Making Meaningful Connections Through Dance

Conservatory alumna shares how UMKC and Kansas City connections helped advance her career

Without the University of Missouri-Kansas City, Miyesha McGriff (B.F.A. ’11) says she doesn’t know if she would have continued her career as a dancer.

As a teen, McGriff, a Kansas City native, grew up spending her summers at The Ailey School, an exclusive modern dance school based in New York City.

She trained at the Kansas City Ballet School from a young age where she became a company apprentice. While finishing her high school career, McGriff knew UMKC was her first choice of college — thanks to a ballet teacher who also happened to be a professor at the Conservatory.

“I put in my applications and did my audition, and it was like instant, I knew I was going to UMKC. That ended up being a huge moment for me because without my UMKC connections or my Kansas City connections, I don’t think I would be where I’m at,” McGriff said.

McGriff’s decision to attend the Conservatory set off a chain of events resulting in her joining the Collage Dance Collective of Memphis, Tennessee, as a company member in 2017. But how she got there was anything but the typical path for a career dancer.

After graduating from the Conservatory in 2011, McGriff said she was nervous about entering the professional dance world but she audition for the Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Dallas, Texas anyway.

 “It was interesting because I was ballet trained but it was more of a contemporary-modern based company,” McGriff said. “It was really hard. So after about a year, I quit. I just wanted to give up. It was the first time that dance became work for me and not just a release.”

McGriff then decided to take a break from dance and made the decision to move back home to Kansas City. She took a job at the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation.

“Everyone there was so amazing, they recognized how I used my dance background to enhance my performance at my job. I was very organized, I was always on time, and it helped me move up in promotions pretty quickly,” McGriff said.

But even though she was taking a break from professional dance, she still had the itch to get back on the stage. McGriff said she would save all her paid-time-off during the year to take time off for rehearsals and perform with the Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Company, a Kansas City-based company.

“I would go to work from 7 a.m. to 4 p.m., I would go to rehearsals from 5 – 11 p.m. and then on Saturdays, I would go to additional rehearsals. Then when we had theater week, I would use another week of PTO,” McGriff said. “Everyone in the office knew it. They would come to all of my shows and support me.”

After working at the Community Foundation for about two years, McGriff said she felt the pull of professional dance once again. So, when she got an opportunity in New York City, she decided to ask for a seven-week leave of absence.

“I contacted our human resources representative to ask for the leave, and she had just told me, ‘No. You need to go and experience this and if it doesn’t work out, you can come back, and you will have a job.’ I still have such a good relationship with them to this day, I’ve been away from Kansas City for eight or nine years and I know I can still call them,” McGriff said. “I am so thankful for that time with them because it made me appreciate dancing and what it means to have it.”

Once in New York, McGriff spent seven weeks trying to find a job. When she went into the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to see some old friends she struck up a conversation with someone she knew from her time there as a teen. 

“She asked me ‘What are you doing?’ and I was just like, ‘I don’t know. I think I’m trying to figure out my life,’” McGriff said.

That conversation would help her land a job as a summer program chaperon, which lead to another job within the organization. She worked her way up to an administrative assistant to the directors of the Juniors Divison.

“Everyone’s path is for a reason and you have to respect your path and journey. The biggest thing you have to learn is that everyone else’s path is not your path. It’s the hardest and the biggest thing,” McGriff said.

After teaching for a couple of years, McGriff said she once again felt the pull to dance professionally when an old Ailey coworker reached out about an opportunity at the Collage Dance Collective, where she dances today.

“UMKC absolutely helped me get where I am today,” McGriff said. “Everyone there is rooting for you. That’s why they are professors, that’s why they are in the space that they are. They want you to have a good experience, if not better, than what they had.”

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Published: Feb 23, 2022
Posted In: Our People

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