Where’s the Easy Button?

MFA Mondays
photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Shortly after the big event in November 2013, I began telling inquirers that I would be taking a personal time out to rejuvenate personally and creatively. Much to my surprise, this idea did not go over well with others. I was met with resistance and warnings. New phrases began racing toward me such as ‘you can’t stop now,’ ‘don’t lose momentum,’ and my favorite ‘it will be so much harder to start again.’

Knowing that my pattern of plowing through from one project or idea to the next was no longer an option, I had to begin again. Most importantly, I had to become okay with the idea that what came before was not WRONG and what comes next may not be RIGHT. The duh! stick had knocked me all the way back to my graduate school AHA moments. However, this time the focus was not on a composition class or a movement study, but rather on me as a person and an artist.

Lets take a moment to review my graduate school AHA moments.

  1. What is your intention? How do you make that as clear as possible? 
  1. There are no right or wrong answers; only clearer choices.  


In retrospect, I can clearly see a subconscious three-step process that began with re-flecting. When all the lights, costumes, and applause get stripped away and the audience goes home, what is the artist left with? Often times after an event would close, I was left with a great sense of dissatisfaction. (That is a whole other blog) This particular performance left me questioning what it was all for in the first place.

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Why do I enjoy creating thought provoking, emotionally stirring works by sharing my life experiences with a bunch of strangers? The short answer… we are all connected to a much larger community and I want to make that connection clear and relevant. However, I was constantly ‘sharing’ yet not really taking the time to understand if it was valid or effective. Was I really making the connection I desired? And the biggest question of all, does the audience even want what I am offering?

Step two… re-evaluate! After understanding the Why, I began to ask the How. How do I make it clear that I want a connection between myself, the art, and the audience? I do not feel this understanding comes from the work itself, but rather the relationships that we create with our audience. This happens before the concert, during the concert, after the concert and through additional programs that engage and invite our audience into the process itself.

 I must let you in on a little secret. I am making this sound so easy by giving you a synopsis of the process. Steps One and Two have taken a total of eighteen months and to be honest, I am still re-flecting and re-evaluating as I move forward into step Three… re-launch.

Was there a time in your life that you had to stop and take inventory? What was your journey to re-launch like?



MFA rightAmy Elizabeth, named one of Houston’s 100 Creatives and Top 10 Choreographer in 2013, is currently an adjunct dance professor and artistic director for Aimed Dance since receiving her M.F.A from Sam Houston State University. Her work has been presented at DanceHouston, Dance Gallery Festival Texas, Houston Fringe Fest and venues throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona. Additionally, she has had the privilege of setting works at Lone Star College, Rice University, Lamar High School and will be working with San Jacinto College Dance Ensemble this fall. Stay in touch at www.amyelizabethdance.com.

You have got to be kidding me!

MFA Mondays

MFA right

One of the most beautiful aspects of graduate school is being thrust into an environment with an endless supply of encouragement. I have a relentless passion for telling stories in what I consider to be a less conventional method. The unspoken language that we all subconsciously use to communicate fascinates me. The choreographic process allows me to take such a subtle form and exaggerate it into a living work of art.

The encouragement to explore was something that I did not take lightly. I set personal and professional goals to create at least one new work each semester. With ample amounts of rehearsal time and space at my disposal, I could not help but take advantage of my situation and found myself creating up to five new works in a single semester. I was producing work on and off campus allowing me to show my work as much as possible to many different audiences.

Each time a new work was completed and presented, I was met with the same question, “what is next?” The consistency of this question created a pattern. I would jump from one project to the next with little time to re-flect, re-evaluate, and then re-launch with a fresh mindset and perspective.

During the processes I would go back to my AHAs and frequently ask myself questions regarding the intention, the clarity of that intention, and how I could make clearer choices. However, once a work was presented there was no time to stop. Curtain up, curtain down, on to the next. I had become that single-minded student, but instead of being focused on that single grade at the end of the semester, I was focused on the next.

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Three years into my post-graduate career, I was still surfing that pattern. I had created enough momentum, in my opinion, to produce a full evening concert of my newest works. I can say that we sold out the venue. I can say that we received what I would consider a nice review. I can say that other persons raved of our success. I can also say that the duh! stick nailed me right in between the eyes.

As the curtain closed, before I could take a breath of resolution, the words roared in my ears, “what is next?” You have got to be kidding me! That night, after all the patrons had gone home, I stepped into the midnight air and without warning I stepped out of my pattern. AHA!! I knew I could not continue along this path in this way.

What are your processes like? Do you feel rushed or pressured to keep moving or producing even when you may not be truly ready?

Amy Elizabeth, named one of Houston’s 100 Creatives and Top 10 Choreographer in 2013, is currently an adjunct dance professor and artistic director for Aimed Dance since receiving her M.F.A from Sam Houston State University. Her work has been presented at DanceHouston, Dance Gallery Festival Texas, Houston Fringe Fest and venues throughout Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona. Additionally, she has had the privilege of setting works at Lone Star College, Rice University, Lamar High School and will be working with San Jacinto College Dance Ensemble this fall. Stay in touch at www.amyelizabethdance.com.

When the Dollar and Dream Don’t Match

MFA Mondays
photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

As I was sitting in my first interview for an adjunct dance position my potential boss warned me that this would never, ever become a full-time position. He said the “higher-ups” did not believe that dance was an actual career. I proceeded to argue the opposite, enlightening him on the several ways one could have a career in and around dance. He thanked me for educating him throughout the interview and told me to “not be surprised if one day he asks me to repeat my argument in front of others.” I am still awaiting that day…

If you are anything like me, then you have probably found yourself in a situation where you are faced with the decision to either work for free, or turn down an opportunity. As an undergrad I did anything and everything for free in hopes of building my resume and networking. When I finished grad school, I found myself with the complete opposite work ethic; I wanted to be paid. I spent an entire year questioning whether I would be a hypocrite if I chose to work for free while fighting for funding for the arts and defending the importance of dance in higher education. This ultimately led to a year of simply teaching classes at community colleges and local studios, but never entering the studio wearing my choreographer hat. For those of you who know me, choreography primarily defines me. I found myself feeling like a teacher only, and not like an artist; my ideal setting is one that I can be both. Looking back I did not create choreographically, partly of fear and transitioning out of the safety net of grad school and because of my determined decision to not work for free; because choreographing and being creative didn’t provide a paycheck, I simply didn’t do it.

It wasn’t that I disliked any part of the work I was doing, I just knew I needed to establish a better balance before I found myself resenting my MFA rightcareer choice later down the road. About this time, I reconnected with a fellow artist I had met a little while back but had lost touch with over the course of that “non-creative” year (go figure!). She asked me if I would like to collaborate on a new arts exchange project she was working on- you might remember me talking about it on my last blog! At first I was hesitant to give up time where I could potentially be making money, but I trusted my gut and took a leap of faith and began getting involved. In a nutshell, this project was an artistic exchange in Nice, France, a sister city to Houston, sharing through outreaches and performances the message that art saves lives. She was very honest and upfront with the fact that she was not sure if I would be compensated for my time or even get to travel to France, but what she could promise was that my choreography would be shown in Nice. I respected her honesty and happily moved forward with setting my work and helping out where it was needed. I am very fortunate that funds were raised in order for me to travel to France and participate first-hand. Not only was the trip paid for, but I also got a small check for the administrative work I had done. Was every minute I spent on this project compensated for? No, but it instilled hope that I could get paid to be creative, and also reminded me that experience, opportunity, and changing lives through art is also an important form of payment. It felt like I had hit the jackpot, ha! In fact, some days I still ask myself, “Did I really get paid to go to France and work as an artist?”

After this first experience of opening myself up to opportunities that were not payment driven, I began craving more creative outlets. It was then

photo by Salted Hart
photo by Salted Hart

that I was approached to be a guinea pig for a program that supports emerging choreographers. This opportunity marked the first time I created something new since graduation. I was terrified and procrastinated until I absolutely had to begin creating, simply out of fear… but that’s besides the point of this blog! The support of this program covered the production and publicity costs; so essentially, I did not make money, but I did not lose any either, which is huge at this point in my career path. While I had begun to feel more confident with where I stood on whether or not to work free, I felt very unsure about asking professional dancers to do the same. I felt an immense amount of pressure to find money to pay them for their time. Luckily I was blessed to work with seven of the most amazing, gifted, and beautiful human beings who also recognized that sometimes the experience of something new, or a particular opportunity can be a form of payment. I am not sure what I did to deserve this opportunity and the pleasure of working with these amazing artists, but they will always hold a special place in my heart.

I am really fortunate that these decisions to work without monetary concern have paid off in such a positive, life changing way, and am also aware that every opportunity might not have the same outcome. In hopes of avoiding this and knowing when to say yes, and when to say no, I ask myself questions like:

  • What do I want out of this opportunity?
  • What are the gains? (money, positively affecting others, artistic/therapeutic experience, professional growth, networking, creative expression, etc.)
  • Does my schedule allow me to confidently commit to this opportunity and the work involved, while still carrying out my day-to-day work and being financially responsible?

Right now, after these experiences, I can say that I am willing to choreograph for free for the rest of my life. I would definitely work hard to pay the dancers, but for me, the chance to share my choreographic voice and move the audience is more than enough. I know that is a bold statement and I may not always feel that way, but for today, it’s true.

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

I will always defend the importance of dance in schools, higher education, and in life, and will never stop fighting for artists to be paid for what they do. The way I see it is this: I can argue all day long the importance of dance to the administrative “higher-ups” by stating cold hard facts to support that you can “pay the bills” with a career in dance. I can equally stress the importance, validity, and power of dance by sharing my experiences in France, the profound comments of audience members who were moved to tears, or how dance has truly saved my life, and so many, many others. Dance is multi-faceted; therefore the ways in which it is important are endless and monetary gain is only one of them. We don’t live in a perfect world where every profession gets paid what it deserves, but it doesn’t mean that we give up, or shut ourselves off to opportunities like I did during that “non-creative” year. If we do, then we will find ourselves in a world void of art, zero chance of dance ever getting the funding it deserves, and most likely little personal fulfillment as an artist.

I realize not everyone feels the same way that I do, but if you find yourself in similar situations and at a loss of what choice to make, try asking yourself the questions above and establishing boundaries. Don’t become a money-driven robot like I was in danger of becoming; remember at your essence, you are an artist. The experience, impact, and change that you can bring to your own life, and to others through dance is permanent.

Laura Harrell is currently an adjunct professor at Houston Community College, Lone Star College, and San Jacinto College. Laura has presented choreography at The Dance Gallery Festival (Texas and New York City), the Fringe Festival (Houston), the American College Dance Conference (adjudicated and gala), and most recently, in the first ever, Art Saves Lives: A Cultural Conversation performance and educational outreach program in Nice, France. Additionally, she has set work at Sam Houston State University, Booker T. Washington High School, Lone Star College, San Jacinto College, and was assistant choreographer for Recked Productions site-specific project, Up For Air. Most recently, Laura presented choreography in the first ever Next Step Series by NobleMotion Dance.

Tearing the Nest

MFA Mondays

Laura_Harrell-JAS_1048Grad school prepared me for many things. I took a plethora of classes that broadened and strengthened my dance training. I was given choreographic tools and opportunities to test them out. Most grad programs, like the one I attended, allowed the opportunity to teach semester-long courses, or take specialty classes like Dance and Technology and Career Resources. The information, advice, and experiences gained are truly invaluable. While grad school gives the “old college try” in preparing you for the real world, and is successful in many areas, nothing prepared me for the loneliness I experienced after graduation.

Grad school is this beautiful little bubble that is filled with like-minded, passionate individuals that inspire, push and motivate you on a daily basis. I found myself collaborating when I didn’t even know it, or set out to. Anytime I had a new choreographic idea or random epiphany there was always someone there to bounce it off of, and I mean ALWAYS. I knew I would mourn not seeing my fellow grads everyday, but I always thought I would find myself in a similar environment, just with new faces.

Maybe it was naïve of me not to come to this realization on my own. Perhaps being wrapped up in thesis madness made anything that was not MFA rightspecifically stated or covered in class unobtainable at the time. I had been warned about the “adjunct hustle,” minimal pay, commuting, etc. and though hearing about it is much different than experiencing it, I still had an inkling of what to expect. Even when I was hired for the first time knowing that I was the one and only dance adjunct, it still didn’t hit me. It was the first day of school that I found myself feeling like the “new girl” from the movies who eats her lunch alone in the bathroom stall. Every commute was nothing but tears. I had no idea the amount of emptiness I would feel after grad school and was at a loss of how to fill it.

Luckily I have made some progress, some days it feels minimal, and other days not so much. I began picking up the phone more than I ever had, and instead of crying while commuting, I would talk to other adjunct friends. This is where I express my joys and frustrations with teaching. Over the next two semesters, I picked up additional classes at other colleges where friends also taught. As silly as it sounds, I don’t even have to see them; in fact most of the time we aren’t even on campus at the same time, but simply knowing that I am not alone helps tremendously. If I get to see their face, well then that’s just icing on the cake!

Laura_Harrell-JAS_1226Aside from these small strides, last fall I began collaborating on an arts project. While it doesn’t feed my bank account regularly, it feeds my soul. Believe it or not, I find it very satisfying to work on this project without financial concern. It feels like a small, selfish act of kindness that I do for myself. The satisfaction of payday is short-lived in my world because it all goes towards bills and living expenses, so the reward, or “paycheck” if you will, that I receive from the work dedicated to this project is permanent. This project allows me to collaborate a couple of hours a week, which I love, think outside of the box, meet new artists, problem solve, and change lives through art. While I hope this project continues to blossom and can one day have more of a monetary benefit, I am really content with the opportunity and nourishment of the soul.

Just like most things in life, it gets easier with time. About a year ago, I made the decision to stop comparing life now to life in grad school. It will never be the same, and now, 2 years later, I am really glad. If I were to stay a student forever, which I stated numerous times after graduation, I would have never been able to realize what an amazing experience grad school was and the huge impact it would have on my life. Don’t get me wrong, it was difficult and challenging and several days I felt like throwing the towel in, but the same skills I developed in pushing through school are the very same that have helped me find solutions to not feel lonely.

So if you ever find yourself as a lonely artist like I do some days, try one of the following pick-me-ups:

  • Wipe those tears and pick up the phone! Call someone who can relate to your feelings, or someone you’ve been meaning to catch up with- no time like the present!
  • Build a new community. Though it may not be ideal or as convenient as ones from the past, something is better than nothing! I am part of an ongoing (and rather hilarious) group text thread with some adjuncts in the area… Facebook groups… really anything that can provide a sense of community, even if it is long distance.
  • Find your own small selfish act of kindness and make sure to do it! You owe it to yourself. Whether it’s going to take a dance class for enjoyment, playing hooky from work to go see some live art, or something totally unrelated- DO IT!
  • Most importantly, don’t compare life now to “better” or less lonely times. You can’t change your current emotional state if you’re always looking back…

I have been able to build a new long-distance community, make connections outside of my alma mater, and start a new nest here in Houston.

Photos by Salted Hart Photography.

Laura Harrell is currently an adjunct professor at Houston Community College, Lone Star College, and San Jacinto College. Laura has presented choreography at The Dance Gallery Festival (Texas and New York City), the Fringe Festival (Houston), the American College Dance Conference (adjudicated and gala), and most recently, in the first ever, Art Saves Lives: A Cultural Conversation performance and educational outreach program in Nice, France. Additionally, she has set work at Sam Houston State University, Booker T. Washington High School, Lone Star College, San Jacinto College, and was assistant choreographer for Recked Productions site-specific project, Up For Air. Most recently, Laura presented choreography in the first ever Next Step Series by NobleMotion Dance.

Navigating the Rut of Dissatisfaction

MFA Mondays

You are Here

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

If you are a dancer in Houston and you have ever taken a dance class with Jane Weiner of Hope Stone Dance, you are familiar with the classic manner in which she ends each class. She says something like, “Take a moment to find yourself in the mirror and thank body, mind, and soul for where you were today. It takes all three of these to be the artist/dancer/human that you are, and you are exactly where you need to be on your journey.” One day after a particularly invigorating and mind opening class, I thought in response, “Where am I?”

Some of you may have asked yourself this question at least once or twice in your life, but I really felt like it was the first time I had ever asked myself this question. I had made a lot of decisions regarding my life and career in the last few years, and it seemed that I had simply said yes to everything, hoping that it would pay off in some huge way. The reality hit that nothing had really launched me to the success I had wanted quite like I had hoped. Small progresses had been made, but I was still doing the adjunct hustle, still teaching in studios until 9:00 pm every night, still just making ends meet the only way I had figured out how.

I wanted and had expected more from myself in every area of my dance career. I wanted more performance opportunities. I wanted a full time teaching position at the college level. I wanted to create. Some of the grief came back… in grad school I had all this time, and free space, and free dancers to create and recreate. Without the convenience of all these gifts right at my fingertips, I had stopped creating and I was feeling it.

It instantly seemed apparent to me that nothing I had accomplished for myself within the last few years was enough for me. It was fine… but it could be so much better. I felt myself spiraling down into a deep dissatisfaction with myself. As a consequence, I also knew that another identity crisis would soon ensue. I did what I always did when I felt inadequate… I called my mother. There is something about the idea that your mother’s womb is your first home that makes you want go back to it each time you feel lost. We’ve all seen that cute little Pinterest quote that says something like, “you’re the only one who knows what my heartbeat sounds like from the inside.” You know the one I’m talking about? Well it’s true; no matter where I live, my mother’s lap will perpetually be my true home.

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Mom said what she always said. She told me that she loved me. She told me I was not a failure, even though it was okay to fail sometimes, because that’s how we learn. She reminded me of all I had accomplished since my graduation, and to be grateful for all that I have. She reminded me that no one ever succeeded by giving up. And then she told me to look at the areas of my life that I was unhappy with, understand what it was that made me unhappy, and change it if possible. Mom was also convinced that one day I would dance for Hope Stone, so Jane, if you’re reading this, I’m ready when you are.

Now, I love my mom, but she’s a little biased. The woman was my biggest fan, truest supporter, and my hero, but at the time, I didn’t believe a word she said. But I did take her advice, and I did make changes. I said no to opportunities that I felt would not be fulfilling. I went after the opportunities I really wanted. I let go of positions that were not helping me to achieve my goals. All of this was good for me, and I felt progress, but I still had this overwhelming dissatisfaction with my life. I compared myself to others, and I just didn’t add up. I was in a rut.

Then one day, as I was surfing Facebook and looking at how successful and happy all my friends seemed to be at all times, I came across an article on the Huffington Post titled Why Generation Y Yuppies are so Unhappy written by Tim Urban. So remember that generation I was telling you about? The one that has it in their heads that they can do anything they want, like be an astronaut or the president? This generation believes that they are special and have special gifts to offer the world, and apparently they have outrageous expectations for themselves about who they will be and what they will accomplish. Sound familiar?

In fourth grade when my teachers and parents told me I could do “anything” I want to do, what I heard was I can do “everything” I want to do. I have lived life with this idea in mind, and it has served me in several instances, but at this moment, in the current economy, and in my current profession, it was not serving me at all.

So what did I do? I made a dance, and I made this the subject matter. I explored through movement and design this idea of inadequacy. I questioned all the different parts of me that seemed to be a priority. There is a part that just wants to dance; this is the part that craves spontaneity and a little bit of the spotlight. There is part that wants to teach and really make a difference in the lives of students; this is the part that needs the stability of a full time position in order to feel successful. Then there is the part that loves to create – to simply express ideas through movement, boldly accepting judgment, hoping that just one person might truly get it.

I ultimately found that each part of me was fighting for attention, and in order for one part to shine, the other two needed to take the back seat. What I concluded was that I was really craving wholeness instead of this compartmentalized, competitive, existence.

Knowledge can be a tricky thing, but I think what I now know is that we all have responsibilities and priorities, and, more importantly, we all have limits. See, I didn’t think that I had any limits. Sometimes we do have to choose, because it is simply not possible for us to have all that we want all at once. And maybe Jane’s right… maybe where we are, is exactly where we need to be at any given point in time. And maybe my mom is right too… that if we aren’t necessarily where we want to be in life, we have the power to change that. And maybe it’s time for me to trust both of these concepts and allow them to work together.

photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Jamie Zahradnik is from Wharton, Texas.  She attained her BFA in Dance from SHSU graduating Summa Cum Laude in May 2008, and her MFA in Dance in 2011.  She is also a certified Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analyst.  Jamie has performed with Rednerrus Feil Dance Company, and Psophonia Dance Company, and has most recently performed for local independent artists Laura Gutierrez, Brittany Theford-Deveau, and Rebekah Chappell. Jamie currently serves as a dance professor and the dance program coordinator for San Jacinto College. She loves sharing herself with others through performing, teaching, and creating.

Do you have a grad school story you’d like to share? Have questions or advice that you gleaned from grad school? Was it all that you dreamed of?  Or maybe not?  Contact us, we’d love to hear from you.


Circus Act: The Art of Job Juggling

MFA Mondays

MFA rightEntering the workforce in Houston in 2011 was a daunting task, but I was gung-ho and determined to make a living that made use of my major. I had friends who had graduated and had ended up working in retail or waitressing. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with these professions, but they were not what I had in mind for a dream job after earning my MFA. I wanted to be a vital artist and educator in the Houston community. My first goal in getting involved in the Houston dance scene was to get into class, so my first “job” was actually an unpaid internship that provided me with free dance classes. Secondly, I wanted to perform, so, through auditioning and networking, I found myself dancing with two small modern dance companies my first year out. Thirdly, I wanted to teach dance at the college level, so I applied at all the colleges and universities in the surrounding area, and was hired as an adjunct instructor to teach a single class at San Jacinto College.

So can we just take a moment to talk about the adjunct hustle for a little bit?

Being an adjunct instructor truly sucks for several reasons. First of all, there is a limit to how many classes you are allowed to teach per semester at any given college. In 201Reahearsal 2 - credit Lynn Lane1, I was only allowed to teach three classes, or nine credit hours per semester, not that I was offered that many. Now, it’s even less than that for most adjuncts. Three classes equals nine hours a week at about $38 per hour. This comes out to about $1,300 a month before taxes, which might cover rent and electricity. For those of us needing to be truly independent, this just doesn’t cut it, and additional jobs are necessary. Secondly, health insurance is not included in the whole adjunct deal. Unfortunately, I turned 26 very shortly after I graduated from college, so the new health insurance legislation didn’t help me at all. So, there’s another expense to add to the list. Thirdly, job security is nonexistent. In order for college classes to “make” and actually occur, there have to be enough students signed up for the courses prior to the first day of classes. The magic number seems to be ten; if ten students are not signed up for the course by the first class day, the class will likely be cancelled, and guess what? That means you don’t have a job. Add to all this that your entire paycheck practically goes to gas for you to commute to all your different jobs, and we find that it’s a ridiculous way to make a living. I am wondering why we are allowing this nonsense to continue.

Back to my story

By 2013, I felt pretty grounded in the sense that I had acquired enough jobs to financially support myself without fully sacrificing a career in dance. Most of my conversations upon meeting new people went something like this: Continue reading

MFA Monday: Jamie Zahradnik

MFA Mondays
photo by Lynn Lane
photo by Lynn Lane

Identity Crisis

There is something about curling up with a cup of coffee on a Sunday morning that is such a relief at the end of a long week. Before anyone wakes, in the stillness and the sunshine, I like to sit and ponder the effects of my week. Occasionally, I like to journal, jotting down my thoughts on conversations that never happened, dreams and imagery, and my thoughts on “grieving the loss of grad school”… wait… did I really write that? That’s a little dramatic; I mean grief? How about trauma? Nope, that’s even more intense… On this particular Sunday morning I decided to reflect on some old journal entries from my first year out of grad school, and sure enough, I had described my first year as bereavement.

It’s been four years since I have been a student of the SHSU dance program, and I am in my twenty-eighth year as a student in the school of life. I’m currently in the process of experiencing some real life grief with the recent death of my mother. So upon rediscovering this part of my life occurring directly after graduation, which, by the way, seems miniscule now, I decided not to judge myself too quickly, and to take some time to investigate the meaning of the words I had written.

I discovered that

  • Bereavement can mean “suffering deprivation or loss by force.”
  • Grief can be defined as “keen mental suffering or distress over affliction or loss.”
  • Trauma can be described as “a powerful shock that can have long lasting effects on body and mind.”

This last definition rang truer to me than any of the other words. Trauma is something I can definitely relate to. I have certainly suffered mental and physical trauma with the numbing news that my mother no longer exists here on earth. It has been an event that has permanently changed my immediate environment, or kinesphere, if you will. It looks different to me, and I also don’t react to people and circumstances within in it the way that I did before. In this way, it has changed not only how I perceive my circumstances, but also who I am in relation to those circumstances, which inevitably has led to a growing loss of identity.

Continue reading

MFA Monday: Surprises of Grad School

MFA Mondays

MFA rightBiggest Surprises of Grad School

 by Amanda Diorio


I would make friends

I thought when I went back to school to get my MFA that I would be entering an uptight academic environment.  I was so preoccupied with the idea of school and relocating my life that I forgot I would be entering a community of like-minded peers. In undergrad, even among dance majors, I was considered the “dance nerd,”   In grad school I was surrounded by not only dancers but specifically  “dance nerds,” people who wanted to explore, dissect and reveal as much about the art as I did.  This community turned out to be a vital support group throughout the process of completing my degree.  Having others to bitch to, socialize, laugh, and share my fledgling art with became essential for my survival during this stressful time.  These bonds were not only a lifeline during the process but created many long lasting friendships and an excellent network that stands strong long after graduation.


The teacher/student relationship has evolved

When you enter a graduate program you have already passed a test in the eyes of the faculty.  You have already completed one major academic step and have decided to continue onto another. There are fewer grad students for them to keep track of and you yourself are probably a much better student.  For me this reduced a lot of the intimidationI felt with my undergraduate professors.  Continue reading

Is the MFA the new MBA?

MFA Mondays

MFA right


You may have seen this article floating around on social media.  Here are some key points, but I encourage you to read the full article!  What a perfect response to anyone who sees art as a hobby.  Use this article as a way to explain why the skills of an artist go beyond  the art form and are key to the growth of business in our time.  It’s always great to have language on hand when our value is questioned time and time again.

“Consider this: Today’s contingent economy has people moving constantly from one job to another, one type of work to another, one industry to a different industry. In fact, on average, a person between the ages of 25 and 45 will hold 11 different jobs in their lifetime. Thirty percent of us will work in more than 15 different jobs over the course of our careers.

Organizations far and wide—perhaps even yours—will compete intensely for workers who are adaptable, resourceful, and can quickly learn and apply new skills to a variety of challenges. Where can you find such workers?

One answer runs counter to much conventional wisdom: Ask an artist.”

“Is art school the next B-school? Hardly, though artists often possess the skills and temperament that business leaders regularly say are in short supply: creativity, resiliency, flexibility, high tolerance for risk and ambiguity, as well as the courage to fail.”

Ways to engage artists in the workplace:

  •  Ask them to explicitly think about puzzles using their artistic hat/lens. Invite a local theater group to work with employees on improvisation exercises to free up their creative juices. Research has shown that when people engage in improv they later generate more creative ideas to a range of issues and challenges.
  • Figure out how to incorporate critical feedback into an ongoing process of improvement and innovation. Ask an artist to come in and run a “critical feedback” workshop for employees.
  • Have an artist facilitate a workshop where a creative task is emergent, shifting, and where new information requires adjustments and negotiation.

“Many people see artists as shamans, dreamers, outsiders, and rebels. In reality, the artist is a builder, an engineer, a research analyst, a human relations expert, a project manager, a communications specialist, and a salesman. The artist is all of those and more—combined with the imagination of an inventor and the courage of an explorer. Not a bad set of talents for any business challenged to innovate in a world of volatility, uncertainty, and change.”

The full article, “Is an MFA and new MBA?” by Steven Tepper can be found here.

MFA Monday: Stressed about your thesis?

MFA Mondays

MFA rightObservations that helped me create my MFA thesis

by Amanda Diorio

It will happen.

As those of us who have worked in show business are well aware “the show must go on.”  It is amazing when you think about all that needs to get done in a production like an MFA thesis concert, but miraculously it all happens.  This was a helpful attitude to take when I was working on my own concert.  I had no idea how all the work would get done, but I knew that somehow it would all come together. And of course it did.  Remember this when you are at your wit’s end and about to freak out about not finishing your work for the show.  One benefit of having a concert as a final project is that you have no choice but to get it all done. The dates have been set long in advance and cannot be changed.  This is one advantage that those seeking other kinds of terminal degrees do not have.  I have friends who have been working on their PhD dissertations for years.  The have no specific end time so it can be drawn out.  We, as performers, have the benefit of having a set date to be done by, a finish line to look towards.  When you are in the thick of it and your life has consisted of this crazy schedule for years it is hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel but remember grad school is not real life.  Your concert and your degree will happen.  Hang in there!

The project is still a part of the learning. 

While your final project is a reflection of your overall work in graduate school it is still a part of the learning process.  There is this sense that Continue reading