Journey to Well-being

By Laura E. Taylor, Sono Osato Scholarship Recipient

LauraETaylorHeadshot         I donned my first pair of ballet shoes at three, wrote a poem about becoming a ballerina at six, and danced my way through childhood. Dance became my means of communication. At sixteen, I attended Interlochen Arts Academy for premier pre-professional dance training. At eighteen, I began a BFA in Dance at Fordham University with Alvin Ailey American Dance Center. I danced six hours a day, six days a week and loved every minute of it.

Suddenly, everything changed. At the beginning of my sophomore year, I fell in class. I needed bilateral knee surgery to repair the damage. I was dedicated to recovery and back dancing in the BFA program the following summer. Unfortunately, I fell again a year later and “totaled” my left knee. Again, my prospects of returning to dance were slim. Thankfully, I found a tremendous doctor who tried a new approach. Rather than fixing the symptom (joint damage), he recommended a distal realignment to treat the underlying structural problem. I underwent two massive reconstructive surgeries, one on each knee, that were performed six months apart. I spent a full year in a wheelchair.

Laura E. Taylor performing in A Chorus Line at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL
Laura E. Taylor performing in A Chorus Line at the Paramount Theatre in Aurora, IL

Without dance for the first time, I needed direction and a means of artistic communication. I dove into psychology courses at Fordham and a passion for psychological well-being was sparked. Simultaneously, I began to study voice more intensively and my vocal coach suggested that I combine my voice and dance skills to transition into musical theatre where I could dance in a way that was not as challenging for my knees. Healed, I auditioned for my first professional musical, booked it and went out on the road! Musical theatre has given me eleven years of incredible experiences on stage where I continue to dance and grow as an artist.

In the winter of 2012, I herniated two disks during A Chorus Line. Thirty-two years old, I sat on stage and sobbed through ‘What I Did For Love,’ determined to finish the show. I knew my body had limited ability to continue as a dancer and transition arrived sooner than I hoped.

I decided to return to school to gain additional knowledge and skills to use in arts education. I chose the unique Masters of Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) at the University of Pennsylvania and began in September, 2013. My focus was to examine the connections between positive psychology and the arts. I graduated in August, after one short year and three packed semesters! MAPP has been the gift of a lifetime – a unique cross-roads for my passions and an opportunity to give back.

Laura presenting her capstone Acting Strengths in a cave - Rio Secreto - in Mexico
Laura presenting her capstone Acting Strengths in a cave – Rio Secreto – in Mexico

My capstone focused on research that supports the development of resilience to increase well-being. Currently, I am designing a workshop that customizes positive psychology tools for performers. The workshop, Acting Strengths, bridges the gap between artistic preparation and the daunting realities of a difficult business. It enables performers to cultivate resilience though strengths identification and development. By equipping artists with resilience, it is my hope to help them persevere and flourish. Ultimately, Acting Strengths will be a series of workshops and a springboard for the development of a course in positive psychology for pre-professional artists.

My experience and education empower me to serve the artistic community that has so generously supported me. My deepest gratitude goes to Career Transition for Dancers, the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship, and the Sono Osato Scholarship as they were instrumental in making this new venture possible! I am dedicated to applying positive psychology to arts education and confident that my new degree will help me achieve this goal!

Permission to be Lost

Photo by Alethia Williams
Photo by Alethia Williams

By Julie A. Blume, CTFD Dancer-Client and Caroline H. Newhouse Grant Recipient

I heard about Career Transitions for Dancers nine years ago while I was dancing with David Parsons and his lively troupe. I was immediately impressed by the concept of CTFD—a nonprofit dedicated solely to providing support and resources to dancers, a population who often feel a lack of those two fundamental needs. Though I had an idea about the richness of the services offered by CTFD, I only recently learned of their necessity. A few years ago, I began living the idea of career transitioning. I was working at the Metropolitan Opera and enjoying my daily dance classes and evening performances, but in every non-performance moment I was seeking: what’s next? Though I would not admit it at the time, I was thoroughly lost. I received immeasurable support from Lauren Gordon in CTFD’s New York office and explored options beyond (and way beyond) the scope of my dance training.

I left New York for Boston in 2012 aiming to work toward a graduate degree in Public Policy. I knew I wanted to make a difference, and policy seemed the correct route to do so on the grandest possible scale. But I soon discovered that lobbying was draining to me and did not make best use of my talents – this even when doing so in support of causes I care deeply about, like securing funding for the arts or finding healthcare for those in need. After one semester in the policy program, I decided to cut my losses and I returned to my dancing and seeking. I had always loved yoga and during this time the practice brought me much needed solace. I amped up my practice and eventually transitioned from yoga student to yoga teacher. I started as a substitute at various Boston studios and soon acquired my own classes and even private clients. Thanks to this work, I became fascinated with various energetic healing modalities and discovered that I long to heal people, not populations. Thus, my studies of yoga and my desire to help others in their process of healing and self-understanding shuttled me toward a career in acupuncture and herbal medicine.

Currently, I am one year into a four-year Masters degree in Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine. During my first year of classes, it became apparent just how much my dance training serves me in this discipline. I have a powerful memory, strong spatial awareness, and a heightened sense of my physical body. Furthermore, dance training has been teaching me how to cultivate Qi all of my life. I realize now that all those years I thought I was training specifically for a career as a performer, I was also priming myself to excel in a multitude of avenues.

Photo by Lois Greenfield
Photo by Lois Greenfield

My route from dance to acupuncture was circuitous and at times trying. For so long I had been able to describe myself in four concise words: “I am a dancer.” At this people would nod in seeming understanding and admiration, and I felt both settled and proud of my projection. We live in a culture that likes clear titles and articulated goals. Transitioning from “I am a dancer” to “I was a dancer and don’t yet know what I presently am” left me emotionally vulnerable and aimless for the first time in my life. It took some time before I found a sense of pride in declaring ‘I am’ again. By embracing yoga, I followed the path that brought me the most peace. Thankfully, this proved an effective route, leading me to acupuncture—a career that excites me, challenges me, and leaves me once again feeling strongly with purpose.

To transition on from a career as a dancer is – much like they say of aging – not for the fainthearted. For me, the most difficult thing was figuring out how to find comfort in the chaos. I struggled against the confusion I felt, and pushed myself toward Public Policy because, more than anything, I longed for a sense of direction. If I were to do it over again, I would grant myself permission to be lost. I would allow myself the space and time to simply float and to not care what others think of my indirection. If any of you reading this page feel confused about where to go or what to do next, my best advice is to take a moment to fully appreciate where you are and all you have achieved through the majesty of your career thus far. From there, follow your bliss: whatever feels right and authentic in the present moment. Whether you transition with big strides or small shuffles, honor your journey with unswerving patience. Grant yourself permission to dream (and dream big), and your path will undoubtedly appear.

www.julieblume.com

Round Three

CamilleMBrown
Photo by Lois Greenfield

 

By Camille M. Brown

When I was still in grammar school, I fell in love. The moment I saw Maya Plisetskaya perform with the Bolshoi Ballet I knew I wanted to be a dancer. I scrawled manifest destiny across my bedroom wall with an arrow pointing to a picture of red point shoes. My parents thought my love for dance would wane, but that passion became the driving force focusing my college career. After transferring from San Francisco State to U.C. Berkeley, I changed my major to Dance. I held my mother hostage by threatening to drop out if she demanded I double major. I graduated with a B.A. in Dramatic Arts /Dance after receiving both the Horence Schwimely Scholarship and the Eisner Prize for creativity in the highest order. I immediately moved to New York City. My dream became a reality when I joined the Martha Graham Dance Company. Eventually, I became a soloist and rendered many roles, worked with guest choreographer Twyla Tharp, and toured the world with the company for 6 years. In 1995, I was invited to audition for the Broadway revival of the King and I. As an ensemble member, Gold Ballet soloist, and understudy, it was my privilege to work with Lar Lubovitch on that production. And I am proud that I was an original company member of The Lion King.

But a dance career is ephemeral. So, I began to explore new avenues with Career Transition For Dancers. I wanted to spark that same tinderbox of passion and have that same feeling of certainty. But in truth, I was also paralyzed by fear. Even with the help and resources at CTFD, it took a long time to find the right path. I received the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship and used part of those funds to become a licensed real estate sales person. I began working with Weichert Realtors while still performing at The Lion King. Real estate was not a fit. What I finally realized was that my transition was right under my nose. A pattern of interest in both TV production and writing was clear. That interest drove me. I sought an internship with casting director, Ellen Parks. As her office assistant, I witnessed the pre-production of Flirting With Disaster. At Harvestworks Digital Media Center, I studied editing. And I begged my way into a PA position on set at The Insider filmed from the lobby of The Lion King. Similarly, I’ve been writing as long as I’ve been dancing. Through continuing education at NYU, I explored playwriting with Academy Award winner, James Lecesne. With Matt Hoverman, I mastered the one-person show form. At the People’s Improv Theater, I learned sitcom writing from Sarit Catz.

In the fall of 2013, I drew down the remainder of the grant after being accepted into the MFA Program for TV Production at Brooklyn College. This summer I was thrilled to receive the Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies. The scholarship will be applied toward my final year at Brooklyn College. The MFA in TV Production is a two-year TV production boot camp. This past semester I conceived content, filmed, edited, and wrote a lot of papers. In the fall term, I will be tackling multi-camera production, writing for TV, and documentary.

Oddly, I felt ready to move on because of the assistance from CTFD. At my age, most people might be thinking about retirement. But I feel that I’m just warming up for round three.

The Ability to be Moved

by Mary Nesvadba

MaryI started dancing at age 3 and knew from that moment on, dance would be my career choice.  I was truly fortunate to have danced professionally with the Fort Worth Ballet, The Houston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The First National Tour of Movin’ Out, and also, on Broadway with Movin’ Out.

After having a long career as a professional dancer, I decided to retire, which ended up being the hardest and most difficult time in my life. So for a few years, I lived life as a non-dancer and although I had found a good job, I felt as though I had truly lost myself.

I went to Chicago a couple of years ago to dance in a surprise performance for a dear friend/choreographer and was reunited with my beautiful Chicago dance family!  During that weekend, I found out about this new dance fitness class called BeMoved via my post-professional dancer friends who were BeMoved Instructors.  I spoke to Sherry Zunker, Founder and Creator of BeMoved®, and after that conversation, I decided I had to be a part of this amazing new dance experience.

CTFD allowed me the opportunity to pursue this exciting instructor Mary2career with BeMoved by awarding me with the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship. BeMoved has brought me back to my love for dance and music and has allowed me to teach and share this wonderful dance experience with others in NYC! I am thrilled for this exciting new chapter in my dance career!!!

 

Cable Man

Nathan Vander Stoep, Caroline H. Newhouse Business Grant Recipient

Nathan_the1too

I first met CTFD in a centerfold of Dance Magazine while flipping to an article written about the principals in my company, Colorado Ballet. I was young and it didn’t feel relevant at the time, but the grant money caught my attention for the future. A few years later as I was becoming less enchanted with my career, and was beginning to think about moving on, I remembered the advertisement. I made my first call to the counselors in 2006, and as we began delving into options, it actually renewed my passion for dance while simultaneously highlighting the importance of thinking about life after dance. I ended up performing another three years while expanding my extracurricular activities.

ImageI had played trombone from an early age and started taking amateur gigs. As I improved, I began getting professional gigs. However, I needed to know the music perfectly without rehearsals, so a good stereo system became imperative. As I put together the system, I realized the incredible difference that the wiring could make in the clarity and detail of what I could hear in the recordings. I did some research online and started building my own cables based on some ideas I formed from the information I had found. The results were fascinating, which became a topic in my next conversation with CTFD. The counselor mentioned that it could become a business, which hadn’t entered my mind at all. It was at this point when my relationship with CTFD became much more serious and instrumental in my future.

In general, I had never thought much of counseling; even in preliminary conversations with CTFD, I felt like the conversation wandered around a bit. That all changed now that I was interested in a specific topic. As a dancer, I knew nothing about business and suddenly I had a lot to learn. CTFD recommended finding a mentor through various channels, and this is probably the single most valuable prodding that I received. My counselor sent me a few websites to view, four of which were for local businesses and I could visit in-person. I had developed networking skills in the ballet world, so it was easy for me to start making connections with other business owners. I landed a mentorship in the HiFi Stereo industry while building my own business of designing cable products for home stereos, and over three years I learned the essential business practices particular to the industry. This was an absolutely invaluable experience and would not have happened without the guidance of the CTFD counselors.

During the counseling sessions, a frequent topic of discussion was how best to use the grant money. Education seemed like an enticing idea, especially since electricity was not something that I had ever studied beyond the university of Google. As my counselor and I discussed options, I also discussed it with my mentor, who ultimately made a suggestion with a result that still ceases to amaze me.

When I designed my products, I had focused on the quality of the product sonically as well as for durability. The results were a product that changed the sound of any system dramatically, and never failed, but they did not possess the jewelry-like cosmetics of my competitors. The cost of designing and manufacturing the parts needed were expensive and I didn’t see the point in extraneous parts that didn’t contribute to the sound. It was then that both my mentor and counselor pointed out my flawed logic.

My speaker cable sales were virtually dead; I had only sold three pairs over the previous year. I decided to design aluminum sleeves to cover the transition area on the cables. I used CTFD’s grant money, which covered enough parts for 30 cables, to get the parts into production.

That seed money completely changed the landscape of my business. Speaker cable sales increased immediately. As soon as the first sample cable was shown in the Japanese market, I had orders for 5 speaker cables within a week. At the end of a year’s time, I had sold over $26K in speaker cables alone, which allowed cosmetic development of the whole cable line. The company now has a distinctive look, and is growing rapidly.

With both the counseling and grants offered, CTFD has helped shape my life and formed a business that supports me in a way that I never imagined, and I am very thankful!

Visit my website (www.nvssound.com)

Connecting Life Sequences

cold color julio e  rivera  photo by erik alberg

By Julio Enrique Rivera, Caroline H. Newhouse Recipient

Transitions are the soul of the dance, connecting sequences of movement that allow for flow of clear and compelling expression. Transitions must have clarity, focus, and confidence for the fluidity and effortless connections. For a dancer, it is a joyous experience that makes the dance greater than the steps alone. And so it is with any transition in life.

I learned about effortless transitions early in life. Excelling in school, I always sought enriching opportunities by way of clubs, programs, and sports. I learned that discipline is key in any commitment and that focus and perseverance lead to success. I brought these tools from academic demands to the arts of theater and dance.

My most demanding transition was leaving to the vastness of Princeton University. Attending an Ivy League institution presented the expanse of a liberal arts education with great academic focus. Advance placement allowed me access to upper level courses forging a great course to exploring new horizons. I initially diminished my participation in the arts. I discovered new sports such as squash and tennis. My body longed to move as my mind was racing. I was transitioning once again. Then the arts returned! Women were now part of the student body and modern dance classes were offered with Ze’eva Cohen. Princeton also instituted a certificate program in theater and dance, and I was one of the first to enroll.

The next year, I was enjoying graduate courses in psychology and “jete-in” about campus. My first thesis melded these two loves, and it’s success jettisoned me into expanding it for my senior thesis; the perception of expression in movement.  My field work was: more dance classes at Princeton, the Princeton Ballet Society, and a scholarship at the Ailey school. I graduated with honors in 1976, I decided to postpone my interest in the Harvard clinical program to follow the more immediate call…DANCE!!!! I returned to Ailey’s and continue to dance knowing that one day I return to my interest in helping individuals realize a better situation through some kind of support.

By 1986 I had danced with myriad companies and choreographers. Early on I decided  to focus on traveling as guest performer, master teacher and choreographer. With support from Alvin Ailey, I founded Contemporary Motions as a venue to showcase my solo, duets and trio works. Fellow choreographers donated solo works I had performed, and I created a  new repertoire of solos, duets, and trios that I would present nationally and internationally until 2006.

In 2004, cancer presented yet another opportunity for transition in life. I returned to finish my contracts, then decided to retire with an excellent record to that transition in 1976. Nine years in full remission, and full of zest, I seek to return to my love of psychology as a life coach. Lynn Goldberg, a life coach for dancers introduced me to Coaching for Wellness certification program. It was the transition I had been waiting for. I enrolled and graduated in the Associate Level certificate program. With the assistance of the CTFD Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship, I will be able to continue my certification at the Professional level which allows me to participate with the highest credentials possible and work various niches as well as mentor and teach in life coaching programs.

somewhat hopng i was dreaming 6 2  rivera  photo alberg

The Meaning of ‘Ohana

How the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship will bNoelleNaoneHeadshotring dancer-client and grant recipient, Noelle Naone, back home.

Growing up in Hawai’i, family or ‘ohana, was always the most important thing to me.  Factor in the amazing climate, the beautiful oceans and the colorful flora and fauna and you have the perfect equation for a happy life.  Life was made that much sweeter for me when my mother enrolled me in a hula school.  The music and movement filled me with a joy I had never felt before.  I was hooked from that very first class.  I had found something beside the magic of the islands that made me happy and that I was good at.  A few years later, I started taking ballet, jazz, and street funk.  I was as much at home in the studio or on stage as I was being at the beach and spending time with family.

Then one day something changed.  Although I loved my island home, I felt as thought I was not growing as a dancer.  I wanted to get off the “rock” and explore what the world had to offer me.  The opportunity presented itself when I was offered a contract at Disney World, Orlando Florida.  I was a part of the opening cast of Tarzan Rocks! choreographed by Jaime King.  That is where my journey began, one that would take me all over the US and the world, but would bring me back home…eventually.

Fast forward to the present.  I have been living in Las Vegas for 11 years.  In those 11 years, I have performed in numerous shows on the strip.  I have been married and divorced, and married again, happily the second time around.  I was able to finish my degree in Kinesiology.  And now, I am a certified Barre and Pilates instructor.  I have an 8 week old bundle of joy.  My Millie girl is the motivating factor behind my and my husband’s desire to move back to Hawai’i.

I cannot make a living as a dancer in the Hawai’i.   On top of the high cost of living, there are limited well-paying opportunities for performers.  My goal, with the help from the CTFD Newhouse grant, is to open a studio back home.  In the short-term, a grant will pay for a Megaformer certification.  This is a new apparatus developed by a classically trained Pilates instructor.  The certification will secure a teaching position for me at the only licensed Megaformer studio in Las Vegas.   My long-term goal is to bring the Megaformer to Hawai’i.  The first of its kind in the islands, my studio will offer dance, Barre, Pilates, and Megaformer classes

The most important thing that the Newhouse grant will allow me to do is to get one step closer to my goal of raising Millie in the paradise that I was fortunate enough to grow up in.  I have seen many places, met many different types of people, and experienced many different cultures.  But for me, nothing compares to the sights, sounds and smells of my island home.   More than ever, I long to be with my family.   I would like Millie to learn about her Hawaiian roots and to grow up with her cousins.  She may want to leave the islands one day, just as I did.  But, just as I do, I hope that Millie will always consider Hawai’i and her ‘ohana to be her home.

Falling in Love with a New Endeavor

Mary Slate Williams, 2013 Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies Award RecipientMary Slate Williams

My Mother says I started crawling before I learned to sit. I have always loved to move. My first love was not the music, costumes or audience. I did not fall in love with performing; I had never even seen a ballet. I fell in love with the work. I wanted nothing more than to sweat for hours in the studio with no audience. This left me, unsurprisingly, to be a rather dull performer. My senior year in high school our gala performance was Harald Lander’s Etudes. In the final movement doing a tombe coupe sauté, something clicked. I felt the music, the full force of the music and I began to really dance.
After just one semester in college, I became a trainee for the Orlando Ballet under the direction of Fernando Bujones. I danced for Fernando Bujones for four seasons. Being coached by Fernando was magical. You could work for days on a variation and then he could come in, give you three notes and the whole dance was transformed.
I injured myself shortly after Fernando passed away, I had surgery, my contract was not renewed, I moved to Chicago to dance, and moved again to Idaho. I kept dancing for four years after my surgeon had given up on me. I was sure my perseverance would eventually pay off. That is how the world is supposed to work. You just keep working, putting your heart and soul into something and eventually reap the rewards. Somehow along the way, I ran out of soul. I no longer enjoyed showing up to work every day. I no longer felt joy when I danced.
Although I have always been aware that a dancing career cannot last forever, I was never able to fathom what actually stopping dancing might feel like. I always assumed that someday I would have a moment of realization when I would fall in love with a new endeavor, and be every bit as passionate about it as I was with ballet. Instead, it has been more of a slowly growing swell. I searched in earnest for a new career, and I kept landing back at pharmacy.
My final season dancing people asked me with some regularity why I wanted to go to pharmacy school. My response was always “seems like a good idea.” There is a lot of truth to this flippant response. It seemed like a good idea, because it just felt right and even though I did not know it yet, it was absolutely one of my best ideas. Being a pharmacist is the perfect non-dancer job for me. It is emotionally inspiring, mentally challenging and I am always moving. I am continually amazed by the human capacity for love I witness while at work. I talk with people who have a loved one at home dying, who have just miscarried, who desperately need relief from depression. I am able in some small way to ease their burden. Pharmacists do much more than even I realized. Every day that I work in a pharmacy I learn something new and meet someone wonderful. I am currently working as a pharmacy intern and am entering my third year of a four-year Doctorate of Pharmacy program.
Entering a new profession has taught me a lot about how people develop professionally. In pharmacy school, I am not just learning about medications. Since beginning school, I have had meetings with roughly ten state legislators, served as the student liaison to the Washington State Pharmacy Association, given a speech to a few hundred and been challenged in numerous other ways. One of the most valuable things I have learned from pharmacy school is that careers have cultures. The culture of pharmacy is vastly different from the culture of ballet and I have gained much by being a part of both.
Career Transition for Dancers has helped to make this transition feasible by assisting me financially and supporting me emotionally. Stopping dancing is probably the hardest thing I have ever done. Career Transition for Dancers helped me to remember where I came from and where I was going. Working with Career Transitions for Dancers I felt valued and appreciated as a dancer in a way I have not for many years. I began working with Career Transition for Dancers after I had already made up my mind to transition. I wish I had contacted them earlier; they have so much insight and support to give.
An unexpected bonus, I now love dancing again! I thought by retiring from ballet I was losing the art form forever. Instead I feel like I have gotten it back. After about a year and a half of crying after each ballet class I woke up one morning healed. I do not know how or why it happened, but I finally arrived at the place where others opinions of my dancing no longer matters to me. I do not get to dance nearly as much as I would like, but what I lack in quantity I feel I make up for in quality. Taking class is not a chore, it is a treat and I try to dance every chance I get. I have even found some small performance opportunities. This summer I had the amazing experience of spending a day in a hospital IV room mixing medications followed by an evening on stage in a tutu with Boise Dance Coop. It was probably my proudest day.

Interview with Bradon McDonald!

Bradon McDonaldWe have a celebrity in our midst.  In the 12th Season of Project Runway (Lifetime), Bradon McDonald, a former dancer-client of Career Transition For Dancers, came in 3rd place!  What an achievement.  We are all very proud of him and recently CTFD’s board member Caitlin Carter phoned him in L.A. for an interview:

C.C. – Tell me about your dance career and how it all started.

B.M. – Dancers usually start at a very young age and I was no exception.  At six years old, I started with tap, then jazz, clogging with an Irish fiddle band, and modern dance at the New York State Summer School of the Arts in Saratoga Springs, NY.  I studied under the tutelage of Carolyn Adams and Julie Adams Strandberg along with Graham, Taylor, and Limón teachers.  For a teenager from a small, northern NY rural dairy town (Lowville), this opportunity and access to high art in essentially my backyard was amazing.  So that’s how it all started.

C.C. – And after high school, where did you go?

B.M. – My teachers told me I should audition for the Juilliard School and I said, “Well, I don’t do ballet.”  They said, “We’ll figure it out” [laughs].  So, I figured it out and was accepted into Juilliard right after high school.  During my junior year at Juilliard, I also apprenticed with the José Limón Company.  I started performing with Limón full time just a few months before I graduated.  I stayed with Limón for three years then auditioned for the Mark Morris Dance Group and was with that company for ten years (2000-2010).

C.C. – When did you start to think about your post dance career, when did those seeds start to get planted?  I mean, you’re smart enough to know that a dance career can’t go on forever.  Also, how did you go in the direction of fashion design?

B.M. – In high school, I studied fine arts.  In this small town, we had an amazing program that taught painting, drawing, and sculpture from 7th grade on.  I loved it and thrived in that environment and kept it going wherever I was.  After that point, I always had some connection with fine art.

I knew I wanted to dance, that was never a question.  It was a matter of how I was going to get the fine arts in there.  I decided to just dive in head first with dance – I could always have a fine arts career after my dance career.  So that was always the plan.

So when I was touring, I would go to famous museums around the world and buy fabric without knowing what I was going to do with it.  I was just hoarding fabric.  I felt like fabric was affordable fine art and the fabrics were paintings.  So my fiancé, Josh, bought me a sewing machine.  I taught myself how to sew and started making bags because dancers carry bags and I was living in NYC and everyone in NYC carries bags.  It was a great way to use the fabric by making artful panels, whether it was embroidery, different textiles together, in a cut out or collage kind of way.  Whatever technique I was working with I could put handles on that painting, mount the bag, and somebody would buy it instead of it just hanging on the wall of a gallery for people to say, “oh, that’s lovely.”

C.C. – So you have a wonderful fine arts foundation and then you have your dance.  And the fine arts foundation segued into actual bag design.  How did that morph into fashion design?

B.M. – Even before that, Paul Taylor for example, mixed fine arts with athleticism and that’s how he connected with modern dance.  That’s what happened to me in high school.  I was doing competition dance and I had this fine art background and then I discovered modern dance and I thought, “Oh wow, dance is fine arts on stage.”  Then the bags happened.  And then I started making costumes for a burlesque show in NY – it was my first time constructing garments from scratch and I did a lot of shopping at Home Depot.

C.C. – That experience probably set you up for Project Runway.

B.M. – It really did.  Working with a shoestring budget and unconventional materials makes you really resourceful!

C.C. – I’m curious as to how you heard about CTFD and how were we able to guide you?

B.M. – I knew about CTFD from Juilliard.  They told us about it in school.  And I attended a meeting that Mark Morris Dance Group hosted at their headquarters while I was still performing there.  I always had the organization on my radar.  So when I went to FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) in L.A., I applied for a grant.

C.C. – Wonderful!  And what did that provide for you?

B.M. – Tuition.  It went directly toward tuition.  That was money that didn’t have to come out of my pocket for repaying loans or interest on loans.

C.C. – Fantastic!  Was there any moment that was challenging during the transition and how did you handle it in terms of leaving your performing career.

B.M. – It was the idea of leaving performance and dance.  It was a petrifying idea because that’s what I had done my whole life.  Still, I retired at 35 from dance.  I felt like I needed to start a second completely impractical career while I was still young and dumb enough to do it [laughs].  If I waited any longer I might get a little smarter.  So, I thought, let’s do this.  Let’s do this now.  I scheduled my last performance with MMDG and 12 hours later I started at FIDM.

C.C. – Wow, and that’s great advice for someone who is transitioning.  It doesn’t work for everybody.  For some people, that might be a little daunting to walk away from the final performance and go right to school, but dancers need to be constantly inspired and challenged.  It’s good advice for people to set those goals and plans and move forward.

Did you have an “aha” moment where you thought you were going to be okay or did you question yourself, “Am I going to make it?” “Is this the right decision?”

B.M. – When you go back to school at a later age, you work harder because you want so much out of it.  It was a very intense schedule and in my head, I was telling myself that I had to start a new career now.  I have to hit the ground running when I finish school and I have to get a job in the industry.

C.C. – What qualities as a dancer or performer helped you the most as you transitioned into a new career?

B.M. – It’s the discipline, the drive, the focus.  It is the ability to work in groups, work with other people, work on a team, work for a demanding boss like Mark Morris, which taught me so much.  It is learning how to navigate those situations to bring out what is best for the work and what is best for the audience.

C.C. – So, why did you audition for Project Runway?

B.M. – I have watched the show since the first season and I have always loved it.  Partly because it shows how much work goes into making garments and I knew that from selling all these years.  For instance, it is completely improbable for a simple white t-shirt to exist: from grilling the cotton to making the yarn to selling it to a textile mill to knitting the fabric and then that fabric gets put into another textile distributor and then a company might buy that fabric to use and a designer picks that fabric and then a store picks that fabric and then it’s shipped to that store and somebody puts in on a hanger and hangs it on a rack and then you look at it and say, “$19 for a t-shirt?  That’s crazy.”  They should be more like $10,000 a shirt for the amount of work that goes in the simple white t-shirt.  That is fascinating to me.  I don’t remember the question you just asked.

C.C. – I asked why you auditioned for Project Runway [laughs].

B.M. – Years ago people would say to me, “you should be on Project Runway, you are so great.”  And I thought, “I don’t even know how to make clothes…are you kidding me?”  So through the process of going back to school, I thought maybe Project Runway would be in my future.  I started working in the industry and I saw that Season 12 was accepting applications and I thought what the heck.  What do I have to lose?

C.C. – What are your ultimate dreams and goals for yourself in this new career?

B.M. – I would love to start a label.  I would definitely go back to bag designs which are more than a hobby now.  The dream is to have a label that has men’s, women’s, accessories, home, and fragrance…the whole thing!

C.C. – What words of advice would you give to your fellow CTFD clients as they begin their transitions from dance into the many varieties of new careers?  What would be your words of wisdom?

B.M. – I think just finding things that you love and trusting that there is going to be a job related to whatever that is.  Whether it is fine arts, or design, or anything.  Dancers dance because they love it, they have to do it.  There is no other reason to be doing it.  It was scary for me because I never thought I would find anything else that I loved as much as dance and maybe nothing else that I could be as successful at, but my confidence is slowly growing with each accomplishment.

I would also say, do it today.

C.C. – Start planting those seeds now while you are still performing.  You can start by just doing that.  Go back to school on a part-time basis.  We always say that to our clients, but to hear that from a client first-hand just helps to reinforce that.  There is nothing more powerful than hearing from someone who has gone through it.

B.M. – I love the organization and I can’t wait until I have some money to support you guys.  I don’t get paid for being on Project Runway [laughs].

C.C. – We are working on getting an alumni group together and getting our former clients to get involved and give back, so we love hearing those words from you.  Thank you!

The Breakfast of Champions

K  Bernard Oklahoma! at Jupiter 91 compressedHi.  My name is Kevin Bernard.  I came to Career Transition For Dancers because of an epiphany.  I woke one morning and, as usual, sprinkled Advil over my Wheaties and sat down to eat my bowl of cereal with my feet in a bucket of ice.  And I thought to myself, I’m not sure this is what they meant by Breakfast of Champions.

I started performing professionally when I was 11 years old in Peter and the Wolf and I have been on stage ever since.  I’ve worked with Susan Stroman, Rob Ashford, Peter Darling…those last two guys really upped the Advil sprinkles by the way.  It was great, exciting, and thrilling to be part of Broadway.  But I decided I had to stop the pain.

That’s when I called Career Transition For Dancers.  I knew people, personally, who had discovered new careers and started businesses.  Sounded great!  So, I had a few counseling sessions, took some tests, and discovered what I was supposed to be next:  an actor or a musician.  Or a physicist.  Oh!  I was in trouble.

But then Lauren Gordon, the counselor at CTFD, came to the rescue.   She helped me understand that I am made of possibilities.  Now, I don’t see a clear path to take, but I do see opportunities.

Lauren saw my destiny as a collage.  Some acting, some music, some teaching, some stage managing.  I now finally realize that I don’t need a new label.  I just need to take a deep breath and leap.

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