Sara Clem, a ballerina who––among her many professional achievements––trained at Moscow’s renowned Bolshoi Ballet Academy, traded the world stage for the classroom when she decided to pursue a BA in Social Science at the NYU SPS Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies (DAUS). She joined us to discuss what it was like to return to the classroom as an adult, her time at DAUS, and how her experiences as a professional dancer benefited her current college student role.
February 2, 2023
Division of Applied Undergraduate Studies Student Spotlight: BA in Social Science Candidate Sara Clem
What motivated you to pursue your bachelor's degree with NYU SPS?
At the age when most high school students are applying to colleges, I was pursuing a professional ballet career. At 16, I graduated high school to facilitate this dream, and by 17, I had moved to Moscow to train at the Bolshoi Ballet Academy. Since I was laser-focused on ballet, at no point in my late teens or early twenties did I seriously consider university.
Even though I loved ballet, as I grew older, I came to understand that the lifestyle was extremely unsustainable. I had to relocate every year for different ballet contracts, and although I truly love the art form, it is physically, mentally, and emotionally demanding. I realized that I needed to find a career with more longevity—and to position myself for the greatest chance of success, I would need to return to academics.
Since I had such a nontraditional background, it was important for me to find a school that fostered an environment of diversity that would enable me to explore new passions and discover my identity outside of dance. I found that environment at NYU SPS, and soon after starting an associate degree, I transitioned into the bachelor’s program.
Do you have any favorite courses you've taken, and if so, what did you like most about them?
Critical Thinking was the first course I took and is still one of my favorites. It really shifted my perspective and the way in which I think. It has made me question everything more and taught me to use objective analysis when forming a judgment, which is so beneficial in academia. I also loved my intro and intermediate-level macroeconomics courses. I found the material intellectually stimulating because it helped me better understand how the world operates. It is at the intersection of markets, policy, money, and business, and enables you to see just how interconnected the global economy is. While economics can be very theoretical, I found macroeconomics to be directly applicable outside the classroom. You learn fundamental concepts such as GDP and interest rates, then you open the newspaper and can read about them in real life.
Have any specific instructors made a distinct impact on you thus far, and if so, how?
I truly believe that all of the faculty at SPS have shaped my experience in a positive way, but if I have to choose one, I’d say Professor April Krassner. She immediately identified my learning style and forced me to break my perfectionist mindset, which allowed me to find more freedom in my writing. This has translated into how I think about life and approach everyday scenarios!
Can you tell us a bit about your passion for dance?
Although I no longer dance professionally, my passion for dance lingers on. From a young age, I loved movement. I was quite a hyperactive child, so I was put into many activities, but dancing, particularly classical ballet, was the only one that stuck. I fell in love with the emotional and creative outlet it provided. Dancing allows one to express oneself—feelings, thoughts— without words, and to me, that was beautiful.
The discipline, the structure, and the work ethic it takes to become the best were inspiring to me, and I loved the grind. In ballet, there is always something you can improve upon, so constantly having something to work toward was motivating. Today, I still love to take dance classes, and of course, I love to go to the ballet!
What are your aspirations once you earn your bachelor's degree?
Thanks to my academic journey at NYU SPS, I have found new interests outside dance. I’m currently pursuing a career in financial services. Last summer, I completed an internship with Citigroup in the Sales and Trading Division and will return to the trading floor this summer. After graduating, I hope to secure a full-time position as a fixed-income trader. It’s funny because although the two careers seem miles apart, the mindset and discipline required to be a good ballerina and a good trader are actually quite similar. Additionally, I noticed that the dynamic, fast-paced energy on the trading floor reminded me of the energy during a performance. I’m excited to see where this next phase of my life takes me, and I’m grateful to NYU SPS for providing me with the resources and opportunities to discover my new aspiration.