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For two dancers, business school is their next act

Former dancer Antonios Bougiouris is enrolled in McGill University’s MBA program at the Desautels Faculty of Management.

John Hall

Just over a year ago, when Antonios Bougiouris suffered a dance-related injury that required hip surgery to repair, he figured his days as a ballet dancer where numbered.

"I knew that I would be away from dance for a few years and that returning to the stage was a 50-50 call," says the U.S.-born dancer, who performed with Les Ballets Jazz and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens when he relocated to Montreal in 2002 after dancing in New York.

"I did not want to return if I would be limited in my abilities so I decided to be proactive in the interim. This led me to ask the question: What did I really want to do after my dancing days were over."

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The answer lay in McGill University's MBA program at the Desautels Faculty of Management, where Mr. Bougiouris is enrolled as a student in the graduating class of 2015.

The Julliard School-trained dancer found his way to the program by way of a career counsellor provided by Canada's Dancer Transition Resource Centre, a not-for-profit, charitable organization that since its founding in Toronto in 1985 has been helping dancers move into second careers once their performing days are over.

"At an age when most professionals are reaching a peak in their careers, a dancer's career often ends. The Dancer Transition Resource Centre's mandate is to help these dancers with the transitions into, within and from their professional performance career," says Amanda Hancox, the DTRC's executive director.

"Their career in dance has given them many valuable skills – commitment, dedication, perseverance, and a pursuit of excellence – to name but a few. These transferable skills, coupled with their extraordinary intelligence and passion, are tremendous assets in any career."

With the support of the DTRC behind him, Mr. Bougiouris, 32, determined that he would like to stay in the arts, but employed behind the scenes, in administration.

"As a dancer, I was frustrated by how the industry worked and felt improvements could be made, but I lacked the authority to actually make changes," he says. "This was my initial intention to going back to school and obtaining my MBA. I wanted to positively impact the field and felt that an MBA would better position me with the knowledge to implement wiser decisions."

He is now almost four months into the program, and has already started re-evaluating what direction he ultimately wants to pursue.

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"While non-for-profits are a sector that I have some understanding in, I might want to move more in the direction of humanitarian aid to some capacity. Working for the United Nations or UNESCO would be very gratifying for me. I also have an interest in the luxury brand sector. I am aware that they are polar opposites but perhaps there is a job out their that can fuse both of my interests."

The integrated, team-taught Desautels MBA curriculum was founded in 1963 and provides a holistic and global understanding of management that incorporates leading-edge research from renowned professors and the practical experience of global leaders such as Virgin chief executive officer Richard Branson and economist Muhammad Yunus, Bangladesh's first Nobel laureate.

Through a global panel of industry experts, a CEO Speaker Series and an executives in residence program, the Desautels MBA also includes a unique international trip to a leading economic capital and exchange options with the top schools around the globe.

The faculty is located in the heart of downtown Montreal, and a majority of the faculty is international.

Graduates typically obtain careers worldwide.

Students can come from a variety of backgrounds. Dancers are not that common, but, curiously, this year there are two: Mr. Bougiouris and Divya Viswanathan, trained in the classical South Indian dance style of bharatanatyam.

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Like Mr. Bourgiouris, Ms. Viswanathan, 26, came to the MBA program after a satisfying performing career that started when the Canadian-born dancer of Indian descent was 9.

In 2007, she joined a contemporary Indian dance company founded by Parul Gupta (also an MBA graduate), called Infusion Dance Studios, before going on to be the principal instructor for the national group's Montreal division.

She is also trained in the percussive Northern Indian dance style of kathak.

But a dancer's career, no matter how illustrious, is brief. It is one of the few careers where early retirement is built right into it. Ms. Viswanathan was always aware that one day she would have to move on.

"A dancer's career lasts only so long," she says. "I wanted to be sure to equip myself for when the time came to leave the art so I could exit gracefully, and with the least amount of regret possible."

Choosing to do an MBA, she adds, has marked the beginning of the end of her performing and teaching career. But she is confident that, once armed with the degree, she will be able to follow a new path.

"I chose to do my MBA to become a better and more well-rounded business leader," Ms. Viswanathan says.

Her aim following graduation in 2015 is to apply the business degree to the dance world, which she believes could benefit from the rigorous principles supporting an MBA.

"I feel the Indian dance scene in North America could definitely use better business leaders, and perhaps this would help to eliminate some of the double standards and biases so deeply engrained in the industry," she says.

"Being a major enthusiast of health and wellness, I would one day like to start my own company, and I feel the MBA would give me the tools and network to successfully do it."

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More


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