Editor’s note: Dance/USA’s Institute for Leadership Training is accepting applications for its next cohort of mentors and mentees. Here John Malashock discusses the rewards of being a mentor. 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 mentee Marlana Doyle’s experiences, click here.
By John Malashock
Looking back, what would you have liked to have known or have been able to ask someone with more experience in the field?
This being my 25th year of leading Malashock Dance, it seems timely to look back with some pride on the accomplishments, but it also seems to raise the specter of “what would I have done differently.” Having moved from New York back to California many years ago, and having started a company in a remote-ish corner of the country, I wish I had been given stronger guidance by someone about nurturing the relationships I formed earlier in my career. It is hard to do, and the general over-busy-ness of life and work takes a toll on the time and commitment necessary to develop deeper relationships with people who can help pave a pathway for success in this most tenuous line of work. I wish I had been given stronger guidance by someone about nurturing the
relationships I formed earlier in my career. It is hard to do, and the general over-busy-ness of life and work takes a toll on the time and commitment necessary to develop deeper relationships with people in the field who can help pave a pathway for success in this most tenuous line of work.
What, if anything, did you expect to gain from mentoring?
I have done a lot of mentoring and coaching here in San Diego through various leadership networks, but rarely with people in the dance field. So I was excited about drawing on this practice with someone who really spoke the same language. I really looked forward to working with Marlana because I have personally experienced the pitfalls of being both a dancer in my company while being its artistic director. Marlana seemed to truly value that knowledge and we were able to quickly get to the heart of some issues. The satisfaction of that kind of alignment was what I was looking for and what I got.
What advice can you give to other mid-career artists about creating a fruitful mentor/mentee relationship?
Hmmm. Mid-career is a rather relative term in our field. Regarding a successful mentor/mentee relationship, there are two things I think are key. First, ask good questions. Usually, your mentee is in the best position to come up with their own solutions to their own issues, if you are a good enough listener to know how to ask the right questions. This is an art in itself and relates to what I am going to say next. Second, if they truly need advice, be sparing in your words and very concrete in your suggestions. Nothing shuts down a productive relationship faster than someone rattling on about themselves and painting a picture that the mentee doesn’t quite relate to. Know the difference between being a good counselor and simply doling out opinions. Understand that proudly sharing your successes can be far less poignant than humbly relating a failure to make the point. Finding out what your mentee needs is actually the biggest challenge, because often he or she cannot usually articulate it at first.
Anything else you wish to add about the value of serving as a mentor to a developing artist?
At its core, dance is a handed-down art form. We almost take this for granted in the studio, and don’t even think about it as it is occurring. It is how young dancers become seasoned and powerful performers; and how experienced dancers absorb the craft of creating dance work on their paths to becoming choreographers. But there is a world of opportunity to pass on knowledge and experience outside of the studio as well, and this has more to do with opening someone to the possibilities in front of them – be that artistic or intensely practical. Generosity is not always the first word that pops up in relation to the dance field, but this kind of generosity just feels good.
John Malashock is artistic director of Malashock Dance, which he founded in San Diego after a distinguished performing career with Twyla Tharp’s company in New York. Malashock has created over 75 choreographic works and has been commissioned for productions at La Jolla Playhouse, the Old Globe Theater, San Diego Opera, San Diego Symphony, KPBS-TV, and numerous others, John has garnered five Emmy Awards for his dance films, which have aired on PBS stations nationwide. Malashock currently serves on the Board of Trustees for Dance/USA and is proud to have taken the leadership role in conceiving, developing and establishing Dance Place San Diego. As an artist-in-residence at La Jolla Playhouse, he is currently developing a dance musical based on the life, work, and relationships of artist Marc Chagall.
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