In early 2020, PNB dancer Amanda Morgan made a suggestion to PNB’s Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) Committee for a new mentorship program that would connect PNB School upper level students with PNB Company dancers. With the approval of Peter Boal and PNB School, Amanda and fellow Company dancer, Cecilia Iliesiu, spearheaded the creation of the PNBS Mentorship program for upper level PNBS students.
The idea for a program connecting the PNB School to the Company is one that Amanda has been thinking about for a long time. Amanda grew up dancing in the PNB School and worked her way up to where she is today as a Company member. “I was lucky enough to have a couple mentors in the Company that occasionally messaged me and talked to me and checked in on me,” says Amanda. “They honestly helped me a lot and partially helped me get to where I am.”
One of Amanda’s mentors when she was in the PNB School was Cecilia. “She really was very supportive of me getting into the Company and helped me with Pointe shoes and all these things to prepare for Company life,” reflects Amanda. “And I was like, ‘She’s the perfect person to start this mentorship program with.’”
“I just want to emphasize that it all started from Amanda’s knowledge of going through the levels at the PNB School and knowing that that was a support system that needed to be there,” Cecilia continues. “Amanda and I want to be the point people for these students to go to if they need help. And if it’s beyond our capability, we’ll pass them on to someone who can help them better, but we want to be that safe space for them.”
Cecilia and Amanda were originally planning to begin the Mentorship program in person with PNB School students in the fall of 2020. That plan changed when the pandemic began in March 2020. “When the pandemic hit, Cecilia texted me and she said, “Hey, we should just start it now. Let’s just do some Zoom calls and start and see how it goes.’” Cecilia says they started discussions with the students with questions like, “How is this new world of dance Zooming from home, dancing in the kitchen trying not to hit things?”, “How are you emotionally?”, “How are you doing with school?”
When the initial Mentorship program meetings started in March, Amanda and Cecilia scheduled one-hour Zoom once per week with each group of students participating. PNBS students in Level VI, Level VII, Level VIII, Professional Division, and Men’s Division are all invited to attend the meetings for their specific level.
In the new world of virtual classrooms with students participating from home, the Mentorship program is aiming to replace the built-in social time and peer to peer support in-person classes usually provide in a time when students are clicking between ballet classes and school classes with little to no interaction with their peers. “Especially now, who knows when the students will be back in the studios,” says Cecilia. “They’re missing that intimate time in the studio before and after ballet classes being together in the same space and chatting. Students don’t have that connection with their fellow classmates anymore. They log into Zoom, take their ballet class and you say, ‘Thank you so much’, and then leave.”
While the meetings are intended to give peer-to-peer support, Amanda and Cecilia will invite guests to the Mentorship calls including PNBS Faculty, PNB Company dancers and other voices outside of the PNB community who can share their knowledge. Now that PNB Company dancers are back in rehearsals, meetings will be held twice per month per level rather than weekly, as they were at the end of last school year. One monthly meeting is a loose conversational format and the other will focus on a specific topic or question with guest speakers from the Company.
Amanda and Cecilia are coordinating with PNBS Consulting Therapist, Josh Spell, to have the PNBS Mentorship meeting topics connect with Spell’s lecture series. Topics Amanda and Cecilia plan to cover include: body image; the choreographic process; the importance of cross-training; culture, life, and communication in dance; dancing abroad; identity building and confidence; how to prepare for audition season; time management and balance between school, dance, and hobbies.
Amanda and Cecilia find themselves sitting back and listening to the conversations between students more than answering questions themselves. “Whether it’s a small or big group of students on the calls, we just want to have a platform where they feel encouraged and feel like they can talk about anything,” says Cecilia. “I’m happy that we could create this platform as a space for them to also be social and keep in contact with each other and with us,” adds Amanda.
The intention of the Mentorship program was to create a space where students feel comfortable to ask questions and talk through various things happening in their lives and the dance world, and Amanda and Cecilia have done just that while pivoting to use a digital space for students to connect.
For more information on the PNBS Mentorship Program or how to get involved, email PNBSchool@PNB.org.
Interviewed and written by Maris Antolin.