Melissa (Dineen) Feldmeyer has been with Danceworks since the summer of 2004—from camp assistant to Operations Director. She is now preparing to leave for an exciting new job at UPAF. Her last day here will be October 23, so we reminisced together last week….
Melissa walked into my office with her beautiful one-year-old daughter, Madeleine. We have had the joy of sharing her daughter’s first year of life. As Madeleine got busy pulling things off the table and shelves, Melissa kept one hand on her and one hand on the things.
“So, what have the past ten years been like for you at Danceworks?” I asked, knowing much of the answer but wanting to hear the story.
M: “Having creativity around me all the time made it a lot easier to stop and pause, to lift myself out of whatever task I was doing by watching a dance rehearsal, class, or if I wanted to, to take a class. It allowed for a lot more variety—this was never just an administrative job. There were always little breaks that would come up, little stories that I didn’t expect.” We both smiled.
D: “You certainly always had your hand on the pulse,” I said, as I watched Madeleine walk from her mother to the magazine rack. The last time she was in my office she had crawled.
M: “It’s a creative work environment. There are always a lot of artists around. Danceworks’ staff are themselves artists, not just administrative professionals. This allows for more creativity and ideas that I don’t think would have happened if administrators were separate from the artists.”
D: “And this, as we both know, can have its strengths and weaknesses,” I said, knowing it had also been a challenge, particularly as we have grown, with people coming and going from teaching and rehearsing.
M: “Yeah, yeah, definitely. If administrators worked independently from artists though, I understand you wouldn’t have the same level of creativity. Right brain, left brain. When you’re around people that are just like you, it only reinforces the side that you generally use. You have to stop and ask, ‘How can I think of this differently by using both sides of my brain?’”
D: “That’s interesting. Isn’t that exactly what we’re trying to do for students in our schools?”
M: “Yes, you need a balance. Look around here, all the different college majors we have—theatre, art, music, dance, biology, chemistry. My background is more administrative, Jolie (Collins) has a communications degree, some with no degree but with a lot of job experience, life experience. It’s unique and it’s reflected in the work that is created—the variety of all those experiences coming together allows us to do what we do. Not just new ideas, but new ways to approach things. Every single program is always changing based on what worked and what didn’t work. Variety can be challenging but it allows for an open mind and a flexibility that serves you well in an ever changing world. That’s why we were able to adapt during the economic times. Because we had done something one way didn’t mean we had to keep doing it that way. It allowed us to continue to grow through that period.”
I’m listening to Melissa talk and feeling a great sense of delight as I think back ten years, when Amy Brinkman hired her as a camp assistant.
D: “Remind me how you found Danceworks, or how Danceworks found you?” I asked.
M: “Amy Walia (a former Danceworker) and I were friends from Habitat (for Humanity). We had gone to a house build during spring break (at UWM). I was an education major and looking for something new. Amy told me that Danceworks was looking for a camp assistant. I wanted to be a preschool teacher so I interviewed and did it for the summer. Then in the fall you were looking for someone to work the front desk who specifically was not a dancer, because of the challenge you were having at night with people needing to leave for rehearsals and performances. It worked perfectly. I could go to class during the day and leave at 9:00 p.m. which beat the 1:00 a.m. end time I had at my job at Blockbuster. I worked the front desk every night except Friday, and every Saturday, for three years. We didn’t have any other front desk help then. It was only me. If I got sick it was too bad.”
D: “I don’t think you ever called in sick.”
M: “I only missed one half of a Saturday. I came but I had the flu and had to call someone to cover for me half-way through–Marty came in. He was the only one who answered the phone.”
D: “That’s the Danceworks way. Here’s what you need to do, now do it. It happened to all of us.” I thought back to the days of when I first accepted my own position.
D: “What was your camp experience like?”
M: “Oh, it was different. Now seeing who they hire, I don’t think I’d get the job if I applied now!” (Madeleine broke out in laughter.) We have a really great group of people—people with a lot of background, teaching degrees, dance teachers. I was just a 19-year-old college kid who said, ‘I could try that.’ I worked with Dani (Kuepper) and Andrea (Hill-Johnson). Then Janet (Carr) did the visual arts.”
D: “Janet always loved working with you!”
M: “We are opposite personalities.” As Melissa responded, Madeleine laughed again.
D: “You could say that about us too.”
M: “Sometimes you like things in other people that are not you.”
D: “Yeah, I married somebody like that.”
M: “So did I.”
D: “That’s why you fit in so beautifully here, and you’ve been such a backbone to the organization.”
M: “When we started Mad Hot Ballroom and Tap in the fall of 2006, we were still using that little home copier machine—we had to put a tennis ball under the receiving tray so the paper would come out the other side. You had to move the tennis ball to make it work. I remember training someone who told me it didn’t work. I said, ‘Yes it does, just roll the ball.’ I also remember my first annual campaign. We printed all 800 letters on that little home printer. I had to feed the letterhead in one by one and then each of the envelopes—stuff, lick and stamp all by myself.”
D: “What a woman! You are definitely headed for great things!”
M: “Back then, everyone worked in the front office with that big refrigerator. People had to work in shifts, because we only had five spaces for people. In 2007, Liz (Tesch) was moving to Thailand and you asked me if I wanted to learn the financials. I didn’t think I was that good with numbers but said I’d try it. I trained over the summer and took it over that fall.
“On Thursdays Debbie Payden (Danceworks’ first MHBT Project Manager) came in to take tap class and we would chat. She brought Rachel (her daughter, now Danceworks’ Outreach Director) to take class, too. That’s how I met Eric (Melissa’s husband)—at Rachel’s house-warming. All the Danceworks people went during the day, and her other friends went in the evening. I worked all day so I couldn’t go till after work. I almost didn’t go because I had worked all day and was tired.”
Melissa was promoted to Business Manager in 2010, overseeing the front desk and financials.
D: “I could count on you for anything—from fixing the toilet to coming in on Sunday morning when security called. Then we renovated and you almost singlehandedly moved everything from the first floor up to the second floor when everyone was out of town during break. “
M: “I was moving computers on rolling chairs. I took them out and around and up the elevator because I couldn’t carry them up the spiral staircase.”
In 2011, we hit a milestone. The board wanted me to be freer from the day to day operations to be out in the community. With Melissa’s commitment and oversight, she was promoted to Operations Director and has skillfully managed staff communications, business and operations. And now, she is ready to move on to a new adventure with UPAF as Development Coordinator for the Workplace Giving Campaign—so we will still be working together.
Thank you for your unwavering commitment, Melissa. You have been with Danceworks every step of the way over the past decade, pouring all you had into making our work in the community meaningful for others. We’re glad you won’t be far away, because every time I see a tennis ball, I will want to call. Don’t worry—I won’t—but do remember, we love you. Once a Danceworker, always a Danceworker.
Welcome to the Danceworks blog, where we're hoping to share a little bit more about the heart and soul behind Danceworks… what made us join the dance and keeps us dancing, what keeps us inspired, and where we can share some of the stories worth telling.