…. 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 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!!!


Connecting Life Sequences

cold color julio e  rivera  photo by erik alberg

By Julio Enrique Rivera, Caroline H. Newhouse Recipient

Transitions are the soul of the dance, connecting sequences of movement that allow for flow of clear and compelling expression. Transitions must have clarity, focus, and confidence for the fluidity and effortless connections. For a dancer, it is a joyous experience that makes the dance greater than the steps alone. And so it is with any transition in life.

I learned about effortless transitions early in life. Excelling in school, I always sought enriching opportunities by way of clubs, programs, and sports. I learned that discipline is key in any commitment and that focus and perseverance lead to success. I brought these tools from academic demands to the arts of theater and dance.

My most demanding transition was leaving to the vastness of Princeton University. Attending an Ivy League institution presented the expanse of a liberal arts education with great academic focus. Advance placement allowed me access to upper level courses forging a great course to exploring new horizons. I initially diminished my participation in the arts. I discovered new sports such as squash and tennis. My body longed to move as my mind was racing. I was transitioning once again. Then the arts returned! Women were now part of the student body and modern dance classes were offered with Ze’eva Cohen. Princeton also instituted a certificate program in theater and dance, and I was one of the first to enroll.

The next year, I was enjoying graduate courses in psychology and “jete-in” about campus. My first thesis melded these two loves, and it’s success jettisoned me into expanding it for my senior thesis; the perception of expression in movement.  My field work was: more dance classes at Princeton, the Princeton Ballet Society, and a scholarship at the Ailey school. I graduated with honors in 1976, I decided to postpone my interest in the Harvard clinical program to follow the more immediate call…DANCE!!!! I returned to Ailey’s and continue to dance knowing that one day I return to my interest in helping individuals realize a better situation through some kind of support.

By 1986 I had danced with myriad companies and choreographers. Early on I decided  to focus on traveling as guest performer, master teacher and choreographer. With support from Alvin Ailey, I founded Contemporary Motions as a venue to showcase my solo, duets and trio works. Fellow choreographers donated solo works I had performed, and I created a  new repertoire of solos, duets, and trios that I would present nationally and internationally until 2006.

In 2004, cancer presented yet another opportunity for transition in life. I returned to finish my contracts, then decided to retire with an excellent record to that transition in 1976. Nine years in full remission, and full of zest, I seek to return to my love of psychology as a life coach. Lynn Goldberg, a life coach for dancers introduced me to Coaching for Wellness certification program. It was the transition I had been waiting for. I enrolled and graduated in the Associate Level certificate program. With the assistance of the CTFD Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship, I will be able to continue my certification at the Professional level which allows me to participate with the highest credentials possible and work various niches as well as mentor and teach in life coaching programs.

somewhat hopng i was dreaming 6 2  rivera  photo alberg

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.

The gift of living—and making a living through—my passion

Aaron Orlowski, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

Aaron in the Nutcracker, Photo by Greg Hughes
Aaron in the Nutcracker, Photo by Greg Hughes

Inspiration to dance struck me when I was young. At the age of five, my parents took my brothers and I to the movie White Nights. I was awe-inspired, enthralled with what Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines were doing on that bigger-than-life screen.  After the movie I told my Mom, “I want to do that. I want to dance”.  She enrolled me in ballet classes the next week.  That moment represented a spark in my life that ignited a desire, a catalyst for who I would become and who I am today. I will always be a dancer.  Ballet opened—and continues to open—numerous enriching relationships and experiences which enhance my life and skills in all areas.  From my very first class and throughout my training, my passion for dance and performing grew, nurtured and guided by great teachers.  This passion and discipline was especially instilled in me by my mentor Randy Wray.  He opened the door to the possibility that with hard work, passion and dedication led me to become a professional dancer and to the gift of living—and making a living through—my passion.

I started my career by dancing with Ballet Internationale for two years before accepting a Soloist position with Nevada Ballet Theatre.  NBT offered wonderful opportunities to progress and grow as an artist, but making ends meet often presented a challenge.  My wife and I undertook the difficult task of finding a company where we would not only both be hired but our artistic goals and needs could be met. We were fortunate to find that at Ballet West, and I danced there for seven years.  There are many skills and experiences from my career as a dancer that continue to serve me off-stage: teamwork, discipline, dedication, and attention to detail to name just a few.

Aaron Orlowski graduating from University of Utah
Aaron graduating from the University of Utah with a Bachelor’s of Social Work degree

Because the career of a dancer is all too brief, I realized early the importance of planning ahead.  I began my transition journey a few years before retiring from Ballet West in 2010.  During that time, I was honored to receive the Caroline H. Newhouse Scholarship from CTFD, which allowed me to take classes at Salt Lake Community College and complete prerequisites for the University of Utah’s Bachelor of Social Work (BSW) Program. While a full-time BSW student, I have taught ballet courses as an adjunct instructor at SLCC, worked at Starbucks, volunteered with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and interned with the International Rescue Committee. I am currently interning with Health and Human Services and still occasionally guest perform.  My transition journey has been challenging, rewarding, and worthwhile.

I graduated with my BSW in May, started on my MSW one week after graduating, and am currently in the midst of my graduate studies.  I’m in an advanced standing program with an anticipated graduation of next May!  Also, I am still teaching ballet and really value and enjoy teaching and maintaining my connection to the arts!  I am honored and grateful that CTFD continues to value my goals and greatly appreciate the support I have received in this next stage of my transitional journey.

Furthering My Education

David Strobbe, Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies Recipient

Tom Hiddleston once said that “Artists instinctively want to reflect humanity, their own and each other’s, in all its intermittent virtue and vitality, frailty and fallibility.”  This instinct to express ideas through dance with integrity has been a part of my journey as a dancer and now as an administrator.  My goal is to become a leader of an arts organization, encouraging artists to express their ideas, educate the public, and breakdown cultural barriers.

Michael Smuin's Fly Me To The Moon with music by Frank SinatraMy journey as a dancer started simply enough, dancing around the living room to music – the instinct to move that dancers have.  After four years of training, family pressure forced me to quit dancing to pursue undergraduate studies.  The desire to dance, however, was so intense that I returned to dance class after one year of college and became a professional dancer with the Hong Kong Ballet Company the following year.  In addition, I danced with Cleveland Ballet, Oregon Ballet Theatre, and Smuin Ballet performing leading roles all over the world.

After 16 years of dancing professionally, I transitioned into the artistic administration of Smuin Ballet as Ballet Master.  When I met with Founder and Director Michael Smuin to discuss my retirement, he said, “No, you are more than just a dancer here.”  He got up form his chair, hugged me, and let me walk out of the room still a part of his family – Smuin Ballet.

That was the last time I saw him.  He died in the studio two weeks later.  Becoming the Ballet Master was the hardest event in my career, but I knew that Michael was behind me all the way.  Supporting my fellow company members while still maintaining Michael’s vision was tough, but using my natural leadership skills, we were able to succeed with extraordinary reviews in New York only four months later.  It was at this point that I knew I had found my calling; to lead artists in a way that will bring out their very best and nurture them to grow as artists.

I currently work in the Rehearsal Department at the Metropolitan Opera.  Branching out into different forms of performance art has enabled me to expand my horizons while at the same time still helping to support artists to be the best they can be on of the world’s biggest stages.

At this point in my career, my desire is to further my education and obtain a Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Nonprofit Management from Baruch College.  This will provide me the additional skills needed to reach my ultimate goal:  leading an international arts organization.  I wish to help build an organization with outreach that will go beyond the border of our country; preserving the integrity of the organization’s mission while not compromising the artistic ideas and forms of expression.

My journey from dancer to administrator to leader is one of excitement, hope, instinct, and determination.  I am looking forward to the next step in my career, which will be aided by the skills that I hope to learn in Baruch’s Graduate Program with the support from the Sono Osato Scholarship Program for Graduate Studies.

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.