By Diamond Victoria
Launching from the classroom to the Big Apple, Meadows alumna Kelly Zitka knows that perseverance and a little spontaneity can help to find footing in the world of performance art.
The dance and business major now calls New York home, and is learning more about the world of dance theater through rigorous training and auditioning. Staying in New York for good, however, was never part of her original plan. But with growing insight into her art, Zitka is betting that risking uncertainty can pay off.
Zitka traveled to New York at the end of January for what she considered a temporary refresher in dance training and auditioning. “It was kind of a spontaneous decision and I thought I would only stay for a month. But now, I’m not sure if I plan on leaving,” she says.
Before the move, Zitka applied for marketing jobs to pay the bills, and while in school, didn’t immediately feel a pull toward dancing professionally. But eventually she realized she would regret not pursuing a dance career. “It’s OK to go through seasons of confusion or doubt or be interested in other things. That certainly still exists in the real world,” she says.
Like a lot of students, Zitka spent her college days learning about what she wanted for herself professionally and collaborating with other creatives on campus. During her senior year, she performed at Meadows in Steam Heat from the 1954 Broadway musical The Pajama Game, which greatly ignited her interest in musical theater. She also worked with Clyde Valentín, director of Ignite/Arts Dallas – an SMU arts initiative aimed at helping Meadows students collaborate on projects in their communities – to start a program between Meadows students and local high school students involved in the nonprofit organization All Stars Project of Dallas.
The All Stars Project of Dallas is an organization that seeks to give youth in West and South Dallas opportunities for educational growth otherwise not afforded to them. The project has also collaborated with SMU’s Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development to foster new conversations among thought leaders and policy makers. Zitka, Valentín and the All Stars students collaborated on dance performances, toured Meadows and saw shows together. “It was awesome to see these two totally different groups of students hang out together and create,” she says.
After she graduated in 2015, Zitka’s professional life took off with work in several traveling and local shows. She toured with Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and Norwegian Cruise Lines and partnered with Odyssey Dance Theatre, touring with their Halloween-centric Thriller last fall, which featured new takes on Thriller, The Curse of the Mummy, Dem Bones, Frankenstein, Jason Jam, Salem’s Mass, The Lost Boys and the River of Blood Dance. She also danced in the premiere performance of Dallas-based contemporary dance company Don’t Ask Why, founded by her friend, Avery-Jai Andrews.
Her gigs then only included dance numbers, not acting or singing. But these days, Zitka is focusing on all three to extend her reach in New York, where she competes with thousands of other up-and-coming performers on a daily basis.
“I have always loved the style of musical theater dance, but have been too intimidated to pursue it because I was not a singer at all,” she says. “I decided to conquer the fear and look at it more as an opportunity to challenge myself as a performer.” With help from a vocal coach, she says she’s also eager to learn the theatrics of stage performance through acting lessons.
Today, Zitka’s efforts in New York are possible in part due to her time spent in college, where she not only participated in the art of dance but gained savvy about the business world. And although she hasn’t landed on Broadway yet, she’s gotten close. And this, she says, only eases the pangs of rejection, which are inevitable but not permanent. “It gets easier and less personal the more I deal with it,” she says.
“It can still sting in the auditions where I have gotten really close to the end, or really wanted the part. But I think that’s OK. It means the passion is still there.”
See Kelly Zitka’s Dance Reel