Feature News

Musical theatre major dances her way into “Dance Nation” at Steppenwolf Theatre

Jan 30, 2020

Professional opportunities augment her musical theatre college courses

Ariana Burks is a member of our performing arts school in Chicago and is already a known theatre professional in our city, most recently known for her part as Sofia in the show “Dance Nation.” Burks has a long list of impressive credentials, including other roles at the Steppenwolf, the Goodman Theatre, the Writers Theatre, House Theatre of Chicago, Chicago Children’s Theatre, the Paramount Theatre and Drury Lane Oak Brook. Her television credits include appearances in “Chicago Fire” and “Chicago Med” and film credits include “Beats” on Netflix and “South Side” on Comedy Central, among others.

She was nominated for an Emmy in 2011 for her work on the “Jr. Cuisine Show.”  

“I’ve been blessed that I’ve been cast in so many roles,” she said. “I’ve been auditioning and working since I was eight years old.”

The audition for “Dance Nation” entailed a competitive two-part process alongside many other talented actresses, she said. The show explores the dynamics of a success-driven preteen dance troupe as they prepare for competition. Burks’ many talents include dance, double Dutch jump rope, martial arts, boxing, cheerleading, swimming and varied voice accents.

Rehearsals for “Dance Nation” lasted just over a month before the show opened. Since then, she's been performing seven shows a week during a seven-week run.

“The biggest challenge I face is balancing my life as an actor, as well as my life as a student,” Burks said. “It’s difficult but worth it in the end. I’m working alongside phenomenal, critically acclaimed Chicago talent. I’m learning so much in my North Central classes but also on the stage of the Steppenwolf.”

Musical theatre major Ariana Burks rehearsing at Steppenwolf Theatre.

Ariana Burks (far right, in pink) rehearsing for "Dance Nation."

Burks is an exemplary musical theatre student, said John Warrick, professor of theater. “Ari has made her professional work a priority since first arriving at North Central College, balancing a rigorous academic schedule with college plays and auditioning in Chicago,” he said. “She excels at absorbing her theatre coursework on campus and immediately applying what she’s learned to her professional auditions.  

"For students looking for careers in theatre, film, and television, Ari is a great role model who excels in everything she pursues both as a student and professional actor.”

As a musical theater school we aim to help all our students live out their passion and bring them closer to the spotlight! For more information about “Dance Nation,” visit Steppenwolf Theatre's website.

Visit northcentralcollege.edu/dream-bigger to discover why U.S. News & World Report has named North Central a “Best in the Midwest” for 20 years in a row and to learn more about the College’s state-of-the-art facilities and distinctive programs in performing arts, science, business, and everything in between.


Ariana Burks' professional headshot.

Ariana Burks