This is the final installment of a four-part series celebrating Tyler Junior College’s 8th annual Arts Festival.
Throughout the month of April, we’re highlighting a few of our talented students, alumni and faculty members in the disciplines of art, dance, music and theatre.
It was chance that brought Carolyn Hanna from The Juilliard School to a dance career in New York City to a new life in Tyler, Texas. But once she arrived at Tyler Junior College, she discovered a community of dedicated professors and students who share her passion for hard work, performance and excellence.
When Hanna and her husband, Chad, an East Texas native, relocated from New York City to Tyler in 2014, she immediately joined TJC as professor and coordinator of the TJC Dance Department and director of the TJC Academy of Dance.
The TJC Dance Department offers an Associate of Arts degree, while the TJC Academy of Dance provides pre-professional level dance classes to all age groups.
“In the eight years I’ve been at TJC, I have seen so much growth in both the Academy of Dance and the TJC Dance Department,” she said. “In the dance department, we’re graduating many more dance majors than when I first started here, and the amount of interest that our college dance majors have in our productions is just fantastic. They’re really invested and passionate people, and we’re really hoping to cultivate that love of dance here.”
The TJC Academy of Dance — long known for its elaborate productions, including three decades of the traditional “Nutcracker” ballet — continues to flourish.
“The academy has really exploded just with the number of students who are enrolled,” she said. “For our parents, our little dancers and all of the people in East Texas who come to watch the shows, it’s just incredible to see the support and the love that our programs are receiving from the community.”
Hanna appreciates the collaborative spirit among her TJC performing arts peers.
“I love working at TJC because each department really fosters this environment of a collective effort,” she said. “We’re constantly working with the professors in the theatre and the music department, and we all work very well together.”
She continued, “The annual spring musical is one of my favorite productions because we all incorporate our strengths. I love trying to bring the director’s vision to life with choreography, and working with live music is such a treat. We are diligent in the rehearsal process and, in the end, you see this incredible talent. There's a really exciting energy.”
That passion and energy are what Hanna went looking for when she was choosing her own college journey.
“I was looking for a school that would propel me in my dance technique and artistry,” said Hanna, who grew up in the Chicago area. “I thought I knew where I was going from the time I was about 14 years old, but things really pivoted when I saw The Juilliard School and their dance program. I was just so in awe of their dancers that I wanted to try and audition. So, I took a big leap of faith and auditioned and made it in. And I absolutely loved the professors there and their passion for dance.”
She continued, “It was an exciting place to be. I had a phenomenal time there. The training was really rigorous, but it helped us move forward into a professional career in dance, whatever direction that was. I was able to stay in New York for 10 years. I freelanced, danced with many companies and choreographed professionally.”
Now, she’s grateful to share those experiences with her TJC students.
“Taking all of that knowledge and experience has been really beneficial to come to a place like East Texas, where everyone is so eager to learn,” she said. “We’ve really kept the professional doors open, so we have master classes here from people that I know from my time in New York. Keeping good relationships with other schools and professional companies has been tremendously beneficial for our dancers. They are getting great experience to see what that next professional chapter would look like.”
When asked about the program’s legacy of excellence, Hanna points to the foundation of masterful teaching that was already in place when she arrived here.
“The dance department professors and Academy of Dance instructors here are just the most passionate people I’ve ever met,” she said. “Living in Chicago and New York City and now finding a home here, I can say we are really a family that cultivates a passion for dance, and these teachers are just a wealth of knowledge. Every day, I’m in awe of their passion and their creativity, and their intelligence in how to communicate that to their students is just inspiring every day.”
For more on the TJC Dance Department and Academy of Dance, go to TJC.edu/dance.