MFA Monday: Gabrielle Aufiero and Megan Yankee

Framers, hello!  I woke up with a case of the Mondays, and the mid-summer blues.  But reading this interview of Gabrielle Aufiero by Megan Yankee (who we’ve been blessed to learn from these past few weeks) has pulled me out of my funk.  Megan and Gabrielle met and graduated together from Texas Women’s University MFA program and Gabrielle is now is part of Teach for America.  There is a LOT of great information here, so please enjoy.  –Lydia

MFA right

Megan: How are you using the knowledge and experiences you gained in grad school now?

 Gabrielle: Graduate school taught me many things:

  1. Never allow someone’s help to go uncompensated
  2. Thank you notes are personal and professional
  3. There’s something special about being gritty

1) Giving Back

There were many times in graduate school that I depended on my colleagues for guidance and support. When they chose to take time and energy away from their busy lives to focus on my needs, a simple “thank you” wasn’t sufficient repayment. I learned that people don’t just do nice things for others (and even if they do, don’t they deserve to be rewarded for their genuineness?) In graduate school, I could demonstrate my appreciation with a Starbucks gift card, paper editing, or the appropriate amount of gas money. In the “real world,” gift cards are still valued, gas money is still necessary, and occasionally, something needs editing.

Ultimately, the deal is “if you ask for something of others, you ought to be able to offer them something in return.” All in all, it’ll feel nice to give back. Trust me.


2) Thank You Notes

Do NOT underestimate the value of a well-written thank you note/letter.

During my last year of graduate school, I auditioned for a guest artist position with a Dallas area dance company. Quite a few dancers were selected to guest with the company including myself. This amazing opportunity allowed me to perform in two shows and regularly rehearse with the dancers for over a five-month period. When my time with the group was coming to a close, I wrote my choreographers and the company’s director individualized notes of gratitude. They were professional, but personal. I thanked the company for the experience, and I wrote specifically about the knowledge I gained from the rehearsals and performances. Ultimately, about a month after ending my run with the company, I received an invitation to join them as an official member. When I was invited back, the director commented on how much she appreciated my professionalism both in and beyond the studio.

Similarly, after interviewing for an ideal teaching position, I wrote three individualized thank you notes to the members of the school who had conducted my interview. Being able to personally thank them while expressing my excitement and passion for the position was key. I felt relief after sending the notes. I knew it was just another opportunity for them to be reminded of who I was and how much I cared about the mission of their school. Once again, I was hired.gabrielle_3421 2

Although I’m not guaranteeing that a thank you note will land you a job or make you a particular company’s member, I don’t think it hurts your chances.

Thank you notes help to show your passion, gratitude, and drive.

Oh! And BONUS POINTS if you combine a thank you note with an act of “giving back” (see number one for more information).


3) Become Gritty

I never wanted to be a gritty person. In all honesty it sounded kind of grimy and gross. Who wanted to be associated with that connotation? But what I’ve come to learn is that grit is utterly necessary to survive—both in graduate school and beyond it.

Megan Yankee once wrote, “If graduate school is near the top of your list of difficult life experiences, wait until you try to continue making or teaching dance after you graduate without the aid of academia.” She couldn’t be more right. In addition to that sentiment, I’d like to add, “wait until you try to continue dancing without the aid of academia.” You will miss those technique classes, improv jams, rehearsals, and one-on-one training sessions with colleagues. It may seem overwhelming now—especially coupled with your theory classes—but be gritty. It’s worth it. You may not have the opportunity to dance as much in your life directly following graduate school. I definitely don’t.


Using Grit in My Employment After Graduate School

After graduate school, I chose to pursue a career path that wasn’t directly related to dance. I joined Teach For America (TFA) and became a fourth grade reading, writing, and social studies teacher in Dallas, Texas. Although I imagined a future where I could be a certified dance teacher in Texas, I chose to spend two years giving back in field of work that has literally shaped who I am as a person and professional (I mean, I had been in school for 24 STRAIGHT years, and I was only 25 years old.).

When I joined TFA, I signed up for an experience that was all about learning by doing. At that point in my life, I thought I had learning by doing down pat! I mean that’s what dancers do. We go into the studio, and we move. We learn our bodies, movements, qualities, and phrases by practicing over and over and over again. Although TFA offers intensive training and requires that you obtain your probationary certificate before stepping into a classroom, you really learn how to teach through practicing with your own classroom full of students.

There’s no doubt about it—whether in the studio or beyond—learning by doing takes grit. When I made mistakes through TFA, they had repercussions. I had to fix them, and I had to fix them immediately. My students’ futures were on the line. There were a lot of very challenging days and weeks. There were many times when I thought to myself “I can’t do this. Why am I doing this? Why would anyone let me do this?” But it was my life. I was doing it, and it was my responsibility. Walking away wasn’t an option; my kids needed me, even if I made mistakes. So I held my ground. I worked hard. I pushed through, and I made sure my kids knew how much I believed in them and their potential.

Ultimately, I made a choice to put dance on the backburner after graduate school. It was a tough decision. During my roughest times as an elementary school teacher I would cry about how much it hurt to see my greatest passion “vanished” from my life. I mean, I had gone from dancing every day to dancing once a week at best. Sometimes I hated myself for making that decision. I had known what I loved, but I let it go to do something that was hard, frustrating, and at times, unforgiving.

Today, looking back on the roughest times, I’m reminded that the grit I developed in graduate school is what really pulled me through.

I’m passionate about dance. I’m also passionate about teaching. Even with all the rough times, I had so many gratifying days as a teacher I don’t think I could make a bigger difference doing anything else. I love my kids, every one of them! They taught me so much about drive, motivation, perseverance, and myself.

One day, I’d like to combine teaching with dance. For now, I’m still giving back and working on finding a better balance between dancing and teaching in my daily life.


M: Do you have a regular movement practice (even if it’s atypical)?

Gabrielle_3454 2G: Yes!

I’ve been learning—slowly—how to run, and I hate running. It’s a grueling form of exercise. Every time I do it, I feel like I’m beating my bones into the ground, and I tire out so quickly that it makes me feel inadequate. But, it’s high-intensity, time-efficient, and perhaps most importantly, FREE.

To supplement my practice of hatred (because doing something you hate all the time is sure to send your running body right over the edge of a cliff), I use exercise DVDs—and Netflix, YouTube, and Pinterest links. I’ve done upper fixes, lower fixes, abdominal work, and basically whatever I can to get myself up, moving, and feeling motivated.

I do sun salutations in my living room.

I’ve done barre work on my apartment’s balcony (highly recommended).

Oh! And I’ve been known to dance in the elevator at school. It’s surprising how such a tiny box can inspire such large, extended movement—just don’t jump in it… yeah, that wasn’t such a good idea.

Also, I have company rehearsals a few hours each week. And I teach dance classes.


M: What was your focus in grad school?

G: I originally applied to graduate school because I dreamed of teaching dance in higher education, ideally at my undergraduate university. However, this dream quickly shifted when I began researching adjunct employment opportunities throughout our nation. When I learned about the struggles facing adjunct professors—in terms of salary, benefits, and job security—I knew that becoming an adjunct would not be a feasible option for me at this point in my life. I needed a job that was stable. I needed a guaranteed income so that I could maintain my lifestyle (and pay down student loan debt).

I wanted benefits because my health is something I value.

So imagining a life in which I would earn less than I did as a graduate teaching assistant, not be given benefits, and never know if my classes were even going to fill, made me queasy.


I began researching new employment opportunities, and I started to become interested in K-12 education. I had always worked with children since I was ten (babysitting, nanny-ing, teaching classes at camps, studios, community centers, etc.). I was even teaching children and teenagers dance through a community dance program offered by my graduate dance department. Ultimately, I learned that even with my M.F.A. degree, I would need to receive a teaching certification in the state of Texas in order to teach dance in public schools. This led me to research certification options. Then, I found and bookmarked the website for Teach For America (TFA).


M: What was the job search and application process like for your current position?

G: I am currently a Teach For America (TFA) corps member. When I decided to apply to TFA, I knew a lot about their application process (I had been researching the organization for over a year. I had also been researching other job opportunities since the summer before graduation!). Here are the steps I went through before I was extended an offer to join:


  1. Since TFA offers multiple application deadlines, I could have applied as early as August, 2012. However, I decided to apply for their final 2013 corps deadline, which was in February, 2013.
  2. By a specified date in February, I submitted an online application, resume, and letter of intent through the TFA website.
  3. Approximately two weeks later, I was told that my application had bypassed the phone interview, and I was immediately invited to a final, in-person interview.
  4. After receiving this invitation, I completed a required two-part online activity (This took me approximately two hours.).
  5. By a specified date in March, I sent TFA contact information for two recommenders and a reference person. The recommenders were required to complete an online recommendation form by a certain date. The reference person was only contacted if necessary. All of my recommenders were my graduate professors.
  6. By the end of March, I needed to register for an interview location and date.
  7. In the week leading up to my final interview, I completed a required pre-reading activity and prepared a five-minute lesson to perform (I taught pliés!). I arranged to have my undergraduate and graduate transcripts delivered to TFA. I ensured that TFA had my eligibility documents (You must be a citizen or have permanent resident status to apply.). I also submitted a preference form indicating my preferred teaching regions, grade-levels, and subject areas.
  8. At the beginning of April, I attended my interview! It began early in the morning, and I remember that I completed the interview with enough time to drive back to school and take my favorite technique class. Ha!
  9. Approximately two weeks later, I received my offer! I had two weeks to accept the offer. I accepted within a week.
  10. In May, TFA set up an interview for me with my current placement school. I immediately knew that this school was going to be the perfect fit for me! I was extremely happy when I heard they were hiring me as a fourth grade reading, writing, and social studies teacher.


M: Is there a project you’re itching to get started on?

G: I’ve already started this project, but because it’s still in the initial stages, I’m putting it here! I am currently in the beginning stages of developing an afterschool dance program for my school in Dallas, TX. It’s been a whirlwind of a process! I have done a lot of online research, and most recently I’ve been meeting with some of the colleagues I met in graduate school to discuss the dance programs they’ve been creating, restructuring, directing, and teaching. All of their guidance and support has truly helped me to visualize the potential of my new program. It makes me bubble with excitement just thinking about it! I definitely look forward to working out the details and putting it into action this fall.


PS: If you’ve been helping me with this newest venture, you can anticipate receiving a thank you note and a little something extra.


M: How much are you dancing now in comparison to when you were in school? Reflect.

G: When I was in school, I was dancing everyday. Seriously. There was rarely a Sunday or Saturday when I didn’t dance. It was amazing.

Today, I find myself dancing more because I’m on summer break, but during the school year I was dancing about once a week. It was a rough transition. My personal goal for next year is to ensure that I find a better balance between dancing and teaching.

 Gabrielle Aufiero received her Master of Fine Arts in Dance from Texas Woman’s University. She is an emerging dance maker, elementary school educator (Teach For America 2013 corps member), performer, and dreamer of things to come. Currently, Gabrielle dances with Simple Sparrow and co-teaches summer camps at Webb School of Dance in Coppell, Texas. She eagerly looks forward to teaching Kindergarten in the fall and directing/teaching an afterschool dance program for her district.

Megan Yankee (interviewer, writer, curator on MFA Monday) is an indie dance artist that seeks opportunities to make and present dances in alternative spaces in order to expand the reach of concert dance. She is committed to Amy Querin, Dance Artistwww.amyquerin.compresenting work and curating concerts in houses, busy street corners, warehouses, dance for film, online and in visual art galleries. She has performed and presented work nationally and internationally at the Nomad Express Multi Arts Festival in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso produced by Olivier, the Sonic Arts Research Center in Belfast, Northern Ireland, American Dance Festival, American College Dance Festival, Texas Dance Improvisation Festival, Movement Intensive in Composition and Improvisation in Lancaster, PA, Emerge and Exchange Dance Festivals in Tulsa, OK, {254} Festival in Waco, Texas, Out of Loop Festival in Addison, TX, and the Rogue Festival in Fresno, CA. She has had the honor of performing in works by Christie Nelson, Amie LeGendre, Larry Keigwin, Michael Foley, Jordan Fuchs, Sandy Mathern-Smith and Sarah Gamblin.

Megan holds (and runs with) an MFA in Dance from Texas Woman’s University and currently lives in Columbus, OH with her partner, John Osburn and their two dogs, Weecho and Lucy.


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