Most of us have passion projects – activities we are deeply committed to and receive the bulk of our precious free time outside the office. For many, that’s where these projects stay – outside the office. However, Erin McNulty (COM ’11) found it virtually impossible to keep her dancing confined to an “extracurricular activity” and vowed to make dance, in one form or another, her full-time career. While many applauded her drive, creativity, and vision, few told her how difficult pursuing a non-traditional career path would be. Learning not to fear leaping, and falling, was all part of the creative process that led her to some of the most personally and professionally significant achievements of her life.
Finding her rhythm
Erin began her BU career in the College of Communication studying journalism and concentrating in magazine journalism. She played to her strengths during her study abroad program in Sydney, Australia where she interned for Time Out Sydney writing dance reviews. This dynamic intersection of journalism and dance was the first time she realized that dance could play a part in her professional life. Her dancing continued to flourish as a member of BU’s Dance Theatre Group, under the direction of Micki Taylor-Pinney, where she delved into the choreography process for the first time. Encouraged further by two other BU dance faculty members, DeAnna Pellecchia and Ingrid Schatz, she was forced to think critically about all aspects of the work she was making, not just about the movements themselves.
Upon graduation, Erin took a position with YouthBuild USA as part of the AmeriCorps VISTA program at a “critical juncture” in her budding career where she wanted her work to focus on service to others, especially youth. Developing a wide range of skills that would later become indispensable, Erin was still determined to keep dance as a significant focus of her time. Inspired by the duet work of her past instructors, Pellecchia and Schatz, Erin began dancing with the duo’s company, Kairos Dance Theater, once a week. She instantly became “hooked on the work that they were doing” and credits her experience here as her inspiration “to think bigger about dance in my life.” But transition is never easy, and Erin is quick to note that this one was no exception. While balancing multiple part-time positions – in restaurants, dance studios, and non-profits – she carved out time to work on her own dance projects. Erin knew that this tightrope act would ultimately give her the flexible schedule she needed to begin thinking critically about her future in this field. “Every day was a series of costume changes – switching between different positions and personalities as each ‘performance’ required.”
By 2015, Erin knew that she was ready for yet another leap forward, both literally and figuratively. Having explored both the nonprofit world and her passion for dance, she was convinced there was a way for her to combine the two long-term. She made the decision to enroll in London’s premier dance school, the Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance. Working towards a postgraduate diploma in community dance, Erin began to focus on the marriage between her personal training as a dancer and choreographer and dance’s broader role in a community setting. She says the program was the jolt of energy she needed and formed the foundations for her future in the community dance world. Looking back on her experience, Erin remarks, “I wanted to change people’s preconceived notions about what dance could be for them.”
Taking the stage
Coming home, Erin threw all her energy into becoming a community dance educator and pushing forward her own creative projects. And, though it hasn’t always been a linear journey, Erin has done just that. Erin joined Boston Ballet’s Education & Community Initiatives in 2016 as a Teaching Artist in their Citydance, ECI on Location, and Story Time programs. Working in a range of classrooms, after-school programs, and communities, Erin has been able to bring dance to her local community in a whole new way. Now in her third season with Boston Ballet, she is stepping outside of the studio and into the organization more deliberately, dusting off the nonprofit management skills honed earlier in her career and using them to help her programs advocate for themselves within the larger organization. In addition, she has taken on a new challenge as an Instructional Coach, supporting the other teaching artists on staff by cultivating a culture of sharing and honing best practices to better serve ECI students.
Community education was just one of her focuses after Trinity Laban and Erin has lost no time in advancing her personal projects, including a new solo work that was performed at four different shared concerts and festivals this year and continuing to perform in the company works as a freelancer. Most recently, Erin turned her attention once again to a piece she choreographed in London which explored the concept of genetic memory – the idea that memories and experiences could be coded into DNA and passed on to future generations – to produce a whole new dance experience in the film, “Deviation, Twice Removed”. Requiring the creative use of every skill set imaginable, Erin took this project from inception all the way to final production. No small task, this production embodied years of study, perseverance, and dedication; thus it was no surprise that the film has already been chosen as an official selection for the Shawna Shea Memorial Film Festival. With plans to share the film with many more audiences far and wide, Erin has found a new medium for her voice as a choreographer, artist, and now film producer and has no plans to stop now. When asked about the most important lesson she had learned throughout her professional and personal journey, Erin smiled and replied with three simple yet powerful words every dancer knows by heart: “trust the process.”