Category: Ballet

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.

On a Different Stage


by Sisha Stowell, Caroline H. Newhouse grant recipient

Dance has been a substantial part of my life for just about as far back as I can remember. I, like so many little girls, started dancing at a local studio at a very young age with my little knobby knees in pink tights and a frilly leotard, the frillier the better. Although I loved dance class from the very beginning, my reason for being there was not the same as all the other children. After a freak accident I suffered third degree burns over 75 percent of my body. It may seem hard to believe but luck was truly on my side as there was a state of the art burn institute in my city and I was a perfect candidate for a new medical treatment still in the trial stages. This treatment is now the standard by which burn victims are treated. My initial recovery went well but when it was time for physical therapy the doctors were leery of putting me in a traditional program. As I was so young my doctors thought I would have better results by taking dance and gymnastics classes. And so it all began.

Over the subsequent 28 years, dance heeled me physically, emotionally, even spiritually at times. Dance, which was originally prescribed as physical therapy alas, became the cause of additional physical therapy. When I was thirteen years old, I had my first serious dance injury. During a performance something went terribly wrong with my leg. I had no idea what happened but I knew I was in a lot of pain. Initially, the doctors said I had pulled my hamstring. I trusted their diagnoses and followed his suggested treatment; a week of rest and then back to regular activity. A few months later, I had yet to regain the flexibility that had come so naturally, I was still in pain and had lost all rotation in my hip socket. It was time to see a specialist. The doctor I was referred to happened to be the resident doctor for the Cincinnati Ballet; therefore, he was very familiar with a dancer’s body and the demands put upon it. After a few x-rays and a quick examination he told me I had in fact not simply pulled my hamstring but rather torn it, and in the process of doing so had pulled a piece of bone off of the femur and fractured my rotator cuff. Unfortunately, my body had already healed itself however not in the optimal fashion and it was now too late to do anything further. He believed this occurred because of a growth spurt; my bones had grown faster than my muscles could keep up, and warned that it would most likely happen to the other leg within the next year. He was right, I tore my left hamstring almost a year to the date later. If nothing else, at least this time I knew what happened and could take care of it with proper therapy, or so I thought.

There are many physical therapists who know how to work with athletes. There are also many physical therapists that are knowledgeable of the demands on a person of poor to average fitness. However, in my experience, there are few physical therapists who understand what is truly required of a dancer’s body. Unfortunately, I had a therapist who fell into the former, I repeatedly heard, “Don’t worry, that’s good enough,” or “You don’t need to be able to do that,” in regards to questions about flexibility and rotation. Needless to say that was less than ideal guidance in an already extremely scary situation.

Although that experience was incredibly frustrating and did not yield the results for which I was hoping, things would soon change. After an evaluation with a ballet company, I was referred to a woman who I believe saved my dance career. She was the first person to introduce me to Pilates as a form of physical therapy. After only a few sessions my strength, flexibility and rotation improved immensely. There have been other times I have used Pilates to save and extend the life of my career. In one particular case, it seemed surgery was imminent to repair a shoulder injury I incurred on stage. With the help of a renowned sports therapist and his incredibly knowledgeable Pilates therapists, I was not only able to fully recover without any invasive measures; through continued practice, I truly enjoyed a full body overhaul. Small issues that were beginning to affect not only my performance on stage but normal everyday activities simply went away. The practice of Pilates not only saved my career once again, but improved the overall health and dexterity of my entire body, not only improving me physically but also being mentally therapeutic.

With the help of the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship, I plan to receive certification in both Classical and Clinical Pilates in the hopes that one day I can help others as I have been helped. To not only fix the problem at hand, but improve the overall health and wellness of a person physically and potentially mentally as well. The love of dance that developed at a young age was not just for the pretty costumes and the person you could become while performing but also for the mechanics. The way in which the human body works, how each muscle works to create a beautiful movement or to simply hold a position. I look forward to delving even further into these intrigues and continuing to share my passion, it may be a different stage but will hopefully be just as rewarding.


The Business of Transition

By Elyssa Dole, Sono Osato Scholarship for Graduate Studies award recipient

Elyssa DoleI 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. InElyssa Dole 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!

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


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!

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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.