Tag: Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies

…. 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.

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! Ead235@stern.nyu.edu

Round Three

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.

Dance, Neuroscience, and Healing

Zina Mercil, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

My mom likes to tell the story of Zina Mercilhow I wanted to dance before I could even walk, hoisting myself up on the bars of my crib to sway to the music.  I took my first ballet class when I was 5 and from then on worked diligently to master the technique. Ultimately, when I graduated with my BA with Distinction in Neuroscience cum laude from Colorado College in 2003, I felt like I had two distinctly different paths; I chose dance.

I went on to dance professionally, doing several regional theater contracts like Cabaret, Chicago, CATS, and The Producers.  I also spent two years as assistant line captain and principle understudy in Don Arden’s Jubilee!  I felt so blessed to be dancing and making a living!

Four years ago, I moved back to Colorado because I felt a significant shift had begun.  I was not ready to let go of dancing, nor did I know what I wanted to step into.  This is when I first visited Naropa University.

In January of 2011 I began feeling ill.  After months of extensive labs, testing, and surgery, I was diagnosed with a very rare and chronic liver disease called Autoimmune Hepatitis and Cirrhosis.  I spent much of that year in bed, too exhausted to walk.

After having had no physical activity for so long, I started taking a yoga class for cancer survivors. I live in gratitude to dancing and this illness for being my greatest teachers. I want to share this knowledge of being present with our bodies, and the innate wisdom and intelligence that lie within when we listen.

All the experiences in my life are being integrated at Naropa University, where I am exploring the interface of dance and holistic healing.  I am finishing my first year of a  three-year MA program in Somatic Counseling Psychology with a dual emphasis in Dance and Movement Therapy, and Body Psychotherapy.  My plan is to complete my MA and continue onto PhD work in Clinical Health Psychology.

I feel blessed to be at Naropa, training to be a therapist, and combining my love of dance, neuroscience, and healing.  I am honored to receive the Sono Osato Scholarship so that I can continue to take my passion and training in dance and transition into a new career to serve others.

Healing on Many Levels

Elana Altman, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

I found ballet at the age of two. My mother taught ceramics classes at the JCC, and the ballet studio down the hall was the perfect solution for her to satisfy her toddler’s endless energy. Since then, there wasn’t a moment when dance wasn’t part of my life.

Elana in Firebird, photo by Eric Tomasson
Elana in Firebird, photo by Eric Tomasson

With my love of discipline and structure, ballet classes at a neighborhood studio were not enough. At age nine, I joined the San Francisco Ballet School, and ballet became the most significant part of my extra-curricular activities, winning my devotion and skill over gymnastics, running club, and piano. I had found my true love. The hard work paid off when I was offered an apprenticeship with San Francisco Ballet, and soon after a Corps contract and a promotion to Soloist. So many times I would walk the halls of San Francisco Ballet remembering growing up there; the majority of the experiences that shaped who I am today happened within those walls. It kept me thankful; it kept me humble; it kept me tethered to the dreams of that scrawny, frizzy-haired pupil who still lived inside me.

To the best of my abilities and circumstances, I fulfilled those goals. I joyfully devoured each and every role that came my way. As the opportunities kept arising, I often had to pinch myself; in no way have I taken my fairytale for granted. I knew it would eventually have to end. As I approached my late 20s, the thoughts of “what’s next?” started eating away at me. And that’s also when the pain really began.

Elana as Myrtha in Giselle, photo by Eric Tomasson
Elana as Myrtha in Giselle, photo by Eric Tomasson

Injury. Every dancer’s battle. I won the war for as long as I could, never once missing a performance in all of my 12 professional years until I couldn’t fight any longer. This past August, I got the definitive MRI result: my hips were done with ballet. As long as I kept dancing, I was creating significant damage to those precious joints. The decision became clear to me, and I was actually relieved I did not have to choose to stop dancing; the choice was made for me. I would have never been able to simply walk away from ballet.

The past months I have been healing on many levels. In July, I graduated with my Bachelor’s degree, and I was determined to find a food studies graduate program to transition into my next passion. Good food and nutrition have been important parts of my life, and the more I read about the US Food System, the more I wanted to get involved to improve it. When I discovered the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Bra, Italy, the birthplace of the Slow Food Movement, it all clicked. Just as I once breathed ballet, I now breathe good, fair food. I want everyone to have access to food that is grown with sustainable practices and love, improving health and environmental consciousness.

Last month I applied to this University and was accepted, so now I’m picking up and moving to Italy for a year to immerse myself in the Slow Food manifesto. I’ll earn a Master’s in Food Culture and Communications and bring back time-tested wisdom and skill in order to make a difference here. Like dance, food is artistically stimulating to me, providing nourishment and a forum  of self-expression. This Master’s program will give me the tools to move forward with this next chapter of my life and find fulfillment and happiness in a new career, just as ballet has served my previous chapter.