After Morgan Clune graduates from Juilliard and enjoys a successful professional dance career, she wants to go back to school to become an astronaut.
Big goals for sure, but they seem doable when considering, the 18-year-old resident has never gotten anything but A’s on her report card and is just the second Chicago Academy for the Arts female student to be selected to Juilliard's top-of-the-line dance program.
“Morgan is a special young artist because of her ability to tackle challenges head-on, with no fear of failure,” said Randy Duncan, The Academy’s Dance Chair. “She devotes leisure time to hone her anointed skills by being consistently regimented. She compares herself to no one, but competes with her own inner thoughts and observations. She is truly a gift to the dance world.”
Clune, who transferred from Barrington High School after her freshman year, credited The Academy for allowing her to fulfill her dream.
“It’s about being surrounded by artists and people with passions as strong as you have in their own fields,” said Clune, of Barrington. “I love that environment and the support I had from my teachers. I was really challenged by the other artists as well.”
The world-renowned dance program at Juilliard accepts only 12 boys and 12 girls each year. The Academy in its 37-year history has had several boy dancers earn acceptance into the program, but the only girl before Clune to be accepted into Juilliard was Annika Sheaff – now an assistant professor of dance at Baldwin Wallace University.
Sheaff later would join the world-renowned dance company Pilobolus and toured the world 550 times on four continents. Sheaff also has appeared on “America’s Got Talent,” “Extra!,” “Sesame Street,” and she was on the cover of Dance Magazine.
Clune has high aspirations as well.
To attend The Academy, Clune commuted 50 miles each way from Barrington – mostly by train. She would leave her home around 7 a.m. and not return until about 7:45 p.m. each night.
Her parents, Dean and Kellie, said transferring was the right decision, despite the lengthy commute.
“Morgan loved the culture and the enthusiasm she felt from the students and faculty she met,” Dean Clune said. “When we came home from her shadow day we watched a few videos on The Academy website. A folder she was given truly did speak to her, it said: What if dance wasn’t just after school but what if dance was school. … The rest of the decision was easy.”
Clune has been dancing her whole life, and she was watching her sisters – 5 and 8 years older – dance before she could even walk. Her first ballet class was when she was 2½ years old, and she’s been starring and mostly dancing with the older competition since. She’s won numerous accolades, including being named the National Elite dancer within the junior division of the National Dance Competition as an eighth-grader.
“My entire dance career, I’ve gotten through it by setting goals at different stages,” Clune said. “Every time I felt like I reached the top, I felt like I still needed more.”
Clune said that mindset helped during her five-round Juilliard audition at Hubbard Street Dance Chicago earlier this year. She said the audition began with about 55 girls, and only three, including her, survived the final cut. When she received the call that she had been accepted into Juilliard on March 20, she said: “it was one of the greatest feelings imaginable.”
Clune is spending the summer with two ballet intensives, first at the Joffrey Ballet, then at Nederlands Dans Theater. She’d like to dance professionally with the Nederlands Dans Theater, one of the world’s top dance companies.
“The dream life would be dancing as long as my body can do it, and hopefully into my 30s,” Clune said.
And then Clune said she would like to go back to school and study astrophysics, with the goal of becoming an astronaut. She had applied to Princeton this year as an astrophysics major – and made it to the local interview round – but chose to focus on dance before space.
“I wanted to put 100 percent of my time and brain on dance now,” Clune said.
The Academy, she said, has opened unlimited doors and possibilities.
“Getting into Juilliard is really exciting, and it’s also exciting to think about the possibilities that I’ll have after graduating from Juilliard,” Clune said. “It makes me excited that this is only the beginning … I have big goals, and I’m ready to start making more.”