Category: Broadway

…. 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.

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.”

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!

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!!!

 

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.

A CTFD Experience and Giving Back

Mikala Freitas, Caroline H. Newhouse Grant Recipient

Mikala Freitas

Without the support from  Career Transition For Dancers, I would have never found the balance between work and dance. The grant I received from CTFD allowed me to complete my Pilates certification while I was performing without any additional financial stress.

My dance career has literally taken me all over the world, performing on 6 of the 7 continents (when Antarctica needs dancers, I’m ready to go.)  Beginning in the early 1980’s, I performed on cruise ships, appeared in films, television, pre-Broadway workshops, industrials, benefits, opera, and musical theater, plus choreographing productions of Oklahoma, Hello Dolly! and Footloose.

The most important thing I learned from CTFD was that I did not have to give up dancing all at once to start a new career.  The grant I received assisted me to continue dancing while supplementing my income with a career in Wellness i.e. Pilates, Yoga, Massage and Biofeedback. Today, my supplemental income is my full-time career even though I still continue to dance and choreograph on occasion.  It also has allowed me to support other dancers by giving annual scholarships back to CTFD.

I strongly encourage other grant recipients to give back to CTFD to foster the growth and support of future dancers in transition.  It is never easy to imagine a life after dance and I would argue that CTFD showed me that I never really have to put dance behind me, by continuing to give scholarships, and watching others transition, I am still an integral part of the dance community.