; it’s really just about refinement and making them better. 

Standing, not sitting Then I went to late meal in Frist and I met up with a friend. I am a super-energetic, super-fidgety person, so one of the hardest transition components of coming to college for me was how long you spend sitting. I ended up in an anatomy of movement class and I did a big research project on sedentary lifestyles — sitting is considered the new smoking. Standing is the most logical conclusion for doing work: I started it, and I love it. I hunt out all the standing desks across campus. Everyone makes fun of me for it, though. 

Meeting a preceptor We went over a couple of questions that I had after looking over my midterm that I got back for the art history class. Then I gave her my idea for our big final project. I think one of the best things about Princeton is how accessible professors and preceptors are, so I make an effort to meet with preceptors and use their knowledge to help me learn more and improve. 

Guest choreographer The dance program does a big show in December called the Princeton Dance Festival. Brian Reeder, who danced with American Ballet Theatre and with William Forsythe, created a kind of political commentary piece — we start in these communist-inspired suits and then as the piece goes on, we just go crazy. It’s pretty wild. 

Thanksgiving dinner We went to RoMa [Rocky/Mathey dining hall], and they were having a Thanksgiving-themed night, so they had Thanksgiving-inspired root vegetables and pies. It was very festive. I met two friends who dance with me in diSiac, the contemporary hip-hop dance company. DiSiac pushes me out of my boundaries every single rehearsal: I do things I never thought I would do or things I had never even seen before. There’s so much energy I feel in my body and radiating outward when I dance, it just feels electric. 

Ballet After dinner, I walked over to rehearsal in New South. Some weeks you’ll have a ton of rehearsals and some weeks you won’t. This show is inspired by the “Land of Sweets,” which is the second half of The Nutcracker, so the pieces all have a candy associated with them. 

Late-night studies I went back to my room, then I headed to the library. It was 10 p.m., probably. Luckily, since the next day was Friday, I didn’t have too much work due immediately, but I always try to get ahead. I was doing some readings for my sociology class. I stayed up until 12, then I went back to my room and went to bed. 

Edited and condensed by Anna Mazarakis ’16

VIDEO Coney Island Dream Ballet

Peyton Cunningham ’20, in red, dances in one of her favorite pieces, choreographed by Eamon Foley ’15. Courtesy of Grind Arts Company.