Meredith – an IÉSEG student and professional ballet dancer
We have met Meredith HUNTER-MASON, an International MBA student at IÉSEG and former professional ballet dancer.
Why did you choose dancing and how did you become a professional dancer?
I started dancing at a very young age – I was 5 or 6 – and I fell in love with the art form right away. When I was 13, I started training 6 days a week and I became very passionate about perfecting the technique.
I then took on the main female role, Clara, in the Nutcracker which is when I really fell in love with the expressive side of ballet. I loved being able to completely embody another character. I was 16 at the time and was dancing 7 days a week, which was very intense. After high school, the time came for me to decide whether I wanted to go directly into a ballet company or continue training at a university with a ballet program As I knew that a dancer’s career is short, I preferred to have a plan B and decided to study Arts Administration in college while continuing to train. For a typical day I would wake up, go to ballet class, attend a business class and communications course, go back to the studio to rehearse, and finally return home to start working on homework.
After I graduated, I joined the City Ballet of San Diego – it was the first time in my life that I could focus only on ballet and I fell in love with the art form all over again. I took part in the Nutcracker ballet as well as Swan Lake which were my favourite experiences. However, it is very hard to sustain yourself financially when you are a ballet dancer, especially if you work with a small company, which is why I did not continue. A lot of dancers are not even paid and therefore, need another job on the side. While I was a professional dancer I was also working overnight at a gym. This was when I began to realize how much needed to change in the dance industry.
What did you choose to do after this experience as a professional dancer?
I decided that it was time to put my Arts Administration degree to use, and I wanted to use it to make change in the ballet world. I was the Strategic Projects Specialist at the Boston Ballet for the past couple of years, and over time I realized I had the ambition to create higher impact on the industry through a more influential position. My dream job is to be an executive director in a major ballet institution.
Why did you decide to study in France and particularly at IÉSEG?
I have always been inclined towards the French culture, which is so rich, and I always wanted to live in Paris, it was one of my dreams. The COVID pandemic came and with new time to reflect, I decided it was time to look at MBA programs in order to find one that would help me achieve my career goals. I discovered IESEG and its motto “empowering changemakers for a better society” – I really connected with that as I want to become a changemaker myself. I also chose IESEG because the program offered a focus on leadership, specifically through positive leadership and ethics courses. These two dimensions are very important to me as I think they are imperative to leading any institution. The international dimension is also essential. The world of ballet is small, everyone knows each other, and it is always beneficial to know how foreign companies work and how to pick up on cultural nuances in order to build a larger and more connected network.
What does the International MBA at IESEG brings you for your future plans?
It allows me to develop a corporate mindset that I will be able to take to the non-profit field. It helps with developing creative solutions. I might not have been as innovative if I had only stayed in the non-profit sector. This program puts such a focus on how the world is changing and the importance of adaptation. Through the Innovation and strategic management courses, it teaches us to be aware and always think ahead as things are transforming. This will help me to have a unique perspective and creative approach to advancing the ballet industry.
What did it bring to your personal and professional life to be a professional ballet dancer?
Resilience. It prepared me to not be afraid, to take risks, and to accept rejections. It is not easy to be a dancer, from a young age you have to accept rejections because you frequently audition for summer programs and performances. Ballet taught me not to take such rejections personally and to always keep trying. If things are not working out, it just means that you’re not where you want to be yet, but someday you will get there. Now, I am not afraid to speak up, to apply to positions, to move to a new city – it is always better to try and fail and try again than to always be thinking “what if…?” And I often have to remind myself that if I had not taken any risks, I would not be in Paris at this very moment.
And how is it to be living in France?
I love living in Paris! I love being able to go to exhibits every weekend. The art culture is so strong here, it has even exceeded my expectations. I recently went to see a ballet at the Opéra Garnier, it was an amazing experience. I could feel in the atmosphere that people here really enjoy and appreciate this art which is so special for me.
Would you like to go back on stage?
This summer, I actually had the opportunity to dance in an original production called The Queen of Nori and although I won’t be in the final cut, I also worked as an extra on the TV show “The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel”. It was such a pleasure to be able to participate in these experiences. I also go to a ballet class regularly in Paris, ballet is a universal language, so we can practice it anywhere. In the future, I plan to do small gigs so that I can still express myself on stage.