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On Her Toes

An internship with the Ohio Dance Fall Festival and Conference put aspiring dancer Liz Coulston behind the scenes and firmly in command.

 

After she graduates from Ohio Northern University this spring with a degree in psychology, Liz Coulston is going to do what every young person should — chase her dreams. For Coulston, this means dancing professionally, and with a minor in dance, ONU is helping prepare her for opportunities that come her way. But it’s her current internship that may prepare Coulston for a career in the arts long after her dancing days are through.

The Ohio Dance Fall Festival and Conference is coming to campus this weekend, Sept. 27-29, for a three-day statewide celebration of dance through classes, workshops, discussions and performances. It is the first such conference held outside of Columbus, Ohio, and ONU is the first host university of what Ohio Dance hopes will become an annual tradition of regional fall events at colleges and universities throughout the state.

Traditionally, Ohio Dance has hosted two events each year in Columbus, one in the fall and one in the spring. The new format will allow them to continue to host the spring event in Columbus, but the regional fall event will expose more of Ohio’s dancers to the opportunities it provides.

“To be honest, I don’t think they were looking to do it somewhere else,” says Laurie Bell, resident artist and professor of dance. “We reached out to them and made our case for why Ohio Northern would be an ideal location for a regional conference. When they saw all we had to offer, they agreed to give it a try.”

Hosting an event like the Ohio Dance Fall Festival and Conference is a major undertaking. Planning for it began two years ago and hasn’t really stopped. In fact, there is still time for students to sign up to volunteer. With so much work to do, Jerica Humphrey, director of the arts administration program, saw a perfect opportunity to develop an internship around the festival and knew just the student for the job.

“This was a really good fit for Liz,” says Humphrey. “We always try to place our students in internships that match their areas of interest, and Liz is not only an arts administration minor, but also a dance minor who teaches dance here in Ada. So she’s very familiar with the audience we are trying to reach with the festival.”

All students enrolled in the arts administration minor program are required to complete an internship. According to Humphrey, students usually apply to established, long-standing internships with theatres and dance companies in New York or Chicago. One of the realities of the arts is the significant role internships play in the day-to-day operations of such institutions. While these internships provide unique experiences in their own right, they typically don’t provide opportunities beyond entry-level work in the administrative offices.

Through her internship, Coulston has done a bit of everything. She did research necessary to compile the list of the approximately 500 dance studios, college dance programs and dance-related community groups in Ohio she would ultimately contact regarding the festival. She developed graphic design and desktop publishing skills needed to create the 22-page festival program. She scheduled all 22 workshops over the three days and coordinated the entire staff of student volunteers, which could number as many as 50.

“It’s been a nice challenge and a lot of work that I’d never really done before,” says Coulston. “What I found to be most unique about my internship, compared to hearing my friends talk about what they did, is that I got to do something that affected students in an area that I know and am very involved in. For me to be able to work on planning an event that is ultimately educational in scope — as opposed to a performance — that is directed at college and high school students in the area was super-awesome.”

Coulston’s experience may also prove life-changing. She admits to being uncertain about what she wanted to do for her career — other than dancing professionally — before her internship, but is now confident that her future will lie in the arts.

“I’ve always loved the arts, but I never gave any thought to the business side of it. But now, just being immersed in this internship and working at the Freed Center over the summer has really sparked an interest in a new career path for me. Which came at a good time because I had no idea what I wanted to do,” she says.

Ideally, Coulston could see herself using her psychology degree as well since many dance companies have community outreach programs. She would like to run such a program and use dance to help victims of abuse and people with mental illness or even as a form of physical therapy for patients with Parkinson’s Disease.

Hosting the Ohio Dance Fall Festival and Conference is a wonderful opportunity for Ohio Northern. Of the more than 200 dancers who will participate, it is estimated that half are high school students looking at colleges to attend. These students will have a chance to learn about ONU’s dance program, receive instruction from ONU faculty, experience campus and interact with current ONU students. One of those students in particular is quite anxious to see how it all turns out.

“With the responsibility comes some nerves,” says Coulston. “Because it actually matters if I did a good job or not.”

Ohio Dance Fall Festival and Conference at Ohio Northern University runs Friday, Sept. 27, through Sunday, Sept. 29. Visit http://ohiodance.org/festival/ for more information.