So you want to be a dancer or an artist!
When you told your family, did you hear, “How will you pay the rent? Get a real job, a real career.”
Rodney Veal has proved that you can support yourself, pay the rent and enjoy life while practicing the art you love. Rodney is an independent choreographer, interdisciplinary artist, TV show host, and adjunct faculty for Stivers School of the Performing Arts, Sinclair Community College and the University of Dayton.
I asked Rodney how he crafted his career. The highlights of his story follow. If you want to read more, go to the long version.
How does a kid from rural Jefferson Township, Ohio make a career in the creative arts?
When Rodney Veal was growing up, he knew several things:
- He relished the hours he spent drawing, painting, and making sculptures from a variety of materials
- He was curious about many things and loved reading, particularly history, politics, government and science fiction
- He was going to college
Rodney went to Eastern Michigan University intending to major in Visual Arts. He quickly learned that college is different than high school. Early in his first semester, one of his professors doled out nasty, harsh critiques, quickly taking the joy out of making art. So Rodney called his mother to tell her he was going to change majors. His mother said, “Oh no. You need to finish what you started.” But she offered an alternative, saying, “You can get an additional degree.”
Rodney knew he enjoyed reading about government and politics, so he opened the course catalog and found Political Science. He did a double major in Visual Art and Political Science, which took more classes. Five years later, he graduated.
But when did he learn dance?
Rodney took his first dance class at EMU to fulfill his physical education requirement and discovered he had an aptitude for ballet and modern dance. He happily took dance classes for the rest of his time in college, performing in front of audiences and choreographing works throughout college. Making a career in dance never occurred to him.
In his final semester at EMU, Rodney discovered it’s a bad idea to wait to the end to take your math requirement. Rodney passed – barely. He graduated from EMU with a strong foundation in the visual arts, knowledge of political systems, a love of dance, and no idea of what came next.
Okay, he got a college degree. Now what?
Rodney returned to his old summer job at the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT). They placed him in mechanical parts distribution and he hated it. He stopped dancing, stopped making art and gained a lot of weight eating the ever-present donuts.
When you’re Rodney and you’re unhappy, what do you do?
Learn more! Rodney started taking dance classes at Sinclair Community College in the evenings. From there, he went to classes offered by the Dayton Ballet. He caught the eye of Barbara Pontecorvo, because he had “musical ability, ‘turn out’ and was a guy”. She invited him to dance with the Dayton Ballet II, so long as he lost weight and took every class they offered.
How did Rodney support himself as a dancer?
For two years, Rodney worked for ODOT during the day and danced at night. In 1992 Pontecorvo retired from the Dayton Ballet and founded Gem City Ballet, taking Rodney with her. When the stress of balancing work at ODOT with dancing wore him down, Rodney left for a series of jobs at Books & Co, the Neon Movies, and as a legal runner for Altick & Corwin, L.P.A. In addition, he acted in a variety of commercials to earn extra income.
Finally! Dance pays the rent!
Over the years, Rodney met a lot of people within the Dayton dance community. That network paved the way to an offer of a job as an adjunct teacher of dance at Stivers School of the Performing Arts, a public arts magnet school for Grades 7 through 12 in Dayton, Ohio. Teaching and choreographing dance at Stivers led to an invitation to teach dance at Sinclair Community College. After years of juggling dance with other work, Rodney was finally able to make a living as a dancer and dance teacher.
Then Rodney’s work world shifted. How did he cope?
In 2008, Sinclair changed its policy, requiring all adjuncts to have a master’s degree. Rodney recognized it was time to take the next step – pursue a Master’s in Fine Art (MFA). He had worked on projects with graduates of the MFA program at The Ohio State and liked the way they thought, so he applied.
But his college GPA, negatively impacted by that low math grade, almost killed his MFA hopes. The borderline status of his GPA increased the pressure to nail his audition and interview. He succeeded, however, and began three years of intense work and little sleep.
Driving daily between Dayton and Columbus, Rodney continued to teach at Stivers and Sinclair, while carrying a full course load at OSU. Stivers and Sinclair paid his rent and living expenses, and student loans paid for his MFA.
Did the MFA program change him?
Rodney started the MFA program at OSU focused on choreography, but quickly opened his mind to interdisciplinary dance creation. His professors encouraged him to connect dance with digital and media technology, using his skills in visual arts.
His MFA challenge: Go bigger; think deeper!
Throughout his time in the MFA, professors pushed Rodney to expand his ideas as he connected dance with other media. That push led to:
Summer 2009: Artist in Residence with the Blue Sky Dayton Project at the University of Dayton.
Project: create a multi-faceted, large scope performance art installation piece in collaboration with a creative team of high school students.
Result: “To Me You’re a Work of Art”. Rodney and his team created a world bt combining raw space in a building in downtown Dayton with dance, film, sod, and paint. As part of the piece, he got people to perform who had never danced before.
2009 – Second Year: studied with William Forsythe, internationally renowned for combining traditional classical ballet with other disciplines.
Impact: Forsythe exposed him to the techniques needed to combine digital technology with dance.
Impact: Forsythe used a particular methodology for creating choreography, so Rodney developed a shorthand to capture the choreography process.
2010 – Third Year: MFA Thesis Exhibition
Project: “The Persistence of Memory”. Rodney combined traditional dance choreography with a giant paper sculpture suspended by cables, and video monitors projecting images from his past.
So Rodney got his MFA, and…?
Using all his experience from his MFA, Rodney has crafted a career of
- Teaching dance at Stivers, Sinclair and the University of Dayton
- Creating art – installation pieces and choreography
- Performing as TV host and TEDX Dayton presenter
Wait! How did Rodney become a TV host?
In 2013 Rodney gave a TEDX Dayton presentation, moving through shadows, a video of dancers from Stivers Dance Ensemble performing his choreography to music by an Australian composer played by a French musician. Because ThinkTV filmed TEDX Dayton, Rodney reconnected with Richard Nordstrom, Chief Videographer. They met previously when Rodney acted in commercials while dancing with Dayton Ballet II and Gem City Ballet. Consequently, Nordstrom knew Rodney was comfortable on camera and could read from a teleprompter. So when ThinkTV started searching for a host for The Art Show, Lynnette Carlino, Producer at ThinkTV, called Rodney to invite him to audition and he made the cut.
Now in its third year, The Art Show is an Ohio Valley Regional Emmy© Award winning weekly series on ThinkTV WPTD Channel 16. Rodney introduces profiles of artists in visual art, music, dance, and theater from southwestern Ohio and across the United States.
Since 2010, Rodney has created a major installation each year. Rodney’s installation artworks combine video, 2-D images, sculptural pieces, music and performance inside a designated space to create an experience. Examples include
- Reveal: Five Zones of Beauty, Springfield Museum of Art (2011)
- Mythologies, Blue Sky Dayton (2012)
- 2, 3, 4 – collaboration across the 2nd, 3rd and 4th dimensions between Rodney Veal (choreographer), Katherine Mann (visual artist), and Shaw Pong Liu (composer and violinist) (2012)
What Rodney has learned…
- Risk failure – when you fail, you’ll still be able to breathe and go on to the next thing
- Remember failure isn’t personal – so many factors contribute to a result that it’s impossible to assign blame
- Barter with your skills to get materials within your budget
- Define your terms of engagement broadly – art is about the search for answers, not about accolades or stellar reviews
- Pay attention – the questions you ask may control the answers you find
- Take a deep breath – only your art peers will see the flaws in your work; the public is looking for answers
- Make art that matters to you
Rodney recommends if you want to make money with your art, build your resume
- Show and sell your work in curated galleries
- Apply for curated shows in museums
- Create and promote your digital presence
Want to learn more about Rodney?
2012 interview with Philip Titlebaum, Dayton Most Metro.com 2013 TEDX Dayton moving through shadows 2014 interview with Meredith Moss, Dayton Daily News 2015 interview with Amelia Robinson, Dayton.com
Rodney is a graduate of Eastern Michigan University with a B.S in Political Science and Visual Arts and The Ohio State University with an MFA in Choreography. He earned several Montgomery County Arts and Cultural District grants and fellowships. In addition, he received the 2016 OhioDance Award for outstanding contributions to the art form of dance in the state at the Ohio Dance Festival and several of his works have been performed as part of the Ohio Dance Festival. He was one of five artists chosen nationwide to participate in the Blue Sky Dayton Project Artist in Residency Program held in collaboration with the University of Dayton. He currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Ohio Dance as Vice President, as chair of the Blue Sky Project, and on the boards of Involvement Advocacy, HomeFull, Musica, the advisory board of WYSO and the Friends of Levitt Pavilions Dayton.