A conversation with Maeve Dougal

Maeve Dougal is the director of our ballet program, an American Ballet Theatre (ABT®) certified school. She also teaches in the BFA program at Mason Gross School of Performing Arts at Rutgers University. She loves contemporary and modern dance, but her passion is classical ballet.  Since she was a little girl in kindergarten, she has been in the studio dancing. She was drawn to ballet because of the music and stories; she stayed with ballet because it gives her strength and stamina. Additionally, Dougal is the assistant director of Rutgers Summer Dance Conservatories for new and experienced dancers ages 11 to 18 held in July. The conservatory is holding live auditions March 4 and again April 22, 6:45 p.m.  

How long have you been dancing?

When I was really little, I did the Royal Academy of Dance Training Program, which is similar to the ABT® national training curriculum but it’s the British system. I took a break and picked it up again when I was in sixth grade. I danced through college and grad school.

What is it about ballet that draws you to it?

I love the tradition and the ritual of classical ballet; it’s incredibly beautiful. I love the music. I was drawn to it because it was the first time I was able to organize my mind and my physicality. I was able to find my focus – in dance and other areas of my life. I think that’s why I’ve stuck with it so for long.

Did you love it right away?

I eventually fell in love with it. When I was little, I loved to improvise dances. They would give us a piece of music and say ‘This is a dance about flying your kite,’ or we would pretend to sew or pick berries and put them in our baskets. I remember the play part of ballet, which is actually what I love about the ABT® program: Pre-primary through second grade is all based in play. It’s still very structured, but the kids are performing. Developmentally, it’s very engaging.


Why do you teach?

I thought I wanted to perform, but then in my junior year in college, I realized what I really loved about ballet is the process in the studio. I struggled to find good training. I had a couple of teachers who were inspiring, but I had to take a lot of it on myself and teach myself. Even though I wasn’t a brilliant technician, I felt I understood the process of building technique.

So you want to pass that along.

Right, I teach because I love ballet and I love to see my students have breakthroughs. I love to see them gain control of their bodies and develop. My highest level (of students) here are teenagers, which can be a really rough time developmentally, but they have this beautiful community. They’re supportive of each other. I love to be able to foster that experience for them. It has made a huge impact on my life.

img_7581What kind of impact has ballet had on you personally?

I have no idea who I would be without ballet.

Does it define you?

It maybe shouldn’t.

But it does?

Yeah, I think it does parts of me. I’m not who I am professionally.

How do you feel when you’re dancing?

I don’t dance a lot for myself anymore but when I do, it’s an emotional experience. I get caught up in perfection but I’m not perfect. I have to battle that.

Do you think you’ll ever achieve perfection?

No. I know I won’t. If I were able to, I would have already. I have physical limitations I have to work within.

Does that make you work harder?

Oh yea. Ballet has made me really resilient, which I think it’s one of the more important lessons it has taught me. When you love something so much and it doesn’t work out the way you would love or had imagined, you come back to it. You don’t give up, you don’t let it define you or defeat you. You learn to take criticism and rejection, but the victories are huge.

Do you come from a family of artists?

I do and a long line of teachers. My grandmother is 96 and she grew up in 1920s and 30s North Dakota. She put herself through college and was a teacher forever. My mom taught for 40 years. My dad was a (public school) teacher. My mother loved ballet but never took any lessons. She just started taking a dance class, in her 70s. I’m really proud of her.

Do you think it comes from her, this love of ballet you have?

I think the love of movement is my genes. My father enjoys dancing socially. People would stop and make circles around him and watch him dance. My grandparents went dancing into their late 80s, every night. I think I come from a family of movers.


Getting to Know Peter Saleh

Peter Saleh is the founder and director of Rutgers Youth Percussion Ensemble, which aims to help drummers and mallet players ages 13 to 18 develop into well-rounded, confident and dynamic musicians. The ensemble is in its 13th season and classes are scheduled to resume later this spring.  In November, Saleh performed with ensemble alumni as part of our monthly concert series at the Zimmerli Museum. He is also the founding member of Exit 9 Percussion Group and has performed nearly 500 times with the group. Saleh holds a bachelor’s degree in music from Mason Gross School of Performing Arts at Rutgers University and a master’s degree in percussion performance from the University of North Texas. He is the author of “A Percussionist’s Handbook”, about which Joseph Tompkins, Rutgers University Percussion Department head and NYC freelancer said, “You can spend twenty years learning this material through trial and error, or simply read A Percussionist’s Handbook book cover to cover.”


Peter Saleh, second from left, performed at the Zimmerli Museum in November with alumni of Rutgers Youth Percussion Ensemble. The alumni are, from left Angelica Cruz, Ben Cornavaca, and Devon Cupo.

What do you do when you’re not performing?

I enjoy spending as much time as possible outside with my dog – Batman, a French bulldog. I also like building and working with my hands and writing – I am working on the second edition of my book, A Percussionist’s Handbook.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? Why?

Cello! Sound produced by percussion instruments die away quickly. The cello is capable of producing a sustained sound. The range and repertoire of the instrument speak strongly to me and I think I would really enjoy being in a string quartet. Plus, the instrument crosses over to popular music in interesting ways.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

I like to see small groups in small venues – a place where the audience and musicians are breathing the same air; the genre doesn’t matter.

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

In South Korea, on an island called Jeju – it’s like their Hawaii. The first time my group performed there was in an amphitheater overlooking the sea. We performed around sunset. It was an amazing view from the stage and the audience was incredibly receptive.

What inspires you?

My students, especially when they reach the point of self-motivation.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

I like some pop artists that other trained musicians might look down their nose at, but a good song is a good song!


I like a group called Postmodern Jukebox – they do fun, cross-style arrangements of pop songs. I also really like a group called Lake Street Dive – just saw them at Radio City recently. It’s kind of a soul-pop band with some killer musicians and a great approach to song writing. I’m not admitting to anything more than that, and a little Beyonce.

What’s your favorite movie?

Rounders with Matt Damon, Ed Norton, and John Malkovich

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

The first day of band class in 5th grade. I had so much fun that I couldn’t wait to play again!

What was the first record or CD you bought?

Metallica’s Ride the Lightning – I bought it when CDs were still sold in long boxes!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

There’s an expression, “water every seed.” Every student has the potential to go far in his own way if he receives the right direction and encouragement. Maybe not every seed will develop, but I teach because I like to help — and be a witness to — a child discovering his talent. A few years ago, a parent gave me an old picture of her son – 5 years old in the picture playing with a toy xylophone. That 5 year-old eventually got into Julliard.  I look at the picture occasionally as a reminder that you don’t know where people are headed. The most rewarding part is that, although I know the work I do with all my students is going to stay with them, in many cases, for a long time, you also get to help create your colleagues!

Have you ever considered a career outside of the arts?

I majored in chemistry in college, but I was spending more time on my music theory elective than all my other course work. I took that as a sign and switched majors. I had an office job right after college. I had arranged a schedule time off so that I could keep accompanying dance classes each week. It was the playing time I was getting. At one point, my boss said either I had to work full time or I was going to be let go. The job had already helped me buy my marimba so I decided to leave. I haven’t worked outside of music since.

Getting to know Rebekah Sterlacci

Rebekah Sterlacci is the artistic director of Rutgers Children’s Choir & Scarlet Singers. When she’s not directing the Rutgers Children’s Choir, she’s directing the choirs at T. Schor Middle School, Piscataway, where she is music and vocal teacher. Rebekah holds a master’s degree in music education from Mason Gross School of the Arts and is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in educational leadership from Rowan University. When she is not singing, directing or doing school work, she spends time with her family, including her 2-year-son. Come and see Rebekah and her students perform during Rutgers Children’s Choir winter concert Saturday, Dec. 17 at 2 p.m. at the Nicholas Music Center.  

What drebekah-sterlacci-headshoto you do when you’re not singing, conducting or directing?   

When I have a rare moment to myself, I really enjoy running and cooking vegan meals.

If you could play any other instrument, what would it be? 

I play enough piano to get by, but I really wish that I could play the piano at a higher level. I love the versatility and the exciting, diverse uses of piano music.

Where’s your favorite place to listen to music?

My favorite place to listen to music is in my car – volume turned all the way up – singing (or rapping because it is probably Hamilton or the Mixtape) FULL volume. It is how I relax!

Where’s your favorite place you’ve performed?

While I was at Rutgers for my undergraduate and graduate degrees, I had exciting opportunities to perform at Carnegie Hall and at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. Both experiences were amazingly awesome, but my favorite place I have performed was at my church growing up – preferably singing a duet with my Dad.

What inspires you?

Creativity, passion, and collaboration inspire me, especially when the choir brings out all these characteristics in the students I teach, or colleagues and musicians I work with. These skills help us to become better people and therefore give us an opportunity to make the world a better place.

What’s your guilty pleasure?

Harvest Moon Brewery in New Brunswick. My husband and I go on a date there once a week while my in-laws watch our son. My standard order is the pad thai with tofu and a double IPA!

Why do you teach? What’s the most rewarding part of teaching?

I teach because I believe that every child deserves an opportunity to be heard and valued. I teach because of the impact my own teachers had on my development. I teach because I believe education and knowledge have the ability to open doors, engage people in dialogue, and help us know more about one another. The most rewarding part of teaching is stepping back and acknowledging the process. I love to see how my students have grown and become independent. My greatest reward is seeing my students become adults and stay in touch. It makes me feel so proud!

Have you ever considered a career outside of the arts?

I have wanted to be a music teacher since I was 13 years old. Mainly because my middle school music teacher was amazing! (We still keep in touch and she played the organ at my wedding!) I have never considered a career outside of the arts. The arts — music, singing, acting, dancing, theater, writing — have impacted my life so strongly that this was my only option. The arts have become the only thing that would make me happy, and they have! I am working now in the research arena with the goal of improving educational equity – the hope is to become a professor in the future. My research interests center around advocacy for the transgender community with an arts integration focus. Essentially, using the arts and the acts of creation and performance to increase awareness and knowledge for the transgender community. So even now as I look to the future, I am still focused on the arts!

Who would you like to meet? What would you ask that person?

I would like to meet Lin-Manuel Miranda. I am obsessed with Hamilton, but I am more obsessed with finding out about Miranda’s process. He has had so much success, but even more, he has changed theater and culture. As a researcher, it would be cool to research the impact of Hamilton and the hip-hop culture on our education system.

What’s your favorite movie?

My favorite movie of all time is Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Seriously! Also a contributing factor in my career choice. If you haven’t seen it, you need to. I make all my students watch it at some point in the year.

Do you remember the moment you fell in love with your art?

I can remember two times in my life when I fell in love with my art. The first was when I participated in regional choir for the first time in 8th grade. The feeling of my voice locking in with hundreds of others in harmony was exhilarating! The second time was conducting the Rutgers Children’s Choir as a graduate assistant while getting my Masters. That was when I fell in love with conducting!

What was the first record or CD you bought?

The first CD I ever bought was The Wallflowers’ Bringing Down the Horse. I used my own money and went to the store all by myself! The first CD I ever owned (bought by my parents) was New Kids on the Block, Hangin’ Tough.

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