…. 5, 6, 7, 8!

By Marc Kessler, CTFD dancer-client, Caroline H. Newhouse grant recipient, Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies recipient

Marc Kessler

When I was a junior in high school, I auditioned for a school production of 42nd Street and fell in love with tap dancing. I loved the rhythm, the patterns, and the paradox of feeling grounded but also light on my feet. I found myself tapping at the grocery store while shopping with my mom. I had been bitten by the bug and I couldn’t get enough. I studied tap, ballet, jazz, and modern dance as a musical theatre major at the University of Michigan but tap was always my favorite way to express myself as a dancer.

When I started learning to tap dance in high school, never could I have dreamt of the opportunities it would afford me. I toured the country tapping in Broadway musicals such as Anything Goes and 42nd Street. I toured the world tapping with Tommy Tune and the Manhattan Rhythm Kings. I have tap danced at Carnegie Hall, Radio City Music Hall, off-Broadway, and as an elf on Broadway. I have tap danced for three different presidents and sang n a feature film directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Leonardo DiCaprio.

My fellow performers often asked me why I transitioned out of a successful dancing career to teach math to middle school students. Part of the reason I turned to teaching was because I knew I would be good at it. My side jobs as a dancer/actor usually included some form of teaching and I honestly enjoyed connecting with the kids. Another reason for my shift in careers was that my wife and I knew we would be starting a family. Since my wife is a successful stage director (we met doing a show together), it made sense for me to pursue a more stable career outside of show business. And now, I am happy to say that I am loving my new roles as father of three small children and math teacher of two-hundred fifty 7th and 8th graders.

But why teach math? Why not teach dance or drama? I have always been good with numbers and my creative background has served me well bringing math to life for my students. By putting on a show in the classroom, I am able to get my students excited about factoring polynomials and graphing exponential functions.

I always suspected I would enjoy challenging my students and encouraging them to grow. What has surprised me in my new career though is the thrill I get from using technology in the classroom. Effectively using technology allows me to engage my students and assess their understanding more efficiently. I have found creative websites that allow students to work at their own pace. Recently, my students enthusiastically presented their “math in the real world” projects using video and power point technology. Who says math isn’t creative?!

And with these ideas in mind, I am pursuing a graduate degree in technology education. This particular program I am enrolled in at New Jersey City University emphasizes a theatrical approach to utilizing technology in the classroom. Their belief is that students become more engaged in the learning process when they are allowed to express their understanding in creative ways through technology. With my background in the performing arts combined with my propensity for numbers, I feel I can offer a unique and refreshing approach to the traditional math classroom. Therefore, I would like to combine my background with my discoveries in graduate school to create a program that trains math teachers to bring a theatrical and creative approach to their curriculum through the use of engaging and effective technology.

Always Learning, Always Striving

Angel Zvetanov
Photo by Angel Zvetanov

by Boyko Dossev, CTFD dancer-client, Caroline H. Newhouse grant recipient, Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies recipient

My name is Boyko Dossev and I was born in Sofia, Bulgaria. I was a little kid at the age of two, when my parents went to work in Mozambique and my brother and I had the time of our lives for eight wonderful years in this beautiful, exotic, very poor, yet full of life, African country. I was deeply influenced and impressed by its culture, dance and traditions for the rest of my life. When I turned ten, we came back to my native Bulgaria and I discovered my passion for dance. I spent every day of the following eight years learning how to turn, jump, partner and dance at The National Ballet School in Sofia. I am still learning how to do that today. Not that I haven’t learned it, but in ballet, you spend your entire life always learning, always striving for perfection.

Photo by Angel Zvetanov

I was fortunate that I was able to complete two years of schooling in one and then be able to go at age of eighteen to Paris, where I continued to learn while dancing with Le Jeune Ballet de France. After a year of hard work, many auditions and many ups and downs, destiny took me to Germany. There, I had the chance to work in some of the most beautiful Opera Houses in the world such as the Semperoper Dresden and with one of the most celebrated and famous choreographers of our time, John Neumeier. Learning was something I did there too. Lots of it! While continuing to master my craft, I was able to complete and earn my Bachelor’s degree in Ballet Art and Ballet Pedagogic and Master’s in Choreography from The National Music Academy “Prof. Pancho Vladigerov” in Sofia, Bulgaria. Before coming to the United States, I had lived and worked in Africa, Bulgaria, France and Germany. I feel lucky yes, because I feel I belong to the world.

Photo by Angel Zvetanov

At the age of twenty-five, after a tour in the United States with the Hamburg Ballet, I felt that as an artist and a dancer I needed to discover more about life and the world around me. I left the security and comfort of my job behind and began a new, exciting journey; I came to America and joined Boston Ballet.

Here in the United States thanks to some very generous individuals, Career Transition For Dancers and Boston Ballet, I have the opportunity to broaden my knowledge and skills through the Master of Science in Corporate and Organizational Communication Program at Northeastern University. I want to obtain the knowledge and skills to be able to run my own company one day; to communicate and lead with success. I am envisioning a model that would be very similar to the structure and logistics of Cirque du Soleil. My vision is to blend artistic integrity and financial success. This program is the right one for me because it will give me not only the knowledge of how to do that, but also teach me how to better communicate with people and other organizations. I will also be able to gain important and essential skills through the Social Media and Online Communities concentration. I think such skills are fundamental for any company and organization that wants to be successful.


The Juggling Act

By Amanda Clark, CTFD dancer-client and recipient of Caroline H. Newhouse and Sono Osato grant awards

© Lindsay Thomas Photography
© Lindsay Thomas Photography

My name is Amanda Clark and I am currently a dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle, Washington. My passion for dance began in a basement studio called Joyful Steps in Fairfax, Virginia.  While I participated in all kinds of extracurricular activities from swimming to girl scouts, my body and soul was happiest when dancing to music.  This passion was visible from a young age, and a local teacher who taught at the Washington School of Ballet, Shirley Bennett, encouraged my parents to enroll me in their pre-professional program.  It was agreed that I could pursue my dream of becoming a ballerina so long as I continued to achieve academic excellence.  In order to effectively juggle ballet and school, I would start my homework every night in the back of my father’s Buick century by flashlight, listening to NPR. It was in the car driving home from ballet with my father that my passion for International Studies took root.  I eagerly anticipated learning and engaging with my dad in discussion about what was going on in the world, outside my ballet and suburban bubble.

I was far behind my classmates at the Washington Ballet, but progressed quickly and after two years left to study on scholarship with the School of American Ballet in New York City at age 15.  At age 19, I joined the Pacific Northwest Ballet under the artistic direction of Peter Boal, and have been living my dream of being a professional ballerina.  With Pacific Northwest Ballet, I have danced the works of George Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, William Forsythe, Twyla Tharp, Jiri Kilyan, Alexi Ratmantsy, Crystal Pite, Val Caniparoli, among many others.  I have been fortunate enough to dance the featured classical roles such as the Bluebird pau de deux in Ronald Hynd’s The Sleeping Beauty, as well as contemporary masterpieces such as Jiri Kilyan’s Petite Mort.  However, dance has never been enough to stop my incessant curiosity about the world.   Higher education has greatly enhanced my artistic expression and motivation for my professional ballet career.  I truly believe that ballet has made me a better student, and that my education has made me a more inspired artist.

 © Lindsay Thomas Photography
© Lindsay Thomas Photography

In order to obtain my undergraduate degree, I took classes before work, after work, online, and participated in independent studies.  I received my Associates of the Arts degree from Seattle Central Community College in 2010.  In 2010, I transferred to the University of Washington as an International Studies Major.  Sadly, there was no way for me to take the necessary classes needed to graduate while dancing full-time with the Pacific Northwest Ballet.  I decided to transfer all my classes to Seattle University and utilize the classes which are brought to the ballet in the evenings through Pacific Northwest Ballet’s career transition program, Second Stage.  In 2014, after seven years of juggling work and school, and constant transferring of credits, I graduated from Seattle University with a B.A. in Interdisciplinary Arts.

However, I didn’t feel that my degree in Interdisciplinary Arts had provided me with the necessary skills and knowledge in order to transfer into a second career in the field of International Relations.  Therefore, this fall I began a Master’s Program through Northeastern University College of Professional Studies.  In March 2016, I will complete my M.S. in Global Studies and International Relations with a concentration in Conflict Resolution. This summer the Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies is supporting my studies in global inequality and research methods.   This degree will afford me the opportunity to transfer into International Relations once I retire from dancing professionally.

I am extremely grateful for the Newhouse scholarship, the Sono Osato Scholarship, and Career Transition For Dancers for encouraging dancers to invest in their education. My identity as a dancer is inexorably tied with my identity as a student, and I hope to bring elements and lessons learned from both identities into my second career in International Relations.   Thank you for CTFD for dancers helping to fund dancers futures in diverse career paths.

Recover and Continue

by Evelyn Rice Wells, CTFD dancer-client and Caroline H. Newhouse award recipient

Evelyn Rice WellsDuring the time when I was training in dance, shows such as So You Think You Can Dance and America’s Best Dance Crew had not yet hit the screens. Dancers were not considered mainstream performing artists, unless they starred in a movie. The choreographers were just another name in the credits, and the fusion of Lyrical and Hip Hop was the anomaly. Throughout high school and in college, I danced because it was what I was good at and what I knew best. I choreographed because of how I felt naturally, when I heard the music. I wrote it all down because I wanted some day to share this knowledge in some form, through books, videos and pictures. All the while, I kept training, performing, choreographing, teaching, and documenting, but who knew it would be shaping me to be the woman I am today. I was building my portfolio, one project at a time, getting the exposure, experience, and knowledge I needed for my future endeavors. I was just a young lady who just liked moving to music. Now, I am a more mature woman who is finally learning the moves necessary to create a masterpiece.

I applied for and received the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship in order to move forward professionally by pursuing a Masters in Science degree for Entertainment Business. My overall career goal is to become a Creative/Artistic Director and Producer for a major production house. I strongly believe that this degree will further enhance my knowledge and experience in the industry of media and entertainment.

The field of entertainment is a competitive one, but I am up for the challenge. I know the work ethic it takes and the professionalism that is demanded, as I am living it every day. Having a Masters degree in Entertainment Business will put me in a better position to accredit the hard-working and duly trained dancers, which sometimes get overlooked because of the fame and trends of today’s mainstream television. I am in the process of finding my niche within the world of dance and film, and I am eager to be one of the many that can re-establish the proper standards for performing artists.

I’ve always loved dance in film, and I’ve always wanted to be part of the creation of classics, such as The Wiz, West Side Story, Singing in the Rain, and Mary Poppins, to name a few. The process has always fascinated me, and I especially enjoyed learning about the behind-the-scenes work. Earlier in my dance career, I started with the Chicago Honey Bears and the UIC Dancing Flames, and I would also teach at a local studio, YMCA, or school nearby. Along the way, I was fortunate to have met the right people, and I was a quick-learner, but more importantly I was focused. From there, I went on to venture both on-scene and behind-the-scenes of some of great performers, including Jennifer Holiday, Janet Jackson, and Oprah. I was getting opportunities that I could only dream about, performing at venues nationwide, getting invitations to private celebrity auditions, casting in a music video, featuring in magazines, and even going on tour.

On top of that, I never took for granted the responsibility we have as professionals in the field. Learning how to quickly adapt to different situations helped strengthen my skill set, which could only be taught through experience. Always smile. Presentation is everything. Make eye contact. Be ready and able to step up and fill-in. It was a fast- growing industry, even before social networking, and I had to be a performer, choreographer, instructor, and music editor for the total package. If only someone could have told me and showed me the right pathway when I was younger, then I could have arrived here sooner. Even so, I have no regrets. I’ve had many successes, and I’ve had many failures. The mistakes are what made me stronger. I’ve learned that it’s not about the failure, but it’s what you do after that ultimate moment. It’s about the recovery, and even when I educate at both pre-professional and professional levels, I am reminding them of this: It’s not about the mistake you make on that stage, but instead it is about what you commit to doing right after that moment. Recover and continue to tell your story.  With that, I strongly believe it is my duty to keep growing and learning in different platforms, and practicing what I preach, which is what Full Sail University is providing for me. One of my goals, alongside being a Creative Director/Producer is to have a well-established company that can educate and train artists, in etiquette and industry standards (both in front of the camera and behind the camera), and then have this company feed into the major production house projects.Evelyn Rice Wells

In 2002, I remember when I interned for WGN-TV, during the initial interview, Charlie Schumacher, news director, asked me what I could bring to the table that was different [while I attended UIC, I was developing my writing skills in media and entertainment, and seemingly I was also shaping my communication skills and business plans]. I looked at him, and at the same moment I was figuring out what script to use for my answer. I knew that one day somehow, dance, media, editing, and entertainment could be fused together and would create something amazing. 
He believed in my response, and wanted to see what I could do. Honestly, although I’ve accomplished quite a bit, I know that I still have so much more to attain, and I am determined to do so. I am looking forward to graduating with an MS degree at the end of the term next year.

I feel blessed to have had all my experiences that I have had to this day. I am appreciative and grateful for the many people I know and have worked with, as well as shared and learned from them. My goal is to share the knowledge and help both professionals and aspiring professionals learn and get hands-on experience, and opportunity to strengthen and use their crafts. From music-editing, working behind-the-scenes, choreographing, and entertaining on-stage, I consider myself a true performing artist. In this industry, people really have to wear several hats and be experienced in multimedia as well.

We are bombarded everyday with an overabundance of reality shows, contests and media frenzies, and many doors of opportunities are actually being opened for our performing artists. I want to smooth out the pathway and act as a vessel, showing the young aspiring artists how to go through these doors with the proper tools, professionally.

Alleviating Fear

By Rebecca V. Lockwood, CTFD Dancer-Client, Caroline H. Newhouse Grant Recipient

I donned my first pair of balletRebecca Lockwood ballet slippers at the age of four.  Ballet was the focus of my life until I suffered an ankle injury at 18. The dance world (at least as I knew it) was over, so I quit dancing completely and attended the University of Michigan.  Upon college graduation, however, I decided that I still wanted to perform.  While I could no longer do ballet, I finally realized that I could still perform other types of dance.  Remembering my recent trip to Las Vegas and how captivated I was by the beauty and glamour of the production shows, I decided to audition in Las Vegas.  I was lucky enough to get offered a job in the world-renown revue show, Jubilee!.

After seven years of performing in Jubilee!, I was ready to return to academia and start a family.  Due to my undergraduate background in biological sciences, I was hired as a part-time instructor for the School of Life Sciences to Rebecca Lockwood showgirlteach the Human Anatomy & Physiology laboratories.  Content with my job while raising two small boys, I actually never even entertained thoughts of returning to school to begin a new career.  And then my father lost his leg.

My father’s amputation began a long series of hospitalizations, and I consistently saw him afraid, especially during the more severe visits.  I became increasingly frustrated that there was nothing I could do to lessen his anxiety.  And then I made an interesting observation: both of my parents appeared more relaxed and less fearful after visits with one of the physician assistants, rather than with the cardiologist or internist himself.  On the occasions when I visited the hospital, I witnessed the special, personal bond my parents had developed with both the cardiologist’s and the internist’s physician assistants—a bond that did not develop with either of the physicians.  I saw how both PA’s were able to alleviate my parents’ fear, not only through their medical knowledge, but also with their relaxed and comforting bedside manner.

Rebecca Lockwood teaching

As the generation of baby boomers continues to age, the need for quality care in many areas of medicine will increase.  Older patients, frightened by unfamiliar surroundings (and often nervous or intimidated by doctors) deserve more than just medical expertise.  I am currently attending school to become a physician assistant so that I can provide exceptional care, comfort and knowledge to these patients.

I am grateful to have received the CTFD Newhouse grant, as it will help alleviate some of the monetary stress that accompanies attending school full time while raising a family.

Five-Letter Word

By Erica Minnich, CTFD Dancer-Client, Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship Recipient

erica minnich

Dance.  A five-letter word that seems so small but means so much to the person whose life it consumes.  I cannot remember a day in my life that did not involve dance.  From the moment it decided to show that ordinary little girls can become princesses with ethereal movements accompanied by enchanting soundtracks to my present day life; it is all I have known, built my life around, focused my energy toward, and obsessed my thoughts on.  As I journeyed down the long road of a dancer’s career: the bumps, corners, and ever-changing paths, I realized I needed to find a peaceful outlet outside of that all-encompassing five-letter word.  About seven years ago, I found yoga.  It became my happy place.  With the help of the CTFD Newhouse grant, I am on my way to becoming a certified yoga instructor.  My end goal is to become a power yoga instructor, eventually owning my own yoga and dance studio.

erica minnich2I know as a dancer that our careers are limited by our age. The contract I currently hold is one playing a sixteen-year-old dancer.  As I turn thirty-one this April, I acknowledge that I need to find a more stable form of income as my husband and I try to start a family of our own, and I know that I cannot look young forever, no matter how hard we all try.  I have loved my dance career with all my heart, but the time has come for me to move forward.  My first thoughts of having to give up something that I was so passionate about were heart wrenching, despite the aches and pains of an aging dancer’s body.  As the past two years progressed, I began to practice yoga more intensely and I began teaching dance classes again at a local studio.  The passion I found upon the island of my pink yoga mat inspired me to not only become a more aware individual, but it also gave me the courage to begin to explore what else my life and future career choices had to offer.  By using the CTFD grant to get my yoga certification, I hope to give others through my teaching the peace, happiness, and inspiration I found on my yoga mat.  Even as I teach dance, I would like to incorporate the correct alignment that I will learn through the yoga certification as well as the meditation techniques to strengthen those young dancers.  This business is a tough business that takes resilience and stamina, physically and mentally.  I hope to use yoga to teach fellow dancers, as well as non-dancers, how to handle those demands with compassion, awareness, and the inner strength found by practicing regularly.  Like dance, it is a discipline.  It is what I fell in love with and it has helped not just to heal my body, but also my soul from this tough business.

erica minnich3Yoga helped me become alive again.. It helped me get over a severe case of plantar fasciitis; a case so bad I almost had to quit dancing.  It helped me stay positive through stressful situations of contract negotiations and auditions.  It helped me take a moment, stop, breath, and realize what is important despite not knowing if you were to have a job after being injured. I plan on furthering my education by adding on the power yoga certification as well as continuing my education toward the 500-hour yoga alliance course.  Knowing that my end goal is to own my own studio, I would like to get as much education as possible.  After getting my certification, I will be able to teach yoga and continue making my dream come true while helping provide an income.  And with that I can only end with two words.  Humble.  Grateful.

The Balancing Act

By Phillip Spaeth, CTFD dancer-client and Newhouse grant recipient

Ever since Phillip SpaethI was a little kid, I wanted to perform. At holiday functions, I would rally my cousins in the basement and throw together fully realized theatrical productions for the entire family. Each night, I’d stare up at the glow-in-the-dark stars stuck on my ceiling and dream of my future-life in Manhattan; as a Broadway star, the next Patrick Swayze, or Bob Fosse.

Straight from school, I ran to dance class or rehearsals at the local theater where I met other kids who accepted me and shared my passion. Performing was all I thought about and all I wanted to do. At fourteen, I landed my first big, professional opportunity to perform. I waved goodbye to my family and went on tour for a year. I did eight shows per week, bussed from city to city, and was tutored during the day. I got to follow my dreams, earn a living, and receive an education.

As I neared high school graduation, I was torn between pursuing my career or pursuing my education. I had always claimed to be the guy who didn’t believe in “back-up” plans; but since I was a good student, something told me to apply to college. Sure enough, I was accepted into an honors program at the first school to which I applied, and I started to get excited.

One week after high school graduation, I packed a bag and moved to Manhattan for the summer to hit some auditions. A month and a half later, I was cast in my first Broadway show, and I decided to put school on hold. The college allowed me to defer enrollment for a year and encouraged me to seize the opportunity. However, that year flew by, as I continued chasing my dreams and riding the wave. A decade later, I’m still riding the same wave and feel lucky to have been consistently working. However, I have to admit that each time I was sidelined by an injury, I would think back to that “back-up” plan I thought I’d never need.

So, last year I decided it was time to retrace my steps a bit and finally go to college. I’ve just completed my second semester at Hunter College, while continuing to perform on Broadway in Matilda; maintaining a schedule much like the one I had as a teenager.

I am now an adult, with a mortgage and a big life, and while I still love performing, I have new dreams and so many things I want to learn and explore. My plan is to pursue an education in mental health that will allow me to be of service to artists and creative people. I am very interested in the ways in which Buddhism and mindfulness can be integrated into contemporary perspectives of therapy.

This scholarship from Career Transition For Dancers is of great help to me as balancing life, a performing career, and school can be difficult. As tough as it sometimes is, I am determined to continue this one-man pas de trios— for as long as my body will allow. I am grateful that CTFD exists to support dancers who find themselves at this often-confusing fork in the road. As Alan Watts once said, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”