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Meet Jamie Farrell, Dancer, Performer, Teacher for Concert Dance Inc.

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jamie Farrell.

Jamie, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
My career in dance began at the age of 11. I was a competitive gymnast with a knack for choreography, and my coach recommended I sign up for a dance class to help. I was bombarded my first year with completely new concepts of moving rhythmically, executing movements on both sides of the body, emotional expression, etc. My second year dancing, I took two dance classes on top of competing gymnastics, and from there, a gradual and organic shift ensued throughout high school. Fast forward to college where I faced the big question, what do you want to study? I was originally thinking about going into accounting because I excelled in math, but taking the advice of my dad who spoke about how a person who loves their job never works a day in their life, I ultimately chose to follow a dream to study dance in college. I applied and got accepted into the prestigious Point Park University in Pittsburgh, PA studying dance and business management.

After college, I moved to Chicago where I began teaching dance, training and auditioning. I performed with several small dance companies and worked at multiple dance studios for a number of years. Dancers beginning their professional career must usually find other ways to make financial ends meet. The year 2006 was an epic year for me. I became a member of Concert Dance Inc. after a company member recommendation. I was surrounded by dancers that could out-dance me even if they were sick AND injured. I thank my lucky stars that the Artistic Director, Venetia Stifler, saw something special in me and decided to keep me around. Little did I know that this decision would send me on a path that carried me to where I am today. I have now been performing with the company for 12 seasons and serve as the Rehearsal Director. I am also a director and teach at Northeastern University. Add in the Masters, too and anything relevant. Masterclass training, etc.

I moved to Chicago where I began teaching dance, training, and auditioning. I performed with several small dance companies and worked at multiple dance studios for a number of years. Dancers beginning their professional career must usually find other ways to make financial ends meet as concert dancers are typically compensated very little. 2006 was an epic year for me that little did I know at the time would send me on a path that carried me to where I am today.

I became a member of Concert Dance Inc. after a company member recommendation. I was surrounded by dancers that could out dance me even if they were sick AND injured. I thank my lucky stars that the Artistic Director, Venetia Stifler, saw something special in me and decided to keep me around. I have been performing with the company for 12 seasons and now serve as the Rehearsal Director. I am also the Coordinator of the Dance Program at Northeastern Illinois University and direct Denise Sabala Dance Company.

In 2006, an unexpected vacancy teaching dance at Northeastern Illinois University came my way. Grateful and eager, I worked hard to exceed expectations and began coursework to earn an M.S. in Exercise Science. Upon completing my M.S., I started teaching Physical Education courses in addition to Dance. In 2017, yet another opportunity to grow presented itself as I accepted a position as the Coordinator of the Dance Program at NEIU.
Along with performing and teaching at the university, I teach youth dancers. Continuing on the high note, I began teaching at Denise Sabala Dance Studios in Lake Zurich, IL. Year after year, I took on more classes, choreography, and leadership roles. I now serve as the Artistic Director of Denise Sabala Dance Company, which has grown from 35 to 105 members currently.

I could not be more grateful and proud to stand here today dancing for Concert Dance Inc., coordinating the Northeastern Illinois University Dance Program, and directing the Denise Sabala Dance Company. A dream that is bigger than I could have dreamt and almost did not take a chance on.

Has it been a smooth road?
I feel fortunate to have gotten many breaks, but each road has bumps (and some are larger than others). The physical and financial commitment involved with being an artist and athlete is real. Yet, I choose to love what I do for a living and accept the challenges. Making ends meet as a dancer early on in my career was a struggle. I taught dance six days a week and had to work as a server, like many artists, to pay for training, rent, and life. I definitely had to learn more about budgeting my time and assets.

All of my work right out of college was also subcontractor work, meaning no benefits (health insurance, tax withholding, etc.). Two years out of college, I developed a back injury and had to make the choice to not seek care since I didn’t have the insurance nor the finances to pay for it. I took a 4-week break from dancing, only to return with 80 percent of the pain remains. I need to move, to express, yet the pain was zapping my desire for and enjoyment of the art. I decided to take a three-month break to heal but that could have easily turned into the end of my career. During the last month, I turned to yoga as a form of physical and psychological therapy, and maintain an active practice today. Yoga helped build my confidence in my body and taught me to talk to myself differently. I learned much about how I need to take care of myself outside of the dance studio and while I am dancing. It has definitely been a lifesaver for the work I do.

So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the Dancer (performer/teacher) for Concert Dance Inc. story. Tell us more about the business.
With my work with Concert Dance Inc. as Dancer and Rehearsal Director, I am most proud of the process we share to create the work. The dancers and Venetia Stifler work together to create movement appropriate to a specific idea while being sensitive to the atmosphere we generate and the audience’s experience. I am known for being the most energetic with a comedic spark. The dancers are constantly asking me what I eat for breakfast that makes me so zealous in the morning. (It’s Greek yogurt!)

At Northeastern Illinois University as Coordinator of the Dance Program, I teach dance courses and play an administrative role (budgeting, scholarships, scheduling, etc.). I am most proud of the student’s growth as thinkers and moving bodies throughout the journey of college.

As the Director of the Denise Sabala Dance Company, I teach multiple genres of dance, create choreography and rehearse dancers. While I teach dance and dance technique, I really specialize in teaching life lessons to these young and aspiring dancers that are applicable in life outside of the dance studio that they can carry forward in their journey. Hard and smart workers, positive thinking, and kindness transcend in all sectors of life.

How do you think the industry will change over the next decade?
The dance field has a deep history and seems to be changing quickly. Technology and media have brought dance from all over the world to many new audiences, which is great! The spreading and sharing of ideologies, styles, talent, and training concepts is glorious; however, I do feel there is a general lack of deep understanding of branches of dance due to the inherent entertainment value of witnessing it. The historic and artistic value can often be overlooked. Some young dancers are highly trained and committed, which causes me to wonder what they are missing developmentally from experiencing various activities and when they will peak or burn out resulting in less career longevity.

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Image Credit:
Concert Dance Inc. Photos by C. Murray Ardies Frozen Crocus Photography

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