Todd Rosenlieb Dance

From Leotards to Scrubs

  • March 17, 2020

Company Member Mikaela Watkins Makes the Transition to a Medical Career
By Beth Blachman

After spending half a decade leaping through the studios of Todd Rosenlieb Dance as a member of the company, Mikaela Watkins is now studying medicine as a first year in the physician’s assistant (PA) program at EVMS.

“Dancing professionally is hard, physical work, but it never truly feels like work,” says Watkins. “You’re making something beautiful out of nothing, by yourself and with your colleagues, and there’s real joy there.”

Watkins studied dance at Bucknell University in the program that Artistic Director Todd Rosenlieb was a part of creating when he was a student there in the eighties. When her husband’s military orders brought the two of them to Hampton Roads, Watkins remembered that she shared an alma mater with Rosenlieb and decided to audition for the company.

She’s glad that she put her medical dreams on hold to pursue dance. Watkins fondly remembers performing in a piece called Push, Pull by choreographer and fellow company member Janelle Spruill.

“I wore a bungee cord around my waist that allowed me to defy gravity, and it felt like magic,” she recalls. “I love dancing athletic works with a lot of partnering. The entire company was in the dance together, about thirteen of us, and it created such a strong energy onstage.”

Watkins finds many connections between her life as a dancer and her medical studies.

“In medicine, the patient comes in with physical symptoms, and the provider will interpret the underlying pathology of disease,” she says. “Similarly, in dance, it’s the physical body that we use as the instrument, to tell the story or to reveal a deeper aesthetic or concept. Both dance and medicine reveal the fragility and intricate nature of life as we experience it.”

She says that discipline, time management, and the push and pull of observation and correction spill over from dance to medicine.

“I’m learning the foundation for clinical decision making. The knowledge builds quickly with the layering of more information. It reminds me of improvisation or choreographing a new piece. You don’t necessarily have all the parts to know what comes next, but you do the work, using what you do know, to get to the point.” 

As she thinks back on her time with TRDance, the human connections of the performing life are what Watkins treasures the most.

“I’ve spent half of a decade training, creating, and performing here, and my favorite part, hands down, is the people.  I have met some of the most beautifully talented movers and shakers: some of whom have gone on to other places and pursuits, some of whom are the dancers and choreographers you see on our current stage. They make me believe in our work, and we laugh a lot.”

Watkins says that even though the PA program is keeping her busy, she’ll always keep dance as a part of her life. She points out that the TRD studio and EVMS are only five minutes away from each other.

“You couldn’t keep me away.”

Todd Rosenlieb Dance

Dear Friends,

As a valued member of Todd Rosenlieb Dance (TRD), Virginia Ballet Theatre (VBT) and the TRDance Center family, we’re reaching out to you during an unprecedented time of need. We’ve overcome many operational challenges in the past (recessions, natural disasters, etc.), but COVID-19 is uncharted territory for us all.

Our partnership with you through the years, has allowed us to provide an educational, directorial and performance space for students, dancers and choreographers who need to create to be their best selves. And by doing so, many of us have benefited from the magic and transformative power of dance. As performers and audience members we have connected. We have moved, engaged, entertained, laughed and sometimes, cried together.

With the temporary closing of our studio spaces and cancellation of the spring performance calendar for VBT and TRD, we are facing unparalleled operational challenges. We are working hard to recreate the way we do business, but the unexpected closing of TRDance Center has had significant financial implications for our professional dancers, staff, directors, teachers and technical crew. Ticket sales, student classes and Academy tuition accounts for half of our operating budget. The other half is from funding and generous contributions.

Will you consider taking a step to help during this challenging time? Your continued generosity will help sustain our two professional dance companies and the dancers, guest artists and choreographers who create art during these uncertain times.

Here are some ways you can help —

Although our performance season is currently paused, we are now creating ways to connect with our students and audiences in new ways that support social distancing, while still feeding our need to create art and connection. This week we’ve gone LIVE! with a collection of virtual teachings for open and structured classes at Please join us for a session soon. It will do your mind and body good to just dance.

On behalf of our professional staff, dancers and our Board of Directors we thank you in advance for your continued support.

Be safe,

Lisbet Hanson, M.D.
TRDance Board of Directors

Todd Rosenlieb
Founder & Artist Director

Ricardo Melendez
Artistic Director, VBT
Associate Artistic Director, TRDance