Connecting With a Mentor Brings Small Details to Light

Editor’s note: Dance/USA’s Institute
for Leadership Training is accepting applications for its next cohort of mentors and mentees. Here Marlana Doyle discusses the process of being a mentee. The program matches experienced leaders in the field with rising professionals, and it includes a modest honorarium and travel stipend to attend the upcoming annual conference. The deadline to apply is March 29, 2013. To read about mentor
John Malashock’s experiences, click here.

By Marlana Doyle

Why did you feel you needed a mentor?
The reason I applied to the Institute for Leadership Training for Dance/USA was to understand the role of an artistic director and how vital it is for an organization. Finding a dance position in a professional dance company after graduating college is always challenging. When I decided to move to Houston, Texas, to join the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company in 2001, I never imagined that 12 years later I would become its artistic director. In my second year as a company member, the artistic director quit via e-mail and I was asked by the Board of Directors to serve as the liaison between the newly reorganized company and the board. I was 23 years old, ready to learn, and do whatever it took to keep the company from folding. I quickly became educated from the guidance and experience of executive director for the last 16 years, Michelle Smith. While still dancing with the company, I gained a passion for what my role was becoming and how it could develop. I became the company manager in 2005, managing director in 2008, and in January 2012 was appointed artistic director. I felt that connecting with a mentor would provide me the proper guidance I needed.

What did you hope to learn or gain?
When I was applying for this mentor/mentee training opportunity, I had an idea of what I wanted to learn for my personal and professional development. I felt that I have been rising to this position from experience, but still needed some guidance on the questions I had, like how, what and why. I anticipated that my mentor would provide insight into the role of an artistic director, particularly one who knows how to work with a small-sized dance company, and what it takes to be a nationally recognized dance company.

What surprised you or what didn’t you expect that occurred with this relationship? 
As a mentee, I had goals that I wanted to accomplish over these six months of working together. My mentor managed to keep me focused on those goals and had me also look at small details that I never would have known to be so important. Talking through problems and hearing his experiences were also helpful.My mentor, John Malashock, managed to keep me focused on those goals and had me also look at small details that I never would have known to be so important. Talking through problems and hearing his experiences were also helpful.

What have you learned?
In working with John, I have learned a number of things, but most importantly, I learned that taking time to not react emotionally but instead to really think things through. As an artistic director, I felt like I had to make decisions quickly, but from John I learned that taking my time and processing the situation made for a better outcome.

What was challenging about forging the mentor/mentee relationship?
The most challenging thing for John and me was finding time to talk with our busy schedules. We managed to make it work by setting aside a few hours a month to talk and he was available for me to call if I had a question or concern that I needed another opinion on. I found it comforting that I could communicate with him at any time.

Do you see yourself moving into this mentorship role in coming years?
As I obtain more experience and knowledge in the field of dance, I hope that someday I will be able to be a mentor to a young artist like myself. I feel organizations like Dance/USA and programs like the Institute for Leadership Training are vital for the future of dance. I have attended the annual conferences for the past five years and am grateful for them as I gain so much from talking, learning, and networking with other colleagues in the dance field.

Marlana Doyle, artistic director of the Houston Metropolitan Dance Company, is originally from Massachusetts and graduated from Point Park University in 2001 with a BA in Dance. Marlana has been dancing with the Houston Met for the past twelve years and was a major part of the Met’s reorganization in 2003. As the artistic director, she has tried to keep the diversity and versatility of the dancers and choreographers a part of the overall artistic vision of the company. She and the company are members of Dance Source Houston, Association of Performing Arts Presenters, and Dance/USA. Marlana has represented the Houston Met Dance Company by attending both annual conferences for Arts Presenters and Dance/USA as an emerging leader for the past five years. She recently was awarded the Dance/USA Leadership Mentee Fellowship for the Institute of Training. She has also served on many grant and organizational panels for the Houston Arts Alliance. She has helped book national tours for the company in Boston, New York City, California, Pennsylvania, Chicago, Indiana, Michigan, and Louisiana. The company performed to standing ovations at the Boston Cotemporary Dance Festival and Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Inside/Out series this past August. As a dancer Marlana has worked with many talented choreographers including Robert Battle, Larry Keigwin, Kate Skarpetowska, Jason Parsons, Salim Gaulwoos, Peter Chu, Charlotte Griffin, Nina Bussion, Caleb Mitchell, Jason McDole, Kiesha Lalama, jhon r stronks, Spencer Gavin Hering, Paola Georgudis, Julie Fox, Kiki Lucas, and Joe Celej. While directing the professional company is her main focus, Marlana also fills her time with directing Houston Met Too Youth Company, and choreographing, teaching, and judging in Houston and throughout the United States.


We accept submissions on topics relevant to the field: advocacy, artistic issues, arts policy, community building, development, employment, engagement, touring, and other topics that deal with the business of dance. We cannot publish criticism, single-company season announcements, and single-company or single artist profiles. Additionally, we welcome feedback on articles. If you have a topic that you would like to see addressed or feedback, please contact

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in guest posts do not necessarily represent the viewpoints of Dance/USA.

Skip to content