By Elyssa Dole, Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies award recipient
I remember the feeling of taking class at age 13. Charging across the room, the piano music surging, I would lose myself in an imaginary world thick with texture, sounds and sensation that had no words. I enrolled at the San Francisco Ballet School where I began studying Vaganova technique. At age 16, I auditioned for the Vaganova Ballet Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia and was granted a rare opportunity to experience Russian culture through ballet during the Yeltsin era and during the infancy of the Internet age. Curious about how culture and tradition meets social change through art, I moved to New York where I continued studying modern and contemporary techniques, African and Indian dance, Flamenco and the martial art of Capoeira.
After graduating Barnard College, I searched to find my place in the dance world. During my 10 years as a professional dancer, two pieces stand out as particularly significant to me. The first one, titled 2 Kilos of Sea with Deganit Shemy and Company was performed at Baryshnikov Arts Center. The work was influenced by Ms. Shemy’s childhood growing up on an Israeli kibbutz. Rehearsals were deep yet playful investigative journeys with the excellent dancers in the cast—Rebecca Warner, Denisa Musilova and Savina Theodorou. I was constantly surprised and delighted by our strange and beautiful discoveries.
Another exciting project was a theatrical production of Pierrot Lunaire with Grammy-winning chamber music group eighth blackbird. I was the only dancer in this interdisciplinary work. This piece brought movement into the chamber music form, using dance, a set and staging to convey a story within Schoenberg’s 1913 creation. I also met my husband in this production!
As I became increasingly invested in the works I was a part of, I began taking on managerial roles within projects. I organized rehearsals, sought out new performing opportunities on behalf of the group, negotiated contracts, wrote grants and created marketing and fundraising strategies. I applied to business schools with a goal to better support creative pursuits and improve the business models for the causes I cared about.
I was accepted to NYU Stern School of Business, had a brief moment of celebration and then the hard work really began. In my first year, I took statistics, accounting, microeconomics, and finance among other basic business courses. In my second year, I focused on innovation for social impact and I am an Innovation Fellow at Nike Foundation.
The MBA is making it possible to achieve my transition and I encourage other dancers to use graduate study as a way to discover, translate and develop their skills and talents. Already, in my fellowship with Nike Foundation, my degree is serving me as I am analyzing business models, imagining new ones, and making recommendations to my team based on principles I learned from my strategy courses. In the social impact space, I hope to be able to better measure and evaluate the outcomes of humanitarian and development efforts in order to help make the business case for investing in social causes.
I am not sure which has been more challenging, starting a dance career or transitioning out of it! I definitely learned so much from the arts and from other artists about the creative process, collaboration and discipline—this awareness has given me a unique way to contribute to business. I am more than happy to talk about the business degree and about NYU Stern to any prospective students. Please feel free to reach out! Ead235@stern.nyu.edu