Alumni talk about dance, careers

November 7, 2016

In February 2016, five alumni from the Denison Department of Dance formed a career panel to give their advice for current dance majors at Denison. They shared their greatest challenges and successes in their careers and contemplated the future of dance. The panelists include:

Shannon (Lengerich) Suffoletto '99 graduated with a double major in dance and psychology. She has been a dance therapist, is a Certified Movement Analyst Consultant and has her own consulting practice in Chicago.

Emily Morgan '00 received her MFA from UNC Greensboro and has been on the faculty at University of Texas, El Paso. She is currently a faculty member in the department of dance at Winthrop University.

Ilana Silverstein '02 has been living and making work in Washington, DC since 2005. She holds an MFA from George Washington University and has been influential in creating the dance community in D.C.

Alexandra Rose '11 spent three years in Korea, developing a dance program for Chadwick International Upper and Middle schools. She works as a freelance performer and choreographer and as a teacher.

Umeshi Rajeendra '13 double majored in dance and economics. In August 2015 she opened Mesh Academy of Dance and works to promote dance education in Sri Lanka.

1. Dance is a global art form. What are some differences between dance in the U.S. and in the countries where you’ve worked?

Silverstein: While studying in India in 2001, I created ways to infuse dance into my experience there. The dancing that I was doing was mostly contact improvisation. I danced at a weekly contact improv jam in my community, and I taught a seven-week contact improv class to local Tamil teenage men. In our class, all cultural biases went out the window and we were lifting each other and rolling over each other with no trepidation. That was the best teaching experience that I have ever had.

Morgan: This is a similarity, not a difference. Yes, dance is global, but much is shared across cultures. Despite the breadth of the dance world, it’s still a small one. In 2009, I taught a dance class in Mostar, Bosnia and Herzegovina. I was surprised to watch them dancing to “Barbie Girl.” Some things are universal.

2. Tell us about a course, concept or perspective, or topic of study in dance that has served you in your dance career and beyond, and how it has had an impact?

Silverstein: Gill Wright Miller’s “Women in the Arts” class shaped my professional dance life and what I make dances about. We spent that semester writing a paper about common themes among women artists and then the next semester refining and presenting that paper at a conference. That dedicated time of digging into feminist work, performance art, and the politics of artmaking changed me. Through movement, humor, and thoughtful design, we sparked dialogue around gender inequities and inequalities. We revealed images given to women by dominant others and provided language for our viewers for discussions around gender and sexuality.

Suffoletto: The art of improvisation has been extremely impactful throughout my career. My training as a dance/movement therapist relies on the art of improvisation. Additionally, I see improvisation as a life-skill. I never stop utilizing the ability to be flexible and adaptable in the moment. It serves me well in my role as an administrator as I face the daily challenges of running a department.

Rajeendra: I believe that every subject, topic and perspective of dance that I have come across has shaped me as a whole in terms of my approach to dance.

As dancers, the challenge is to be clear about what we are doing - when we write about it, talk about it, advocate for it, and perform it.

3. What are the challenges to those who make a career in Dance?

Rose: I knew that I would likely work more than one job, that I would probably not have benefits included in my employment, and that I would need to be open to being extremely mobile (geographically) for my work. But I think most dance students know that. Most of us have already fought that battle with someone before graduation. Outside of that, I think one challenge is that there is no road map to success and there are few tangible ladder rungs to understanding when you’ve been “promoted” or when you are “successful.”

Silverstein: For a while, my answer to this question was money. Now, I realize that it is deeper than that. People are still mystified by the word “dance” and what dance is. As dancers, the challenge is to be clear about what we are doing - when we write about it, talk about it, advocate for it, and perform it.

4. What is the future of Dance?

Morgan: When I graduated in 2000, the dance world was already shifting. I cannot predict the future of dance, but I do wonder if we are moving back to some of the ideas the postmodern dancers played with in the 1960s. Many major museums now commission choreographers to create work for their gallery spaces. Site-specific dance continues to grow. More choreographers seem to be interested in dancing in smaller places for smaller audiences. Community dance also seems to be growing in popularity. Dance seems to be moving back to a grassroots moment.

Suffoletto: Dance will remain an important art form. I believe that people are becoming increasingly understanding and appreciative of the power of movement and dance.

Rose: That’s the question, isn’t it? Many artists are moving out of traditional dance centers, ie. New York, San Francisco, and creating dance communities in smaller cities or even rural communities. Additionally, particularly in the concert dance arena, non-Western dance forms are being viewed more often and given greater access to funding in the field. This expansion of availability and genre can only be a good thing.

5. What advice to you offer to our newly graduated dance majors?

Rajeendra: To have faith in the process. Whether it is the process of finding a job, working two to three jobs or working part time. All of it contributes and shapes you as a dancer as long as you are aware.

Morgan: Be open. There is rarely a direct path in this field. Seek out opportunities and ask for things. The worse thing anyone can say is no, and it’s rare that someone will hand you an opportunity..

Rose: The best advice I can give to any recent graduate is to start by just doing something…anything. Your first job is probably not going to be your dream job, or probably anything close to it. Or maybe it will be, but you may discover that it’s not what you thought it would be. Whatever it is that you start with doing for a paycheck, don’t forget whatever your biggest dream is.

Suffoletto: The skills and discipline you have learned in the Dance Department can lead you anywhere! They are truly transferrable skills. If you do not end up pursuing dance directly, and you take a different direction, try to keep dance in your life in some way.

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