Meet Kate Trabalka
Kate Trabalka, a junior from Oak Ridge, is an ETSU Fine and Performing Arts Scholar who is pursuing a degree in media and communication with a concentration in journalism and a minor in dance. Last year, Trabalka auditioned for a popular reality television show for dancers, and while she did not make it, it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that helped her to focus on where she wants to take her career, both as a dancer and as a journalist. As a student at ETSU, Trabalka is a reporter for the East Tennessean, the university’s student newspaper, and co-captain of the ETSU Dance Team. In addition, she shares her talent elsewhere in Johnson City as a dance coach at Liberty Bell Middle School and as a teacher at The Dance Company.
I understand you’ve danced your whole life. Please share with us your journey as a dancer.
I started dancing when I was 4, because my sister was a dancer and I used to sit in the studio and watch her dance, thinking, “Wow, I want to do that, too!” So I started out taking ballet and tap, and I fell in love with it and wanted to start taking more classes. For a while I was only able to pick up one extra class at a time just because we couldn’t really afford to take a lot of classes. Eventually, I started working to pay for extra classes myself, and by my junior year of high school, I started paying for it all by myself. I babysat in middle school to pay for extra pointe classes, and later I began teaching some of the younger classes at my dance studio to compensate for my own tuition, and I fell in love with teaching. It not only allowed me to take dance classes and better myself, but it allowed me to realize how much I love teaching dance. Now I teach at a local studio here in Johnson City, and it has been one of the most rewarding parts of my college career so far.
I didn’t go to competition for a long time because it’s very expensive, but was eventually able to afford to do a couple of small group tap routines and a solo my senior year. Coming here to ETSU and getting to compete in my first nationals dance competition in Orlando my freshman year was an insane experience. I’d never done anything like that before, but it was one of the most life-changing things because I got to share it with a team that I love so much.
I hear you auditioned for a well-known television dance show.
Last year, I sent in a video audition for my favorite show, “So You Think You Can Dance” (FOX), which I’ve been watching since I was a little kid. I didn’t really expect to hear anything back, but two days before the in-person audition last February, I got an email back! It was in Dallas, Texas, and I couldn’t afford a plane ticket with two days’ notice, so I did something I have never done before – I purchased a Greyhound bus ticket, and took a 17-hour bus ride to Dallas so I could audition. I studied all the way there and all the way back on the bus, and in the hotel room both before and after I auditioned and got cut, because I never skip classes unless it is something extremely important. Up until that point I had never skipped class in college, and I skipped a whole week of classes to go audition.
It was a nine-hour audition process. I waited in line a long time while other dancers went, and finally I got 30 seconds to improv and dance with a group of 10 other girls. Only 2 girls out of our group got picked to move forward, so I went back to my hotel room and started studying for my anatomy test and finishing homework while just kind of soaking in the whole experience.
It was a very surreal experience. I’m really glad I went even though I got cut, because it made me realize what I really do want to do in the dance world and what I don’t want to do, and it opened my eyes to what the experience was versus what I was expecting it to be. It is a reality TV show, and me being naïve, I didn’t expect it to be as much TV as it was versus the actual dancing. But I took a risk for one of the first times in my life, and I don’t regret it at all. It’s allowed me to push myself to be a better dancer, and I’ve taken things that I learned in that audition and applied them since I’ve gotten back here, and now I have a clear vision of where I want to take my dance career in the future.
And where do you want to take your career?
I definitely want to dance with a contemporary or modern dance company and perform as much as I can before I don’t have the ability anymore, as well as get a job in journalism. I definitely plan to continue teaching dance on the side, along with choreographing. Bigger cities would be more likely to offer opportunities in both, but in a smaller city, maybe I could create my own dance company. One of the things I think the audition showed me is that I don’t necessarily have to follow some path that is already paved for me. It is possible for me to pave my own path.
What led you to choose ETSU?
The thing that really drew me here was the fact that ETSU had both a dance team and a dance minor. With the dance minor, I could pursue the more artistic side of dance and learn things that would help me in the future if I wanted to teach dance. On top of that, the dance team here is a lot smaller than those at larger schools, but that is what makes it so much better for me, because it’s more like a family. I even like living in a smaller city like Johnson City, because the community ties are just so much more impactful.
I was selected as an alternate for the Fine and Performing Arts Scholarship when I first applied here, and then last summer, I got a letter saying I was given the full scholarship. That’s amazing to me, because I struggled to afford dance classes my whole life, and now my dancing is actually paying for my college tuition.
Being an alternate my first two years, I basically did everything in the program that everyone else did, but without the money. I honestly didn’t care about that, though, because the projects I’ve gotten to do and the classes that I’ve gotten to take through that program have been some of my favorite dance experiences that I’ve had at ETSU. The money’s like a cherry on top.
How did you choose journalism as your major?
That one’s a little weird to explain, because I don’t remember a specific moment where I thought, “I want to do journalism.” I took a journalism class in seventh and eighth grades, and ever since I took that class, I knew I was going to major in journalism. I took a real interest in photojournalism when I was taking film photography classes in high school, because I did a project on a famous photojournalist and ended up looking online at some of the most powerful pictures ever taken. They moved me to tears so much that I said to myself, “This is something I want to do, and I can combine my love of photography and journalism.” I really found – or rediscovered – my love of writing for journalism this year in my in-depth reporting class here at ETSU. I got to listen to this amazing woman’s story in an interview, and the fact that I was getting to tell her story to other people made me realize how much I love that.
Tell us about your experience writing for the East Tennessean.
This is my first year writing for the East Tennessean, and it is one of my favorite things at ETSU. It has not only allowed me to grow as a writer, but it has taught me so many things about writing news that I didn’t really know before getting the job. I have met so many people in so many programs on this campus that I didn’t even knew existed, and now I get to tell people about them. I’ve just made a lot of great connections and it’s also been sort of a rekindling of my passion for journalism.
When you somehow find a few spare moments, what are some things you like to do?
Whenever I have free time, I come to the dance studio on my own and just dance – not practicing skills or anything, but just freestyling and dancing. It’s a big form of stress relief for me. I’ll put on songs that I really enjoy listening to, and just very casually let off steam. And I also love to read. I’m a classic literature nerd. I love American literature. I’m a big Faulkner fan, a very big Steinbeck fan. I honestly love all kinds of literature, but classic is my favorite.