From Leotards to Scrubs: Company Member Mikaela Watkins Makes the Transition to a Medical Career

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, you’re making something beautiful out of nothing, by yourself and with your colleagues, and there’s real joy there.” - Mikaela Watkins

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, 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.”