Many seniors leave Harvard with aspirations to enter the professional field upon graduation, but how many of them can say that they have been a ‘professional’ before their freshman year of college? Meet Elizabeth “Liz” C. Walker ’11, one of the most prominent ballet dancers in Harvard’s dance scene and co-recipient of the Office for the Arts Suzanne Farrell Dance Prize.
Recounting her gap-year experience, Walker says, “In my senior year of high school, I auditioned for companies across the country, and [Los Angeles Ballet] is where I got an offer. When I was in high school I was intensively training and really wanted to join a company, and maybe do school part time. But then I was accepted [to Harvard College] and I was conflicted. I knew Harvard let you take one year off, which was great, [but] by the end, I really wanted to just continue dancing full-time.”
So what pulled Walker to leave Los Angeles for Cambridge? “I knew I could not give up the chance to come here [but] ... wanted to go somewhere where I could study something other than dance, and meet different types of people still dancing at a high level. Harvard is one of the best places for classical and contemporary ballet [in academia]. I was thinking of coming here for one year and going back to dancing—because dance years are precious. But I was injured and ended up staying for two and a half years. I’m so glad I did because I had so much more of a real experience here.”
Walker’s peers are also grateful for the time and energy that she has invested during her four years at Harvard. “Liz is perhaps one of the fiercest dancers I know—she’s incredibly technical and beautiful when it comes to classical ballet, but also is stunning in more contemporary works,” says Hazel A. Lever ’13, the current president of the Harvard Ballet Company (HBC).
Kevin Shee ’11, co-recipient of the Office of the Arts Suzanne Farrell Dance Prize alongside Walker, only had praise to offer: “On a technical level, she’s easily one of the best dancers that Harvard has ever had. As a partner, she’s always been a pleasure to work with, giving me feedback and making adjustments as necessary to help things run more smoothly. As a friend and person, she breathes life into whatever space she enters, especially in the studio during the long hours of rehearsal or class with her random hilarious dance moves and one-liners.”
A History of Art and Architecture concentrator, Walker has not only graced Harvard’s finest stages. but she has made a lasting impression on her mentors and professors. According to former Dance Director Elizabeth Bergmann, “[Walker] has graced the stages of Harvard with her extraordinary long legs and elegant line. Her interpretations of her roles has been exquisite—from dancing “The Bride” in Martha Graham’s “Appalachian Spring” to her contributions in Claudia Schreier’s [student] choreography. [She] brings the level of performance to new heights through her professionalism and her enormous talent,” she wrote in an emailed statement.
Deborah Foster, Head Tutor and Senior Lecturer in Folklore and Mythology, who has taught Walker in class, calls herself “a huge fan” of her dancing. “ Her presence on stage is captivating; I could never take my eyes off her. I have no doubt that Liz will pursue a career in dance—she seems to be one of those individuals who simply must dance. Not only is she a talented performer, but she is also highly intelligent, utterly thoughtful, and enormously kind.”
Despite this praise, Walker remains humble and holds her peers in high regard. “The Harvard dance program has provided some really great opportunities, [and] the Harvard Ballet Company is student-run, so we take a lot more ownership over the final product, each performance that we do. I had the chance from sophomore spring to junior fall to direct HBC [and] learned about everything that goes into a performance and each planning stage.”
As graduation draws near, Walker plans to return to the professional world that she entered years ago. “I just got a contract to go back to L.A., where I will be starting in October,” said Walker.
Of the things she will miss the most at Harvard, Walker says, “I will miss all of my friends the most. I will miss waking up every day and being in this amazing place—the dance studios, art museums, libraries—it’s a little world and is such a unique thing to have ... I hope that dancers take advantage of as many opportunities as possible, and challenge themselves with different choreography.”
—Staff Writer Soyoung Kim can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.