When Jessi Tilden enters a room, she fills it with light, boundless energy, and an outgoing, joyous spirit, instantly making those around her feel at ease. Her blue eyes radiate a mischievous glint, while simultaneously exuding a sense of peace and calm. Jessi has been a beloved and integral staff member at Arts Together since 2013, and we’re sad to share that she’ll be leaving us to pursue new opportunities.
A multi-talented individual, Jessi has advanced from preschool teaching assistant to lead preschool teacher, and has overseen the growth of our Counselor-in-Training program as well as expanding professional development and leadership skills for incoming summer camp counselors. In addition, she has taught many dance/movement classes for all ages, been a member of Rainbow Dance Company since 2014 and served as Rainbow choreographer. Her last day as our Youth Development Coordinator will be August 17, but we wanted to send her off in style by sharing her unique Arts Together story and reflections on dance.
Although Jessi began working at Arts Together five years ago, she was already well acquainted with our creative community and collaborative, nurturing environment. At age three, she started taking dance classes with us. She tried many different dance studios around the Triangle, but “Arts Together was the one that fostered my creative spirit and self-expression.”
As a student, she took classes from instructors Betsy Ward-Hutchinson, Michelle Pearson, Kathryn Auman and Glenda Mackie - who all still teach at Arts Together today. “I was also taught by Maggie Bennett,” Jessi recalls, “and since coming back to instruct modern dance, I have gotten to teach her daughter Niya! It has been incredibly rewarding to see how things come full circle!”
Jessi has countless memories from growing up at Arts Together, but one in particular stands out to her. “I remember being a teenager taking a modern dance class and being introduced to a very cool lift we were going to incorporate into our Arts Fest piece (now commonly known as Dance Fest). I was the one being lifted, and I basically had to take a running start towards three other dancers, turn around backwards, jump and hope they caught me sideways so they could spin me around. I had just sprained my wrist a few weeks prior and was learning to be comfortable in my own skin, trying to develop a sense of confidence I was struggling to find.”
“I didn’t get the lift at first. It was really hard, and I was having difficulty understanding how to successfully distribute my weight between the three other dancers. They were learning too. We all could have easily gotten overwhelmed, given up or changed the choreography to something way less cool/interesting, but instead we were inspired, met with patience and encouraged to practice until it felt like an obtainable goal.”
“Nailing that lift in front of our audience for Arts Fest was one of the most satisfying feelings of accomplishment. I can forever hold that memory in my pocket and access it when I’m faced with challenging situations.”
Jessi moved on from Arts Together to pursue a BA in Dance from University of North Carolina in Greensboro, not knowing that after graduation, she’d find herself back taking summer evening dance classes. She never expected to be approached by her former dance instructor Kathryn Auman regarding a teaching assistant opening with Arts Together’s Multi-Arts Preschool program. Jessi was floored, “With the thought of investing in the place that inspired so much of my creative growth, I jumped on the opportunity.”
Jessi developed and fostered her love of dance from her experiences and personal growth at Arts Together, gaining “an endless sense of curiosity” and learning “lessons that translated into my day-to-day life.” These instances inspired her to pursue a degree in dance: “I wanted to see how far I could expand in the dance world and how much of the goodness from it I could then teach others to inspire them in the way I had been inspired.”
The excellent technique Jessi learned during her classes at Arts Together provided a strong foundation for her further expansion in higher education, but the sense of confidence and community instilled in her from her time at Arts Together proved to be invaluable.
She shares, “The most striking part of my confidence evolution began with the partner work I was introduced to in my modern technique classes. We broke mental barriers that said ‘only boys can lift girls’ or ‘you can only lift if you have super big muscles.’ Partner work introduced the concept of counter-balancing and distributing weight equally between two individuals. It created relationships with the people I was dancing with, recognizing the importance of how the responsibility of my physical actions directly affected whomever I was dancing with.”
Jessi has positively impacted so many individuals during her period as a staff member, from preschoolers and dancers of all ages to summer camp counselors and adults. We will greatly miss her, but as we see her off to exciting, new ventures, Jessi sums it up best.
"I am so thankful for the multi-generational options open to everyone. I started at Arts Together when I was three, had to step away for a bit, and then came back. I have known many other individuals who have come back and been received with open arms. The revolving door at Arts Together has helped make this nonprofit such a Raleigh staple, and I am endlessly grateful for all the lives it has impacted, and continues to impact."
Kari Martin Hollinger, Communications & Development Associate
Archival images courtesy Jessi Tilden and Black Box rehearsal image courtesy Black Box Dance Theatre.