An Intern-al Reflection on a Summer: To Live and Learn

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*written by our Summer 2017 Production & Marketing Intern Alison Ball

At a panel of local performing arts professionals that I attended earlier this summer, I had the opportunity to chat with Tim Dang, the former Artistic Director of East West Players. His advice for young people interested in the arts?  

#1 - It is possible to exist on both sides of the aisle, to both make art and facilitate art-making.

And - #2 - although the pressure, personal or parental, to do something less financially precarious might always be there, if art is what feeds your soul, then that is more important than the possible material success of other career paths.  

If art is what feeds your soul.  Tim’s advice both encouraged and shook me profoundly.  And looking back, I think his words are so incredibly representative of my experience at Invertigo Dance Theatre this summer.

Over the past ten weeks, I have had the opportunity to serve as Invertigo’s Production and Marketing Intern through a program funded by the LA County Arts Commission.  Before explaining why Tim’s advice has stuck with me, perhaps it is best to rewind and tell you more about who I am.  Acknowledging that I may sound like an overly friendly college employee introducing myself to a group of simultaneously anxious and bored prospective students, here are a few facts!  Although an L.A. native, I recently graduated from Carleton College, an intensely academic liberal arts college about an hour outside of the Twin Cities in rural Minnesota.  Although my degree is in history and Arabic, my almost every waking moment outside of my major classes was spent pursuing dance.

I came to dance, or to contemporary dance specifically, rather late.  A gymnast for 14 years, I abandoned the idea of competing in college due to prematurely arthritic knees and a developing aversion to a sport that continually told me my body was invalid (that notwithstanding, I do really appreciate everything gymnastics gave me). On a whim, I took a modern dance class my first semester at Carleton and fell completely, categorically in love.  I went on to take the equivalent of a minor in dance technique and choreography over my four undergraduate years, to direct a student dance organization and participate in two others, and to dance in and choreograph for Carleton’s faculty-run repertory company.  I soon began to both feel split and as though my two worlds so informed the other. I wrote papers on the history of Carleton’s dance department in the context of higher education reform and gave an Arabic presentation on the power of dance to affect change in the Israel-Palestine conflict.  I choreographed a piece about radical female bodies as I wrote my senior thesis on radical Moroccan women.  I argued for the validity of embodied knowledge in historical research as I enacted my own in rehearsal every day.  

Post-graduation, that seeming duality became much more urgent; was it possible to continue this living in both worlds?  Did I have to leave one, or both, behind?  Was there a way to live, and work, in the world in a way that so fulfilled every part of me as my college experience had?  

This is perhaps just the hysterics every recent college graduate suffers through, accentuated by my personal tendency to overthink and fear of disappointing others, and, thankfully, the next year was decided for me when I received a fellowship to work at the Joslyn Art Museum in Omaha. Despite that relative security, my underlying drive since graduation has become to figure out what I want from my life and the best ways in which to do so.

Which is how I find myself at the conclusion of my time as a Production and Marketing Intern at Invertigo.  My mother, actually, found out about the LACAC’s internship program and sent it my way this past spring, thinking, rightly, that this was an amazing chance to learn more about nonprofit work and arts administration while being paid (for all those reading who are current or recent college students, I would highly recommend you apply - it’s a wonderful program!)

In reflecting on my time at Invertigo, I would firstly like to note how much I have enjoyed my time working here.  A friend once told me that, despite its other challenges, the office culture and people you work within the arts are always amazing, and I have definitely found that to be true here.  Everyone, from the dancers to the office staff, has been incredibly responsive to questions, patient, informative, and just plain fun.  In addition, the experience of working for an organization whose work I so wholeheartedly believe in has been incredibly rewarding; a sentiment echoed in the another panel I attended this summer.  Lula Washington (of Lula Washington Dance Theatre) opened that discussion with, “If you don’t love the art, get out,” a delightfully blunt statement I so appreciated.

Additionally, I have learned so much over the course of this summer.  The amount of practical skills I have gained are astounding, including everything from social media graphic design to marketing research and email-writing to basic office skills and organization.  Perhaps even more importantly, I have gained so much implicit, experience-based knowledge, the kind that is impossible to gain from a classroom or (*gasp*) the Internet.  I have a better idea of what kind of skills, and what kind of people, are needed to make a dance company run and a sense of what it means to work in the arts, especially in Los Angeles.  In addition, from just sharing space, listening, and asking questions, I have received some staggeringly valuable advice.  

For example, as I was discussing this post with one of my supervisors/coworkers, he conveyed a sentiment similar to that of Tim Dang. Contrary to popular belief, and often parental belief, you can craft your own life, he said.  As long as you can accept the particular standard of living and means that go along with it, you, by and large, can do what you want to do, and it is never worth it to do something you hate, or for the wrong reasons.  Think critically about the things you love, and figure out a way to fit them into your life, instead of abandoning them altogether.  And it is okay if those passions shift over time; life and careers are not stagnant and should change.

So, although I am interested in everything from radical librarianship to experimental museum design to alternative historiography, my heart lies specifically in dancing and creating space for dance.  If I could pick one ultimate career goal at this current moment (among many, believe me,) it would be to program and create my own art in an experimental arts space, where the visual and the performative feed off of one another to push the boundaries of contemporary performance.  My time with Invertigo has been enlightening in so many ways, elucidating the variety of jobs that exist in arts administration, giving me know-how that could help me work towards my dream, and teaching me the incredibly useful skill of wrapping text in Excel.  However, perhaps the most fruitful takeaway has been that one can be in the arts in many, and multiple ways, illustrating the wide range of possibilities for someone who considers dance the food for her soul.

*Photo: Alison Ball dancing with The Carleton College Dance Company