In our series, Careers in Motion, we bring you interviews with alumni who are innovators, thought leaders and experts in their field. From entrepreneurs and financiers to people in the film industry, architecture and law, you will find illuminating insights from all-star professionals in this monthly slot in our newsletter.
By Deb Cummings
What are you doing in London, England?
The things I love. I am currently the volunteer co-ordinator and youth worker at Mary’s Youth Club (for 10- to 25-year-olds) where we support youth in their personal, social and educational development. I plan and develop programs and activities related to young people’s skills for life, arts, social action, and health and fitness. I’m also a dance tutor at Morley College.
What were some of the top lessons you learned from UCalgary?
One valuable lesson was to take the opportunity to ask questions, take risks and try new things. Once you take a stance and dare to be different — or, better yet, to be yourself — your decisions will have purpose and your life will be lived on your own premises. If I didn’t dare to take a risk in trying to dance or shifting my career into youth and community work, I would have never pursued the career path that I’m on.
If you had to sum up your university education in three words, what would they be?
Phenomenal, challenging and visceral.
What/who launched you on this career path?
It all started with an encounter with a teacher at a young age who encouraged me to pursue the arts, specifically dance. Being involved in dance helped me overcome my shyness, gain confidence and it’s where I found enthusiasm for learning. Without that encounter, I don’t think I’d have the ability to create positive change within young people.
Do you use your business degree in what you do now?
Yes. Every day, I use my communication skills to negotiate contracts, as well as I design project proposals and have to complete outcome reporting for funding and support.
What do you miss about Calgary?
My family and friends, sunshine and good Vietnamese food.
What advice do you have for recent grads who are interested in pursuing a career in dance?
Know your value and how much your time and energy is worth. The arts are just as important in society as other industries, and we help shape our communities and the city. Just keep that in mind.
What traits do you need to be successful in this area?
I’d say the essential attributes needed in both dance and youth work are patience, energy, creativity and a collaborative spirit.
What are two of your biggest career highlights?
My first career highlight happened in Calgary when I was working at Youth Central. Along with 275 volunteers, we achieved a Guinness World Records title for the most sandwiches [20,975] made in one hour — this was part of a joint effort to conquer hunger in Calgary. My second career highlight was the opportunity to compete at New York’s biggest Vogue Ball, the annual Latex Ball, that’s produced by Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC). Some 3,000 people from around the world attend — from models and designers to photographers and members of the Vogue House and Ballroom community. I had watched from the sidelines and from my computer screen for a long, long time. Finally, in 2015, I worked up the courage to participate and compete. I got knocked out at the first battle, but I made it through the pre-selections, so I was pretty happy.
What has been the toughest question you’ve ever been asked in a job interview or an audition?
If you could wake up tomorrow and do one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?
What are the hours and demands like as a youth worker?
In youth work, your hours are rarely 9 to 5. Similarly with dance. You must be flexible and be prepared to work evenings and weekends.
Who are your heroes in your line of work?
The young people that I work with daily are my heroes. They are always open to new opportunities and with a little bit of support and guidance, can contribute a ton to our vibrant community.
Are you finding living expenses to be high in London?
Oh, yeah. Public transport, alone, is absurd. For example, a one-month travel card for zones 1 & 2 [Central London] costs £131 [$235 Cdn].
Why do you love dance?
This may be a bit cliché, but dance is my creative outlet that allows me to express how I feel. It gives me an escape from the world when needed and lets me share my stories and connect with others. All in all, dance has helped me become the person that I am.