A summer spent helping manage Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s finances turned into a full-time job for Krista Ellensohn after she graduated from the University of Iowa. And she still dances.
Sara Epstein Moninger
Video and photography
Matt Jansen

Although she had been dancing since age 5—learning ballet, tap, modern, and jazz, among other dance genres—Krista Ellensohn was hesitant to pursue a career in dance. The LeMars, Iowa, native had spent years training and competing, but she worried that making a living as a dancer could be a challenge. She loved to dance but she knew the professional opportunities were few and far between.

The University of Iowa, she says, offered her the best of two worlds. Not only did it have a strong dance department, it also had a highly regarded business school where she felt she could learn marketable job skills. While working toward a Bachelor of Business Administration, Ellensohn heard about the university’s Certificate in Arts Entrepreneurship, course work that focuses on arts management and leadership in arts organizations. Signing up for the certificate set the stage for Ellensohn’s career.

“For the certificate program, I had to complete an internship,” Ellensohn says. “I knew I wanted to find an internship focused in the field of dance, so I started researching online. That’s when I discovered Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.”

Ellensohn reached out to the professional dance company, which tours internationally and is based in Chicago, and was invited to participate in a summer accounting internship between her junior and senior years at Iowa. That work led to full-time employment after her graduation in 2011 and a promotion a year later.

In addition to operating a year-round dance company, Hubbard Street hosts a wide range of community classes and pre-professional training programs at its 18,000-square-foot warehouse in Chicago’s West Loop. As manager of artist training, Ellensohn helps organize Hubbard Street’s Summer Intensive Programs for young, pre-professional dancers. Several hundred elite dancers from across the country are selected to participate each summer.

Working behind the scenes, Ellensohn says she knows firsthand how difficult it can be for arts organizations like Hubbard Street to survive, but she puts her business knowledge to work and enjoys interacting with young dancers with whom she shares a passion.

“Leading up to the summer, I experience high-tension situations in preparation for simultaneous programs—managing dancer registration, fielding inquiries from students and their families, and coordinating classes and external instructors. But then you see the dancers here and you notice even slight changes in their maturity. For some, it’s their first time away from home,” she says. “You see an improvement in their training and their strength in a short period of time, and to know that you were a part of that success—maybe just a spark—is really rewarding because dance is such an important part of my life.”

“What I learned at Iowa has been really beneficial. The classes I took have been very valuable and have contributed to my success in this position.”

Krista Ellensohn

Although her primary role at Hubbard Street is administrative, Ellensohn still dances. Not only does she teach classes, she can take classes for free—and she has seized the opportunity by studying and training regularly in a genre she was unfamiliar with: hip-hop. In fact, she enjoyed the challenge so much that she auditioned for and earned a spot in the teacher’s BOOM CRACK! Dance Company, a company in residency at Hubbard Street. BOOM CRACK! won first place at the 2017 World of Dance competition in Chicago and second place at World of Dance Dallas 2017.

Now in her sixth year with BOOM CRACK!, Ellensohn serves as its administrative director while also choreographing for company performances.

“I didn’t realize how intricate the genre of hip-hop was from a musicality and movement perspective,” she says. “I found it to be a good challenge.”

Ellensohn credits the University of Iowa with preparing her for a successful career and feeding her passion for dance. (She earned a minor in dance.) In particular, she singles out Michael Mount, Henry B. Tippie Research Professor of Management, who she says encouraged her to pursue an internship related to dance and wrote letters of recommendation.

“What I learned at Iowa has been really beneficial. For the certificate, we had to create a business plan starting from scratch. How would you start the business? How would you maintain it? What would be your strategies and goals for a two- or three-year plan, as opposed to a five-year plan?” she explains. “The classes I took have been very valuable and have contributed to my success in this position. I manage budgets for one of Hubbard Street’s most crucial revenue streams, in addition to performing customer service.”

Ellensohn says she is thrilled have a career that involves dance—and to work for an organization like Hubbard Street.

“From our main company that performs on stage, to the classes we offer, to the companies that are in residency such as BOOM CRACK!, Hubbard Street brings the art of dance to people of all ages, in a lot of different ways,” she says, noting a Hubbard Street project that uses movement to help people with Parkinson’s disease. “It’s rewarding to be a part of that.”