In honor of Tutu Tuesday (2/2) this year, PNB is celebrating by fundraising for our Second Stage program!

Second Stage is a multi-faceted career transition program for PNB dancers to achieve their post-Company goals. Since 1999, Second Stage has provided more than $750,000 in grants to dozens of dancers. Our former colleagues are now working in law, medicine, dance education, culinary arts, dancewear design and manufacturing, aesthetics, and photography—as well as creating and managing companies world-wide. The program offers scholarships, mentorships, support for research, and a unique partnership with Seattle University.

Read on for profiles of just a few of PNB dancers past and present who have participated in Second Stage.

Leah Terada, PNB Dancer

“My career as a dancer with the Pacific Northwest Ballet comes first and foremost. However, it’s never too soon to think about the future, which is why I wanted to participate in the Second Stage program.

Second Stage is a unique opportunity at PNB that has enabled me to access the resources and confidence I’ve needed to imagine a path alongside my place in the Corps de Ballet. Little did I know that by planning for a future career, I was simultaneously widening my perspective as a young artist and elevating and improving my performance as a dancer and participant in today’s society.

My love for devotion to dance and the arts has led me to pursue an undergraduate degree in Interdisciplinary Arts with a specialization in Arts Leadership at Seattle University. I hope that with the skills I obtain from this degree, I can continue to contribute to the arts.”

With the support of Second Stage, I have been able to continue growing as a student, teacher, artist, and human person. I am beyond grateful and honored to be a part of this program. 

Kiyon Ross, Director of Company Operations

“As a young dancer I always knew I wanted to pursue higher education. However, I also knew I wanted a full career as a ballet dancer. This was something I needed to do during the time when most people my age were in college. At the outset, it seemed my only choices were to chase my art OR chase my education. Enter PNB’s Second Stage program and partnership program with Seattle U. Access to top tier education and pursuing my dreams of dance all rolled into a neat package was a definitely a no-brainer for me.

Through my many transitions at PNB: PD Student, Soloist Dancer, Next Step program Manager, PNBS faculty member and Outreach teacher, and most recently Director of Company Operations, I have been able to influence the culture within our organization.  At this point in my career, I believe I am exactly where I should be, doing the work that is most important me.

I always knew I wanted to remain in the ARTS after my career as a dancer. My goals post-dance have remained largely the same: First, to give back to my artform through sharing the knowledge and experiences gained during my career, and second, to make things better for the next generation of dancers through creating a nurturing environment, continuing to develop new works and new voices, and providing space where dancers are free to explore their artistry constructively and without judgement.

The Second Stage program is crucial for preparing dancers for careers after leaving the stage. It is through the generosity of our donors that we are able to continue to grow and develop not only as dancers, but also as complete humans. Education and learning are paramount to this journey towards self-actualization. My colleagues and I are very grateful to PNB, Seattle U, and all of our donors and patrons who continue to help us reach our dreams onstage and off.”

Miles Pertl, PNB Dancer

“I have spent the majority of my life in a dance studio, working to become the best dancer I could possibly be. With that overriding focus, it becomes easy to forget about what comes after. When each of us inevitably move on from the stage life, we will bring our creativity, perseverance, and dedication, and apply them to whatever we do. While I still don’t know where my final destination will be after dance, I know that I will need to continue to grow.

To that end, I have been using Second Stage to fund my college education at Seattle University. In a partnership with PNB, SU has been offering classes in the evenings that don’t conflict with our (normally) very busy rehearsal and performance schedules. These classes even helped keep me motivated throughout our spells of quarantine. From biotechnology to philosophy, or Consumer mathematics to Spatial justice; these classes have helped fortify my knowledge base. They have even affected how I approach my art and choreography! For example, the spatial justice course I recently took has prompted me to include themes of sustainability, home, and urbanization in my newest Next Step choreography, sourcing ideas from the discussions I’ve been leading with my students. It has enabled me to think more critically about my surroundings and the changes occurring throughout Seattle.”

Truthfully, all of my classes have been deeply impactful as to how I see and relate to the world around me, and how I process that information through my artwork. I am so grateful for this opportunity to continue to learn while still doing what I love so much: dance.

Josh Spell, Consulting Therapist, PNB School

“As much as I did not consciously want to admit that a dancer’s career is short, I subconsciously understood the importance of having other aspects of my identity. Being in the first cohort of the Seattle University and PNB partnership was a great place to start exploring other parts of myself in a safe way. Other dancers were also utilizing the Second Stage program and this sense of community made me feel more at ease stepping out of my dancer comfort zone.

In my current role as consulting therapist for PNBS I have come full circle. Many of the experiences I had as a dancer led me to my career as a social worker. I took inventory of the struggles I experienced as a dancer and gained a new perspective in my training of human behavior. For me, it was much easier to gain perspective outside of the studio. Now I have the opportunity to connect what is happening in the ballet culture for dancers and provide new alternatives for some of the mental stressors that dancers encounter.”

Second stage is a unique gift to dancers and is a pioneer program in the larger context of the dance world. Other companies have looked to PNB as a model to prepared dancers for retirement and life after dance.

Leta Biasucci, PNB Dancer

“I came to PNB in 2011, and it was at that time that the Seattle University/PNB partnership started offering Arts Leadership degree requirement courses. Before then, the partnership had offered 100-level courses, and some dancers had earned enough credits to start looking at next educational steps. I had tried to take one online self-paced college course while I was dancing at Oregon Ballet Theatre. It was an unexpected introduction to college, and I just didn’t have the tools to complete it successfully. Ultimately, I ended up a few hundred dollars poorer, zero credits richer, and feeling pretty frustrated.

When I came to PNB, I didn’t have a clear vision of what I would like to do after dance, so I figured that an education of SU’s caliber was the best investment that I could make for my future. At that point, I was just taking advantage of an opportunity, without the concrete goal of earning a degree.

My education has provided me with a more comprehensive understanding of how PNB functions, and it has given me a greater appreciation for the work that goes into making the ‘Ballet’ portion of Pacific Northwest Ballet possible. The experience has made me a more well rounded person, a more knowledgeable citizen, and ultimately I believe, a better artist. Earning my undergraduate degree has offered a springboard to consider different career paths and explore different sides of my non-dancer self. 

While the notion is changing, there are often too many barriers of entry for a dancer to pursue higher education, and explore other passions. Time, accessibility, and of course, expense are all hurdles. Dancers are exceptional in reaching personal goals through cultivated grit, dedication, and determination; but before anyone can aim for a goal, one must feel like that goal is attainable. That is why there is a real need for programs like Second Stage. 

One of the most rewarding parts of my educational experience was attending my graduation ceremony. I shared that experience with only a few familiar faces, and yet I knew that as a non-traditional student, my education meant something different to me than it did to many of them. I graduated Summa cum laude and was the recipient of an award for highest GPA in my major- it was a pretty cool honor. I will be forever grateful that coming to PNB meant both joining a dream company, as well as being offered an accessible path to becoming a college graduate. Without Second Stage, I don’t think I would have achieved this personal goal.”

Benjamin Griffiths, former PNB Dancer

Like professional athletes, dancers’ careers are extremely physically demanding and, therefore, have a relatively short lifespan. With a few rare exceptions, most dancers retire from the stage before reaching their early 40’s. Even as we pursue our first passion wholeheartedly, we are well aware of the fact that we will have to carve out a new career path for the second half of our adult lives. Shortly after joining Pacific Northwest Ballet, I recognized the Second Stage program as a valuable resource that could help me explore possibilities for my post-performance professional life. For me, one of the most enticing features of the program was its partnership with Seattle University, in which SU offers classes to the dancers at the Phelps Center that work around their erratic schedules. Through this partnership, I was able to obtain my bachelor’s degree (by slowly chipping away at the required credits over a 12-year period) before retiring from PNB.”

The classes and internships that I completed in pursuit of this degree prepared me for life after dance by offering new perspectives, introducing new ideas, honing my critical thinking and providing me with new, non-dance skills. I am extremely grateful for the support of Second Stage, which encouraged me to look toward the future while making the steps to manifest that future much more financially feasible!

Photo credits: PNB Company dancers taking a bow after George Balanchine’s Diamonds. ©Lindsay Thomas. Leah Terada and PNB dancers in George Balanchine’s Square Dance. ©Lindsay Thomas. Kiyon Ross teaching during PNB’s 2018 Summer Course. ©Lindsay Thomas. Miles Pertl and Noelani Pantastico in rehearsal for Roméo et Juliette. ©Angela Sterling. Josh Spell in Fancy Free ©Angela Sterling. Leta Biasucci in The Sleeping Beauty. ©Angela Sterling. Leta and her husband James at her graduation from SU in 2018. Courtesy of Leta Biasucci. Benjamin Griffiths in George Balanchine’s Square Dance. ©Angela Sterling. Choreography for Diamonds and Square Dance by George Balanchine © The Balanchine Trust.