By Laura E. Taylor, Sono Osato Scholarship Recipient
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.
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.
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!