In dance, every second counts. Leaping, jumping, turning, there is no room for hesitation or error. From the moment the music begins until the last beat drops, timing is all that matters, and it requires ultimate precision and attention. It’s no surprise that this type of structure is what makes senior Jess Caracciolo who she is.
With the quick movement of her body, Caracciolo glides from one dance move to the next. Her schedule is no different. As the president of both the Ithaca College Dance Team and IC Unbound, Caracciolo is the leader of the two most established dance groups on campus. On top of this, she is involved in nine organizations and society memberships — excelling at it all.
“[My schedule] can definitely be stressful, and it gets intense,” Caracciolo said. “My little green agenda is my world. Everything is written in it.”
Caracciolo balances being president of the dance teams as well as being student vice president of Phi Kappa Phi Honors Society, event coordinator of Student Volunteers for Special Olympics, member of the Senior Class Cabinet “Give Back” Committee, sport club office assistant at the Sports Club office, student worker at the Health Sciences and Human Performance Dean’s Office, a building assistant at the Fitness Center and a leading part in ICTV’s new series, “Staged.”
Since the age of three, Caracciolo has been passionate about dance. Nineteen years later, she still finds the same fulfillment in it. What she loves most about the art is performing, she said.
“I like to be on stage, I like to have an audience, and dance gives you a really good feeling knowing you can make people happy with your talent,” Caracciolo said.
When she came to the college, she wanted to keep up with dance, so she joined ICDT and Unbound. As a sophomore, Caracciolo was elected president of ICDT. In her junior year, she was appointed to president of Unbound. With her natural leadership abilities and her organizational skills, the members told Caracciolo the teams would be in good hands.
Caracciolo said she was uncertain about taking on the presidency of the dance team as only a sophomore because she did not know exactly what role she would play as a leader of the squad.
“It was super intimidating because I was still just a sophomore, and the captain was a senior at the time, so I was in a leadership role where I didn’t really know where my place was,” she said. “I wound up becoming really close with the captain, and it ended up working out.”
When Caracciolo was appointed to be president of Unbound, she was studying abroad in Australia. At the time she found out, she was at a hostel in New Zealand and got an email saying she had to book the dates for a performance. From that moment on, she would be the leader of the group.
“It pretty much started then,” Caracciolo said. “To come back from being abroad and have to be in charge of a 50-person dance group was definitely intimidating.”
When it comes to ICDT and Unbound, it is hard for Caracciolo to divide her attention between the two. She tries to devote the same amount of time to both groups but handles them in different ways, she said.
In Unbound, Caracciolo is at the forefront of the group, taking charge of the choreography and the group logistics. Unbound is a bigger dance company made up of nearly 50 dancers. It’s the college’s oldest dance group on campus and features all styles of dance, including tap, jazz, Broadway, African dance and belly dancing. Because of the large size of the group, Caracciolo has to be in control. Primarily, she leads all the run-throughs and delegates all of the responsibilities.
“I make sure that the whole company is cohesive and running efficiently,” she said. “I delegate different jobs to the rest of the e-board and make sure that everything is getting done and help with the process of planning our dance showcases.”
Unlike Unbound, the ICDT is a smaller group made up of 14 dancers. In this group, Caracciolo is more in the background, involved in the operation of the organization. Her role is not so much to run the practices and make up the choreography, but to handle the financial aspects and scheduling of the events. The team performances include halftime shows at home football and basketball games as well as regional and national competitions. Caracciolo said her job is to coordinate them all.
Senior Nyasha Evans, chair of performance of Unbound and member of the ICDT, said Caracciolo is really the backbone to both groups, but her role does change between the two.
“It’s different because for Dance Team, she’s like the undercover leader in the background more. She’ll chime in when things need to get figured out,” Evans said. “Where for Unbound, she’s the face of Unbound. She’s the person everyone complains to and everyone talks to.”
Because the ICDT only has 14 members, it is more of a competitive group to join. Junior Rachel Kern, captain of the ICDT and secretary of Unbound, said the dance team is definitely stricter and more intense because of its small size.
“She knows when we have to be really strict with the dance, and she knows how to handle everyone and control everyone too,” Kern said. “She can’t make everyone happy, but she makes all the rules.”
Despite how strict the team is, Caracciolo always provides for a positive environment. Senior Sarah Hassett said Caracciolo is uplifting and is always there for anyone in the group.
“I always tell her she’s my motivational speaker,” Hassett said. “You can come to her with anything, and she always has great insight.”
Evans said Caracciolo’s hard work that she puts into both groups is what really makes her a leader.
“We all work in the classroom, but she is working outside the studio as well as inside just as hard as all of us,” she said.
Recently, Caracciolo had to take a personality test because she is completing her clinical experience in Speech Pathology at a preschool. She said she found the test to give pretty accurate results.
The test told her that she was the driver, “the person who is going to step up in a group and take charge.” She also found that she was also part amiable, meaning she’s a person who wants everyone to get along, wants the best for people and looks out for people’s best interest.
Caracciolo said her involvement and leadership qualities have come from her parents. Growing up, her family dynamic was different than most families. Her dad stayed at home with Caracciolo while her mom worked, so she has always had a very positive female figure in her life, she said. Her dad was always there for her when it came to dance, and Caracciolo said he could not have been more supportive and proud of her successes.
“He was the only dad in dance classes when all the moms would come for the costume fittings, and he was my personal chauffeur up until the day I was able to drive,” she said. “He really took on the stay-at-home mom role, but he was a stay-at-home dad. It was really cool to have that family dynamic.”
Graduating in May will be an interesting change of pace for Caracciolo. She said it will take some time to adjust participating in nine extracurricular activities to beginning to focus on her job.
“Everything I’m involved in, while it has its stressful moments, it’s so much fun, and the people that I’m with are wonderful and intoxicating and you just want to be around them all the time,” Caracciolo said. “I’m definitely going to miss being a part of things, but I think for the next chapter of my life I need to say, ‘You don’t have to do it all. It’s OK just to focus on one thing.’”