Working at the Ballet, Knowing Nothing About Ballet

22 May

When I first applied for an internship at ABT, I thought I had no chance in getting it. My previous experiences were in film, but I knew I was interested in events and arts administration the most. I was absolutely floored when I got the internship, having thought that they would only hire people with a background in dance. The most experience had with ballet were the two lessons I attended when I was three years old until I realized it was NOTHING like Barbie’s Nutcracker and quit. On my orientation day at ABT, I realized that while a lot of the interns around me did have ballet experience, some of them didn’t. Dennis let us know that they try to find people with diverse backgrounds, which immediately made me feel more comfortable. If anything, I felt like my different career background could help me contribute in different ways.

My mentor at ABT was Grace Hellstrom, the Donor Relations Coordinator. On one of my first days at ABT, we got coffee and spent a little time learning more about each other. I found it very comforting to know that she did not come from a ballet background either, and had more experience with arts administration. It felt good to know that if she could find success in an art form she was less familiar with, then maybe I could too. 

I really enjoyed my time interning at ABT. I loved the office environment, and how fun and kind everyone was to one another. It sounds a bit cliché, but it really did feel like one big family. I found myself getting opportunities to do work for people besides my mentor, which allowed me to get to know more people in the office. By the end of my (in-person) internship, I felt really comfortable, and even more so, excited walking into 890 Broadway. I’m incredibly thankful for the opportunity I had to work at ABT, and while I’m disappointed that I didn’t have the chance to help with all the events due to the very unusual circumstances of this year, I’m still very happy with the work I did do. I also feel like I finally have some understanding of ballet, and can really appreciate it in ways I did not before. I still may not be able to plié, but at the very least now I can identify one!!

Friday morning, I arrived at 890 Broadway, only the third time since I had started interning. Today was our first intern meeting of the year, but we were meeting in the conference room instead of down in the lounge because they were setting up for a Studio Visit. I grabbed my binder, notebook, and a pen, and walked down the hallway of offices over to the conference room. I was met with other interns, all sitting around the table waiting for the meeting to start. I think we learned about nonprofits that day. When the meeting was over, I quickly put my stuff back on my desk, and went downstairs with three other interns to the gorgeous, spacious lounge. We met with Alex Reffie, the Membership Assistant Manager, who was running the event for the day. While we had missed setup, there was still much for us to do. First, I was assigned to greet guests at the bottom of the staircase, and take them up to the bathrooms if necessary. Next, I was asked to run upstairs and find more hangers a few times when needed. Finally, after Grey Johnson, the Director of Membership, gave his welcome speech, the guests split up into groups, one of which I was leading with another employee. 

As we walked up to the studio, I went up to Grace Hellstrom, the Donor Relations Coordinator who I was paired with, and asked “are we going to sit in there with them?”. When she answered yes, my heart started to pound; I was going to get to watch my first rehearsal! I tried to remain calm while I escorted the group into the studio and then into chairs set up around the room. Once everyone was seated, Grace and I found two open seats and sat down as well. Then, I was transported into another world, watching some of the most incredible dancers rehearse a part of Fancy Free. I don’t think a smile left my face until we finished applauding at the end of the rehearsal. To make things even better, we were going to escort them to another studio, where they (and I!) would get to watch another rehearsal. We walked through the halls to the next studio and repeated the procedure: allow the guests to come in and sit down, and find seats for ourselves. This time, I would get to watch an excerpt from Giselle, with Sarah Lane and Daniil Simkin. I have never gotten to see something so incredibly beautiful so up close before. I was speechless, and even began to tear up. Once the rehearsal finished, I went about my day, putting away chairs, cleaning up after the event, and doing various other tasks asked of me; just another day at ABT. 

This is what it’s like to intern at American Ballet Theatre. It’s rushing around, doing a hundred different tasks, whether that be for your supervisor or helping out another employee, and every once in a while, getting to experience a bit of the magic that goes on behind the scenes. While my time at ABT was an interesting one, and time in person was cut short due to COVID-19, I will never forget that day I witnessed the brilliance of ballet just a few feet in front of me. I’ll never forget working on donor research or invitations and hearing the beautiful piano, with bouts of cheers and claps in between. I cannot express how grateful I am for my time at ABT. Thank you to everyone who has made the experience unforgettable.

Jessica Dickman

Donor Relations Intern

Spring 2020

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