An appreciation for movement, art and technology are a few of the characteristics that define Connor Simone.
Now in his senior year at the University of Minnesota, Simone studies dance and computer science. And after three years of hard work, he is both a part-time student and full-time trainee at TU Dance, a Twin Cities-based dance company.
Simone’s path to TU started from a young age. “I sucked at sports. I was just awful,” he said. Uninspired by baseball, which he played in his youth, he followed the lead of his younger sister and started dancing.
He attended the St. Paul Conservatory for Performing Arts for high school, where he realized that dance was more meaningful than a hobby. Simone describes his dance style as contemporary modern — classical ballet fused with modern dance. This style fits well within TU Dance.
The dance company, located in St. Paul, has a national reputation for pushing the boundaries of dance. TU dancers are skilled in modern dance, classical ballet, African movement, the Horton technique and urban dance.
Simone is one of two trainees, a role which is the first of two steps before dancers can become company members. He began training in August and will stay until the season finishes in May. It's been rigorous but worthwhile. “I see so much value in art and being an artist,” he said.
Maxine Yamazaki, a senior at the University, met Simone years ago through their involvement in TU Dance. In the time since they met, Yamazaki and Simone went through the dance program at the University together and became closer than ever.
“He’s one of the most inspiring friends I have in terms of dancing,” she said. “He works so hard in every aspect of his life, and it just pushes me to be a better person altogether."
As a fellow dancer, Yamazaki can see the nuances in Simone’s movements.
“I don’t even know if he realizes he does it. But every single chance he gets, he will stick his leg out in front of him and balance on his ‘relevé’ — his tippy toe,” she said. “He has an amazing center of gravity so he can balance in any position, but he will take the opportunity for sure to stick his leg out and balance for as long as possible. That’s the signature Connor.”
Abdo Rodriguez, managing director at TU Dance and a dance instructor, has been teaching Simone since he was in high school. He first and foremost described his student as hard-working. But he said the characteristic that defines Simone as a dancer is the power he has on stage. Rodriguez noted that Simone performed with the company this fall, an opportunity which is rarely presented to trainees.
After his contract with TU ends, Simone hopes to be hired on as an apprentice and, maybe one day, a permanent member of the company. Though he is well-rounded in many areas, he hopes to continue dancing for as long as he can.
“Why not be an artist if you can and it’s your passion?” he said.