UArts Pre-College Alumni: Nicole Wasserman

Summer Institute, ’98, ‘99

Pre-College Summer Institute, ’98, ‘99

Director of School Administration, American Dance Festival (2007-2017)
Executive Assistant to the CTO, Meow Wolf (2017-present)

BFA, Virginia Commonwealth University ’05 (Dance & Choreography)
MA, Goucher College, ’16 (Arts Administration)

Hometown: New York City and Schooleys Mountain, NJ
Along the way: Richmond, VA and Raleigh-Durham, NC
Current living in: Santa Fe, NM

Summer Institute was a pivotal experience that influenced my decision to pursue a career in dance.

The daughter of a jazz pianist and music teacher (her father) and a professional tap dancer and visual artist (her mother), Nicolle understood from an early age that the arts matter and can offer exciting opportunities for making one’s way in the world. As a young person she explored music, the visual arts, and dance, but her Summer Institute experience was one of the factors that led to the decision to focus on dance. It was “the most amazing experience ever” with rigorous and sophisticated training, a taste of what college life would be like, and encouragement to pursue a career in the field of dance. The first summer was so “freeing” and inspiring, she returned the following year.

Through a Work Study job in arts administration during her college years, Nicolle discovered a talent for, and interest in, arts administration and saw options for connecting with the arts beyond performance. Believing in the “radical, transformative, life-changing power of the arts,” and with the realization that a lot goes on behind the scenes to bring the arts to life, she chose to dedicate herself to arts administration. After a stint in the New York City office of the American Dance Festival (no longer in operation), Nicolle moved to Durham, North Carolina where for a decade she was responsible for recruitment, marketing, budgeting, and operations for the American Dance Festival’s five modern dance educational programs in New York, North Carolina, and California with more than 600 participants annually. Founded in 1934 by Martha Graham and her colleagues, the Dance Festival is considered among the greatest programs of its kind in the world. The competitive summer program held on the campus of Duke University every summer has since 2016 included more participants from the University of the Arts than any other dance program in the country.

Nicolle’s work at the American Dance Festival, she says, was creative on multiple levels: interacting with artists; moving from the theoretical or abstract to concrete and structured plans, and seeing the results of the logistics and exhaustive planning realized in the form of art. And she has loved it. Arts administration, she says, is about creative teamwork, multi-disciplinary connections and crossovers, and the opportunity to work with passionate people who care deeply about the future of the arts to change the way we learn, think about, and engage with the world. After eleven years at the American Dance Festival, Nicolle has moved, for personal reasons, to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she is seeking a new position in arts administration.

“An arts education is the best education imaginable for pursuing any endeavor.”

Nicolle is a determined and eloquent advocate for arts education. Based on both her personal and professional experience, she believes that an arts education helps young people develop a sense of discipline, no matter how challenging or difficult the tasks they are asked to perform; learn how to “think on their feet” and solve problems creatively; collaborate effectively with others whose views may differ from their own; and develop empathy. Engaging seriously as a student of the arts in any field requires “an amazing work ethic,” which is great preparation for nearly any endeavor she says.

The dance program at UArts is one of the most amazing and visionary dance programs in the world.

“We were treated like artists and taught to respect that role,” Nicolle says of her Summer Institute experiences. Today, after many years as professional in the field of dance, she says that the Dance Program at UArts, under the direction of Donna Faye Burchfield, is among the most innovative in the world. Students learn not only the rigorous technique of dance, but how to think and talk about dance and how to understand the role, power, and potential of dance in an “unsettled world.” Nicolle’s dance training at UArts was instrumental, she says, in her dance training, and therefore; her success as an arts administrator and will continue to shape her future plans.