Kate O’Hanlon '11
Major(s): Psychology Major, Dance Minor
Company Member with Matter Dance Company & Associate Artist with Core Project (both in Chicago, IL)
Briefly describe your current job responsibilities.
I rehearse and perform on a regular basis with both companies at venues in the city, surrounding suburbs (The Athenaeum Theatre, Stage 773, Elgin Arts Showcase). Independently, I often collaborate with colleagues from those companies to choreograph and perform elsewhere (Dance Chicago). After spending my first couple of years focusing on the development of my art as a performer, I will be making my official choreographic debut next February setting work on a Chicago dance company that is comprised of both modern and tap dancers.
While a student at BW, what experiences outside the classroom did you participate in (on or off campus)?
While at BW, I participated in and held leadership positions with Campus Crusade for Christ, Dance Team, and Psychology Club. I also volunteered as a Course Assistant and Tutor for the Psychology Department. Off campus, I danced as a Trainee with Inlet Dance Theatre (Cleveland, OH) in lieu of a more traditional, office-based internship; I knew that my main career goal involved dancing and performing professionally, so I wanted to gain experience that would ultimately help to lead me in that direction.
Who was your faculty mentor in the department and how did this professor help you while you were a student and afterwards?
I wouldn’t say that I had a specific mentor, but rather that all of the professors were excellent at being available and helpful in any way possible. Fortunately, I was in school during the time where the Dance Department was in transition. I had Sue and Janiece during my underclassmen years, and they were some of the sweetest, most encouraging people I have ever met. Then, Sara and Greg took the reigns and started to develop the program into what it is today. It was great to be a part of that time since I was able to see a program that had been established and nurtured by two amazing women passed on to two new people who cared deeply about preserving the spirit of the program, and who also had the more recent professional experiences behind them to fuel the department’s continued development and expansion.
What makes the BWU Theatre and Dance department special?
The Theatre and Dance Department is special because of the great relationships between professors and students that are established from the very beginning. Calling them professors almost feels strange, as I always felt that I was being treated as a colleague and peer, not just a student. I was encouraged to explore and to really do things on my own terms as I developed my vision and identity as a dancer and an artist. Even when a professor did not necessarily care for my choices (in choreography or overall idea for a piece, for example), they still supported me in the process and were there to assist me in making adjustments along the way. Being able to really establish myself in my art form during college gave me both the practical skills and the courage to jump right into my career after graduation.
What advice would you give to a prospective student interested in theatre or dance?
I would advise prospective students to take the time to evaluate the great commitment that is required of a performance major or minor; there are rehearsals, individual practice, and performance requirements outside of regular lecture times, and it takes serious focus and time management in order to be successful. It can be very taxing and even scary at times, but the rewards both in and outside of the classroom are well worth the effort.
How did BW prepare you for graduate school/employment?
As I mentioned earlier, the professional environment within the Dance Department was such a valuable benefit; when I entered the field after graduating, I felt confident in what to expect, how to conduct myself, and how to establish lasting connections that continually fuel my career today. On the whole, BW being a liberal arts school taught me how to consider and take care of myself as an individual both inside and outside of the arts, which is, in my opinion, an extraordinarily important balance to maintain. All too often, an artist can hyper-focus on their craft and forget to take care of the rest of their life, and I truly believe that the well-rounded education and experiences I had at BW enabled me to achieve that balance and to be happily fulfilled in all aspects of my life.
Other info/thoughts you’d like to share:
Here is a story that I like to remind myself of whenever I’m feeling scared or uncertain about something in my dance career, and a story that I hope can encourage other artists in the same way:
During the first few weeks of my freshman year, my jazz technique instructor, Janiece, was feeling under the weather and had asked me to lead the class for her. I was the only freshman in that class---the rest were senior music theatre majors just months away from launching into successful Broadway, TV, and touring careers. The thought of being in front of these outstanding, polished, and intimidating performers was absolutely nerve-wracking. I said, “Janiece, there’s no way. They’re all these insanely talented, about-to-be famous people. I’m scared of them!” She let out a big, hearty laugh, then looked at me and said, “Sweetheart, you have nothing to worry about. They are scared of YOU! You have just as much talent and potential as they do, and I wouldn’t put you in front of them if I wasn’t one hundred percent confident in that.” I showed up to the studio and taught the next day and afterwards, all of the seniors came up to me and thanked me for giving them such a challenging class. This experience showed me that, no matter how intimidating the performance arts can be, it is important to push yourself to do the more difficult things put in front of you and to know that doing so will merit the respect that other artists have for you for bravely sharing your strengths and talents.