Beyond the Stage
The ramifications of COVID-19 on the arts are much like the symptoms and effects of the disease – difficult and long-lasting. So, when Katie Schetlick, a Lecturer in the UVA Dance Program, sat down with the program’s Director, Kim Brooks Mata, they had to find ways to connect their students not only with their art form, but to their futures.
“Both Kim and I were trying to brainstorm ideas on what we could offer the students, since we were not able to be with one another and perform,” Schetlick said. “It happened to be that I was talking to a friend about her own transition from her professional career, and I thought that was an important perspective to be able to share with our students. I don’t think that a lot of students realize that there are so many fields related to dance and other art forms that do not necessarily require them to be performers themselves, but that allows them to stay connected to their passion.”
The two came up with the idea of a live Zoom panel
discussion titled “Beyond the Stage: Finding New Movements Through Arts
Administration.” Held on October 30, the discussion featured Maggie Small, a
Richmond native with whom Schetlick had danced at Richmond Ballet since they were
young and now serves as a grants specialist for the company; Megan Jakel, a former member of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and now a Patron Engagement
Officer for the Alvin Ailey Dance Foundation; and Elise Drew León, a longtime member of the Limón
Dance Company who now works as Director of Diversity and Inclusion at the
School of American Ballet.
While each participant brought different experiences to the discussion, there were plenty of common threads that linked their experiences and marked their respective career transitions. Throughout her time as a dancer, León said, her transition was always top of mind. She had always kept a foot in the administrative world while she danced, serving as company rep, negotiating contracts, advocating for salary increases and more inclusive and fair practices. “Now I’m in a position where I can really work to advocate for change in an art form that I love and admire, but that I know is fraught with inequities and issues of exclusivity, which is not the purpose of our art.”
During her ten years as a dancer with Alvin Ailey, Megan Jakel became a person to whom people turned for answers. She served as a union delegate and co-directed a mentorship program, she ran rehearsals, taught company classes, and built a reputation for leadership that set her up for where she is today. She also became a go-to for the fundraising team when it came to leading tours and interacting with donors. When her time on stage ended, she pursued her next chapter with the same passion and energy she brought to the 200 performances she had given each year. “We are in this field because the arts are really important to society and to our future,” Jakel said. “There is so much in the arts that can bring us together. There is something really important about the experience and passion and talent we bring to things as former performers that can only be good for the field.”
The passion, experience, and understanding have a strong benefit for those who will follow in their dance steps, according to Smalls. She recalled taking a whole two days off after her career was derailed by a foot injury before diving into her grant writing job with minimal training and a dancer’s innate ability to get things done. “What is great about working in any administrative position is that dancing is a finite career,” Smalls said. “You get to enjoy the dancing part for a finite period of time, then I felt an obligation to work to give opportunities to the next ones coming up. It’s my opportunity to give back.”