Being a Mentor: Expanding the Reach of the Art Form

Editor’s note: Read emerging choreographer Kate Hutter’s reflections on being mentored here.

By Lucy Bowen McCauley

As a person who has been dancing all my life, choreographing for 25 years, teaching for more than 30 years, and now launching the 16th year of my own successful company, I feel prepared to offer some guidance to a younger artistic director and choreographer. Being an artistic director at a dance company is not an easy profession. One must learn to develop and integrate many skills. Hopefully I can pass along some wisdom to Kate Hutter, who I have been paired with through the Dance/USA Mentorship program. I believe that dance is for everyone and can be an important component in everyone’s life whether as audience members or participants. I want to do whatever I can to expand the reach of the art form.

Bowen McCauley Dance has been called a “company with heart.” Mentoring is part of who I am and what BMD is about. I have been acting as an unofficial mentor for years with my own dancers as well as through programs at Leadership Arlington and The Maryland Youth Ballet. Half of our annual budget supports community activities and outreach programs, which bring the joy and benefits of dance to people of all ages from toddlers to seniors, including those with disabilities. As an extension of my own values, through mentoring via Dance/USA, I hope to enable Kate to grow her career and excel in bringing the art of dance to thousands of additional individuals.

Looking back, what would you have liked to have known or have been able to ask someone with more experience?
BMD’s statement is “to use my choreography to expand the boundaries of contemporary dance and become an internationally recognized dance company.” While I now realize the importance of strategic planning to accomplish goals such as these and feel quite adept with fundraising and promoting BMD and myself, in my early years of running a company, I was more focused on just putting a show together and getting people to see my work. I wish I had known the importance of having a strong board and a capable and engaged executive director in place as early as possible. I wish someone had advised me earlier to transition my operating board to a governing board. Like a “mom and pop” company, we literally did everything “in house.” We might have been better served by having more professional support sooner. It would have been more successful with fundraising and marketing if I had realized sooner the importance of being active, serving as the spokesperson and the face of BMD in the broader (non-dance) community. All of us at BMD are very grateful to Michael Kaiser, president of The Kennedy Center and its seminars for boards of arts organizations, as well as other advisors for helping to get us moving on the right track.

Finally, on another note entirely, I wish someone had explained to me that it is always, especially initially, more difficult for artists to stay true to their individual creative visions than to adopt a herd mentality and be a member of an artistic clique. Sometimes it is hard to be appreciated if you are not in the mainstream of a particular discipline and, in my case, it actually was reassuring to hear this from one of my own mentors.

What, if anything, do you expect to gain from mentoring?
My mentee, Kate, and I hit it off immediately and I am excited to have a new friend who reminds me of myself in many ways. Because she is located in L.A., I will have an opportunity to learn about the west coast contemporary dance scene through the unique perspective of a Millennial! I look forward to learning about another dance company from an insider’s point of view as well as Kate’s approach to choreography. As Kate enters her sixth season as a company director, she will get to choose what she wants to focus on with me. My job is not to be a consultant, or advise her by communicating my own story; rather, as her mentor, I see myself functioning more like a life coach with oodles of dance experience. It will be a new and, I think, rewarding experience for me to provide Kate with encouragement and help in establishing goals and the tasks necessary to achieve them.

What advice can you give to other mid-career artists about creating a fruitful mentor/mentee relationship?
It is not too early to think about mentoring! Mentoring provides a wonderful, refreshing, and enlightening way to interact with other members of the dance community. Mentees should be open to new approaches. Mentors should remember that this is not about celebrating their own success and that they should also be open to new ideas. I advise all dance artists to take advantage of mentoring opportunities, on either side of the equation, as a fruitful and productive way to nurture or be nurtured and expand our perspectives while maintaining artistic integrity.

Lucy Bowen McCauley is the artistic director, choreographer and creative energy behind Bowen McCauley Dance, which she formed in 1996. Over 15 years she has created a diverse repertory of more than 70 works and developed unique outreach programs that reach nearly 15,000 individuals annually. Lucy has been credited with “helping to transform Washington into one of the nation’s liveliest center’s in performing arts” and in 2010 was honored with Dance/MetroDC’s Outstanding Achievement in Dance Education Award. Through her leadership, BMD has been recognized as “Washington’s premiere contemporary dance company.” Over the years McCauley has taught at The George Washington University, The Washington Ballet and has been a guest teacher at ABT, the Orlando Ballet, The Kennedy Center, Georgetown University and the Escuela Superior de Música y Danza in Monterrey, Mexico. Lucy is currently on the faculty at The Maryland Youth Ballet and Studio Body Logic.


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