One of the great things about the AGA National Conference is the connections we make with new people. Among the bright lights in Boston this year was Dominique Robinson. I noticed her smile first, and her enthusiasm followed closely behind. She’s got a passion for life, a passion for learning and a big idea: to create a Gap Year experience centered around dance and the arts. Based in NYC, she came to the conference hoping to learn and connect.
Please tell us who you are, what you do, and how you got there.
My name is Dominique Robinson, I am a choreographer, dance filmmaker, and the CEO of Pizarts. Growing up I enjoyed sports and being part of a team. I also have a deep passion for travelling so when I transitioned from sports to dance I knew I could pursue dance as a career that would allow me to do what I love which is travel around the world and meet new people.
Why are you so passionate about the concept of Gap Years?
I began my training in college and although it was a good experience the first three years were overwhelmingly tough. I lacked confidence in myself and it was terrifying to share my ideas. One summer I studied dance in Argentina and after the trip I knew that I wanted to collaborate with artists on a global scale. A few years later I moved back to Argentina where I taught, performed and traveled for 18 months. This transformation led me to discover my passion which was education and so I decided to further my studies.
Graduate school was a completely different experience because I knew exactly what I wanted to study, I could express myself with confidence and I can honestly say that it would not have been possible without taking what I consider myself as an independent Gap Year. I am so passionate about Gap Year because I know that I would have retained so much more from my undergraduate program had I come into school with a Gap Year under my belt.
Pizarts may just be the only Gap experience of its kind.
Tell us a bit about what you’re doing with that and your vision for the future.
Yes, I do believe it is one of a kind and that is partly what drove me to pursue it. Dance Gap Year is a program designed for trained dancers where they get to experience the joy of taking a Gap Year without having to neglect the demands of their training. It combines a curriculum inspired by BA (pedagogy and arts management) and BFA (choreography and performance) degree tracks while including projects that impact the social and personal lives of participants and locals.
Students who take our Gap Year immerse themselves in all aspects of a dance career before entering directly into the audition world or entering a program in higher education. We have a short-term summer program for teens 13-17 and in the fall of 2017, we will have our first 7 month Gap Year for ages 18-25 that will include North America, South America and Asia. Through this experiential process dancers will explore things like dance film, theater, site location composition, integrated arts (movement and literacy), curating works on a budget and women’s empowerment through movement.
Our vision for the future is to set up programs that focus on specific techniques. Ballet dancers for example need to train many hours in ballet. By offering a travel program for dancers to explore different techniques such as RAD, Checcetti, Vaganova and Bornenville, I believe, will allow a unique opportunity for participants to expand their horizons.
You’re in the beginning stages of getting Pizarts off the ground
Can you talk a little bit about that process, your biggest struggles, the connections you’ve made and your process from dream to dancing around the world?
While finishing my last semester at NYU, I entered the ‘Entrepreneurs Challenge’ at Stern School of Business. I am the type of person who needs benchmarks or my mind will wonder so this challenge was the beginning of establishing a concrete plan. Since I have a large following in Argentina within the dance community, I felt Gap Year represented what I was looking for in terms of my passion and interest as a start-up.
To learn more, I went to a Gap Tear fair where I met Holly Bull who told me that dance had been an interest of a recent client and that she would put me in touch with people who could provide me with helpful advice on starting a program.
The greatest struggles include finding resources in the area of logistics like contracts, safety measures and how to devise affordable programming. Nevertheless, going to the Gap Year conference really helped me network with trusted groups that otherwise I don’t believe I would have met on my own.
Tell me a success story
A life changed as a result of a your work, or something you were involved in.
In dance, a lot of issues surround the non-compete clause for both teachers and students. The hardest thing I ever experienced as a teacher was watching a student, after 8 months of private training, be given a harsh ultimatum. Stop training with me or leave the studio she performed at. I explained that I would be leaving in a few months but she thought it was an unfair situation, as did I, and decided to stand up for herself.
When nationals came around I told her I would take her to competition. To see her separated from her studio friends was devastating and I could see the hurt in her eyes. I insisted that this would be life changing because she decided to breakout and be the dancer and person she believed in. She won first place at nationals for her solo and her friends were proud of her, I was proud of her and now she has become one of the most sought out teachers in Argentina and works as a Gap Year guest choreographer.
I am not sure I would have had the courage she had but I am so proud to say that this experience has created another educator who believes that knowledge is to be shared and not controlled. For me, this was a proud moment and proof that we are working towards something special, something life changing, something for the greater good.