We have a really family fun Tap concert coming up–Danceworks On Tap (DOT): Joyful Noise.
Flash back: you can bet there was a joyful noise around here when I received word five years ago from the Greater Milwaukee Foundation (GMF) that they would help fund a Director of Development and Marketing position at Danceworks. A first Development Director is a big step for a nonprofit. Until that critical point, the executive director is left to figure it out or farm it out.
So thanks to GMF, it was a new era at Danceworks. Elyse Cohn came highly recommended in the world of arts organizations in Milwaukee. Skylight, First Stage and the Rep were all on her vita. It was a slam dunk when I found out she also danced. We’ve been through a lot together and that song, “Wherever We Go, Whatever We Do, We’ll Muddle through It Together” comes to mind.
Deb: So, I know how happy I was to have you join the Danceworks team, but, seriously, what was it like for you?
Elyse: I was looking for something that was similar to my days at First Stage–a place where there had been a lot of growth but there was still a lot of potential for further growth ahead. It was important to me to feel I was a part of the organization’s inner working and to feel that my presence could make a difference. A focus on children is also inspiring to me.
I’d been chasing that elusive work/life balance. I have two kids – busy ‘tween years. Danceworks allowed me that flexibility as long as the work got done. Here, the people are as important as the work. I remember being “reprimanded” by my boss (You!) that I had to make time to dance!
At how many work places are you told to make time to do something good for yourself? It works though, because it feeds back into the work you do. You get to experience the organization firsthand—you see it, you feel it, you do it. To do it is to know it, to understand it. That to me is much more fulfilling than just sitting in the office writing about it.
I had done some musical theatre after college, but I had not danced in years. I started with Pat Marquardt Studios when I was in Kindergarten, then I went to Esther Moody and on to Dance Spectrum where I studied with Katherine Kersten and Pam Kriger.
I left ballet in seventh grade and started taking tap—danced all through high school. I stopped dancing when I got to college and sort of regretted that. Pam taught me Musical Theatre Dance at the JCC after college, but it had been about 15 years since I strapped on my shoes.
Deb: What was that first class like?
Elyse: Oh gosh, my first class was with Amy – 50+ Tap I, and I swiftly added on 50+ Tap II. It came back quickly. But remembering combinations was way harder, and balance was trickier than it used to be! I would be able to get a combination fast in the old days. The 50+ class was so great because it let me move at a slower pace—there was more repetition. Then I moved on to Tap III and left I and II in the dust.
Deb: Do you have goals for Tap this year?
Elyse: My aspiration is to be present—to be in class more. There are so many grant deadlines. But if I’m out for several weeks, the homecoming is always great! Some in my classes have surgery and are gone, some are snow birds. The spirit is wonderful. We’re a family. I started doing tap workout, which brings in weights and general fitness. I love it! My goal is to take one or the other each week, or both if possible. My father-in-law is going to be signing up for Tap I this fall. With my daughter Ariel tapping too, we can do a family talent show.
Deb: Perhaps for the annual meeting! You can be the Von Tap family dancers!
Elyse: Perhaps not.
Deb: What has been most rewarding about your work here?
Elyse: It’s always great to get a grant or a new contribution, but what’s rewarding is to go to the program and see what the money is doing. When I bring a prospect or a donor into the schools and I get to see them experience it for the first time, it’s always uplifting. The (Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap) competition is a long day, but it’s the best day. It’s a day I feel especially proud of what I do.
Ariel and I never miss the Danceworks on Tap concert. For people who don’t know tap, it’s surprising to see that it isn’t made up of hoofin’ alone. There’s a lot of inventiveness, with influences from all different dance forms. It’s very inventive. You watch and say, “I never would have thought of that.” There aren’t many tap concerts around town. This is really it.
My parents enjoy it as well as my children. My husband not so much, but that’s just him. Many husbands do! It thrills me to have something I can share with my family. Being able to share my work with my family is as important as finding a balance with my work.
Danceworks works for me. It really is about making a joyful noise.
Come enjoy! You can get your tickets here for Danceworks on Tap this weekend. Thanks for visiting our blog! –Deb Farris