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Dance in the Digital Age

Ashley Chin-Mark stands in arabesque in front of a mirror in her practice studio

With her newfound UX/UI skills, professional ballet dancer Ashley Chin-Mark hopes to help people connect virtually with dance

From an early age, Ashley Chin-Mark wanted to dance. 

“I started dancing at the age of three. I enjoyed the discipline and focus of the practice, and I loved performing and sharing my passion for dance with others,” says Chin-Mark, who loved it so much that she went on to major in ballet in college. 

One very demanding major wasn’t enough, however. Understanding the ”fragile nature” of a career in the performing arts, where the average career span of a dancer caps around age 35, Chin-Mark pursued a second major in strategic communications. “You want to have a back-up plan,” she says.
 
Among the highlights of Chin-Mark’s college experience, which include teaching and choreographing for two summer dance programs, she says performing in a luxury car commercial on the Bonneville Salt Flats was a “once in a lifetime experience.”

Upon graduation, Chin-Mark was hired by the James Sewell Ballet (JSB) in Minneapolis as a dancer and—owing to her strat-comm degree—a marketing associate for the company. That was in 2018: two years later, in the middle of an international tour that spanned New York, France, Montana, and 11 Minnesota cities, the COVID-19 pandemic put an end to live performances. While the company reassured the dancers that they would continue to be paid as full-time employees, Chin-Mark wondered what the upcoming season would look like during the shutdown. 

The Symbiosis of Art and Technology

Ashley Chin-Mark stands at the bar in a dance practice studio

“I attended a virtual dance conference and was reading plenty of articles and noticed that people were gravitating towards having performances online, having digital spaces where audiences could still keep a similar interaction with dancers and artists,” says Chin-Mark. This realization led her to the idea that, by acquiring new technical skills, she could help create a more interactive online experience for JSB audiences. 

“My goal was to learn how art and technology could work symbiotically to represent creative, diverse voices in a challenging time. I chose to enroll in the University of Minnesota’s UX/UI Boot Camp because it was a local, reputable institution.” She was awarded a Recovery Launchpad Scholarship through the College of Continuing and Professional Studies and dug into her savings to make up the difference. 

Chin-Mark says she was inspired by boot camp instructor, Nachiket Katti, whose day job is in digital customer experience, as well as the TAs, Chase Hart and Jay Reader, who are also UX designers. “The instructors were generous with their time, gave personalized feedback, and encouraged me through every milestone of this program. I felt really supported in the assignments and projects.”

Chin-Mark also appreciated going through the program online. “With the software we used, we were able to collaborate in real time with group members and save time working on projects together. I worked virtually with teammates to design mobile apps, nonprofit websites, and arts and entertainment websites. I learned how to sketch and code my portfolio for future job opportunities. And, as a full-time dancer, I wouldn’t have been able to manage getting to an in-person class on time.”

Showcasing Dance Online

Since completing the boot camp, Chin-Mark says she’s excited to apply her design and coding skills in the dance industry. She has been talking with JSB about a website redesign to better showcase their creative, diverse projects and the dancers who perform them. 

“Prior to this boot camp, I was uncertain about the role of digital technology in the dance industry,” says Chin-Mark. “How could we continue to expand our brand and connect with our audiences when live dance was taken away? After talking with my boot camp instructor and TAs, I’m confident that the human aspects of art and communication can continue to live… through compelling videos and personalized animations on a company’s website, and can still engage audiences without sacrificing the interactivity of the in-person experience. 

"As a BIPOC woman and artist, I am immensely grateful for the opportunity to learn and grow in the technology industry and am already applying what I have learned in my online classroom to the dance and marketing career I love.”

To learn more, visit the U of M’s UX/UI Boot Camp website.

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