Athletes enter the arts

Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13 attempts a dive at a men’s swimming meet.
Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13 attempts a dive at a men’s swimming meet. Photo by Brian Chang.

When Ian Graves ’13 was recruited for heavyweight crew, he had more than just his sport on his mind. Graves had been involved with choir and a cappella groups since he was in first grade, and he was not about to give it up for athletics.

“Most of the coaches looked at me like I was crazy,” Graves said. “They said you can’t do both.”

But coaches at Yale left the door open for him to continue his passion for singing at Yale. The music

Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13 uses his body as a sculpture in a visual thinking art project.
Aaron Seriff-Cullick
Aaron Seriff-Cullick ’13 uses his body as a sculpture in a visual thinking art project.
Aaron Seriff-Cullick

major is now currently a member of the a cappella group, Mixed Company and is still an active member of the Bulldog heavyweight crew team. And Graves is not alone. He and other athletes at Yale have been proving that athletic commitments need not be exclusive from the arts.

Athletes such as Dara Dickson ’12, a member of a cappella group Something Extra and the women’s crew team, and Jen Matichuk ’13, a forward on the women’s hockey team and board member of the Yale Dramatic Association, have balanced time with their teams and their artistic endeavours.

Diver Aaron Seriff-Cullick’13, a prospective art major, said this combination of artistic and athletic pursuits is not only possible, but also can be complementary.

“The way I feel about art goes along with my sports, diving and gymnastics,” he said. “Those sports are very aesthetically oriented. You’re getting judged based on how you look when you’re performing this skill. It does share a lot with art in terms of being aesthetically present.”

Two Separate Worlds

Graves said there is a divide between his a cappella world and crew world. He explained that an a cappella party on a Friday night followed by a tailgate for a Saturday Yale football game, will have two different groups of people. He said that athletes attend tailgates at a far higher proportion than his a cappella friends.

His experience is not unique.

Dickson said she has introduced her Something Extra friends to the crew team, but the lack of common interest combined with the crew team’s heavy time commitment keeps the two groups separate. Dickson said it’s more likely for a cappella and theater groups to mix.

Despite their social differences, athletes interviewed said their teammates and coaches did offer them support in their artistic endeavors. While Graves received some criticism from his high school teammates for his singing interest, he said a sizeable group of his Yale crew teammates always attends his Mixed Company concerts.

“We get a huge kick out of it,” said Jon Morgan ’13, Graves’ teammate.

But Seriff-Cullick said that athletes and artists have more in common than one might think.

“In a lot of ways [athletes and artists] really separate from the general Yale community which is so academics-driven and always focused,” Seriff-Cullick said. “Artists, because they are taking a step back to reflect, and athletes are also a step outside of that. Both groups are outside of the Yale norm.”

Seriff-Cullick has combined his athletic and artistic worlds in other ways. He said that because of the artistic nature of gymnastics and diving, he now sees his body as an artistic form. He used that athletic-inspired form in a visual thinking class last semester, when he photographed himself encased in a freezer, as if he was entering “a portal into another world.”

Caroline Nash ’11, captain of the women’s crew team and member of Something Extra a cappella group, added that rowing and a cappella also have similarities. A sense of selflessness and a group mentality is required to be successful in either activity, Nash said. In rowing, everyone strives to achieve the same stroke, while in a cappella, no single voice can dominate.

Breaking a Stereotype

Four out of the five athlete-artists interviewed said there was a stereotype regarding athletes’ ability to pursue artistic interests outside of their sports. Matichuk said most people probably assume the typical athlete is at Yale to do a sport and take gut classes.

Meneses added that when one dedicates at least 20 hours a week to her sport, it can be extremely difficult to do anything else.

This makes Seriff-Cullick unusual, Meneses said. He not only dives and completes time-consuming art projects, but also has a cookie delivery business, Call Me Cookie.

Dickson added that the common perception of athletes is that they are very one-dimensional and their only talent is their sports, but this perception is unfair because Yale athletes are multi-talented.

Dara Dickson ’12 with her a cappella group, Something Extra, at last year’s Jam concert.
Dara Dickson
Dara Dickson ’12 with her a cappella group, Something Extra, at last year’s Jam concert.
Dara Dickson ’12  pictured after winning NCAAs with her crew team in 2010.
Dara Dickson
Dara Dickson ’12 pictured after winning NCAAs with her crew team in 2010.

“I know a lot of my teammates break that mold,” Matichuk said. “It’s less of a mold at Yale than other schools because the kids are so dynamic and do so many different things.”

Seriff-Cullick added that while it was not his intention to break a stereotype, his desire to pursue a career in the arts is unusual. He said the stereotypical athlete is an economics major interested in going into the competitive world of finance.

Weinand said he is breaking a more general Yale, rather than athlete-specific, stereotype.

When Weinand isn’t on the golf course or in class, he’s writing songs for his music group, High Definition, whose style he described as “hip-hop/pop/electro.” Weinand and his friend, Brad Canada, started the group in high school on Garage Band, and now it is signed to Orange Glow, a production/managing company in Naples. While Weinand said the distance between Florida and New Haven makes it difficult to record during the school year, he spends time promoting the group on Facebook and YouTube as well as staying on top of the latest music news. High Definition currently has more than 1700 fans on Facebook.

“Not many people are into popular music and hip-hop at Yale,” Weinand said. “Most people either don’t listen to music at all or just listen to the new Rihanna single … they don’t really get into it or know detailed background information. Everyone is so concerned with school and forgets about the fun of music.”

The Time Factor

Matichuk acted extensively in high school, but her commitment to the hockey team prevented her from acting at Yale her freshman year. After spending last summer in London with Yale and taking “Modern British Drama,” Matichuk said she knew she wanted to get involved in the theater scene at Yale.

Within a few months of her return from London, Matichuk was elected to the associate board of the Dramat as the production archivist.

Even with the hockey season in full swing, Matichuk said the Dramat meetings, held Monday nights at 11, never conflict with her hockey schedule.

“Last year sometimes I would just sit in my room after hockey and not do any work or anything,” Matichuk said. “Now that I have another commitment, I have to be more organized.”

Matichuk added her involvement with the Dramat has not affected her performance on the ice; in fact, she’s improved since last year.

Dickson said she is more productive with a wider variety of activities, not only because she must follow a strict schedule, but also because Something Extra is a break from the normal flow of the week.

Dickson has crew practice from 3-6 every day, and then Something Extra meets twice a week at night and then for a couple of hours on the weekends.

She added her commitment to both activities is not unusual within the context of the Yale community.

“I’m sure lots of Yale kids are doing lots of things,” Dickson said. She added that within Something Extra, multiple girls are in theater productions and another girl is in the Yale Symphony Orchestra.

Yet scheduling is not always so seamless. Seriff-Cullick said his rigid practice schedule, the strict operating hours of the darkroom and his need to photograph during the day can make it difficult to take and produce pictures.

He added that the pool has been an artistic opportunity unto itself, and last semester he made a video set in the pool.

Both Dickson and Graves said their involvement on their teams does prevent them from go on all of their a cappella tours.

Chaka Jaliwa ’11 of Mixed Company said despite Graves’ absence on the spring tour in order to train for crew, he is the leader of the bass section and is an essential vocal percussionist. Even among a group of extremely hard working people, Jaliwa said Graves is particularly driven.

Courtney Grafton ’12 of Something Extra added Dickson’s dedication to two consuming activities has made her a role model, especially for the group’s freshmen.

“As one of the only athletes in Something Extra, she brings a unique perspective that is often underrepresented in the a cappella community,” Grafton wrote.

Despite Dickson, Graves, Matichuk and Weinand’s involvement in extracurricular artistic endeavors, the four said that their commitment to their teams takes precedence.

Comments

  • Picky

    Grammatically speaking, a crew is a team.

    It’s “crew”, “rowing crew”, or “rowing team”. “Crew team” is redundant.

  • RexMottram08

    Any Yale athlete who only spends 20 hours per week on his/her sport is NOT putting in enough time.

  • pickyalum

    No one involved in the rowing community would ever say “I row crew.” Regardless of how grammatically correct you’d like to be, say that to a rower and you’ll be laughed at. Crew team is also not inappropriate – crew both represents an activity and an actual team. That’s like claiming that “basketball team” is an incorrect name because the team isn’t made up of basketballs.

    Just as a tidbit, rowers often refer to their lineups, what would historically have been called a crew, as boats. You would ask about what boat someone was in, not what crew they were in.

  • anonymousreader

    It is most definitely NOT “rowing crew”. Also, “Crew team” is used far more often than “rowing team”. Clearly not someone who knows what they are talking about!

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