Combining EECS and Ballet: Alexandria Finley

Alexandria Finley wasn’t expecting to earn one of the ten places at the Genée International Ballet Competition this year that was sponsored by the competition, let alone one of the 100 places to compete. But without the sponsorship, she couldn’t afford to attend the 10 day competition in Sydney, Australia this December. In Alexandria’s mind, that prize had already gone to another girl from her small dance studio a couple of years ago. So she was stunned to learn that she had been selected to be one of ten fully-funded dancers competing in Sydney. Now she just needed to work out whether the competition would conflict with any of her finals as a second year EECS major at UC Berkeley.

Alexandria has been studying ballet since she was three years old when something set her mind on the idea of dancing. In high school, she was following a rigorous schedule of taking at least one two-hour class per day; with a three to four hour rehearsal on weekends, which started on Friday, along with classes in yoga and Pilates. At the same time, she was discovering her passion for EECS.

That passion started when she found that she was good at Physics and wanted to take the Physics AP test. Somehow, though, she was mistakenly placed in Computer Science, rather than Physics AP. She wound up doing even better in CS than she did in Physics. When Ali was applying to Berkeley, she thought that EECS sounded like a great combination of Physics and CS.

“There were a lot of people at my school and at my dance studio who, when I said I’m going to Berkeley and I’m still going to be dancing, said that it wasn’t going to work and said that one was going to overpower the other, that I’d either have to stop dancing or drop out of school. And I said, ‘Watch me. I’m going to make it work.'”

Her first semester at Berkeley seemed pretty easy; she was taking 12 units and had the lead in “The Nutcracker” at the end of the semester. So she decided to amp things up a bit. In the spring semester, she took 18 units, danced 18 to 20 hours per week, and worked more than 10 hours a week helping to support herself. She admits to calling her parents a few times in tears, telling them that she didn’t know why she made those decisions. “As it ended, I felt really proud of myself. That was the first time in my life I felt pushed to my limits.”

Now Alexandria faces preparing for an international dance competition while continuing as a sophomore at Berkeley. She is preparing to dance a piece of classical choreography from a list provided by the Royal Academy of Dance, the sponsor of the Genée, and a contemporary selection that she has performed before. She will be training with a ballet company in Utah for six weeks and then will be spending the fall commuting back and forth to her home town to train with the company she grew up in, the Santa Clarita Ballet Company. She will also continue her daily classes with the Berkeley Ballet Theater. As she works to perfect these pieces, however, she is determined not to lose her focus on her studies.

“There’s a huge pressure on girls especially, because there’s so many of us, to get into a training company when you’re 16 and then work for that company until you can’t dance anymore, and I feel like there’s a similar thing in the technology industry… So that’s a little stressful for me.”

When she’s asked what she imagines for her life a few years from now, she continues to imagine having it all:

“What I’m really hoping works out for me is that I can graduate from here with my degree in EECS, and then after that go into a company and dance for however many years, and then when that’s done or when I feel that I’ve performed as much as I want, use my degree for a job…. I don’t think it’s impossible, just because I don’t like to think that anything’s impossible.”