Growing up outside Chicago, Illinois, Jenna Pollack began dancing as a small child, dreaming of someday becoming a ballerina. Inspired by her parents, who are professional musicians, she was confident in the viability of a career as an artist. She had the opportunity to turn that dream into a reality when she enrolled at The Juilliard School in New York City in 2009.

After earning her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Performance, she worked in New York and Montréal for a few years and found herself frequently negotiating contracts and advocating for herself and other dancers. Yet she felt at a disadvantage because she didn’t speak the language of business.

“Among many things, the dance world is comprised largely of women but run almost exclusively by men,” Pollack says. “When I entered the field, we were still half a decade from the #MeToo era and any mainstream discussion of workplace protections for dancers. I wanted to be able to better advocate for myself and others, which at that time felt especially difficult without the tools, support, or a larger cultural shift.”

It was around that time Pollack decided she wanted to become her own boss.

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Shifting from Dancer to Business Leader

To evolve her career from performer toward choreographer, director, and producer, Pollack decided she should go back to school. She had already planned to attend graduate school for choreography and interdisciplinary producing, yet wanted some formal business training. An MBA didn’t make sense for her, but she believed a business education would be a distinctive asset in her field.

So, before heading to graduate school at the Art Institute Barcelona, she enrolled in Harvard Business School Online’s Credential of Readiness (CORe) program. Pollack believed CORe—a three-course program made up of Financial Accounting, Economics for Managers, and Business Analytics—would give her the business skills to make an easier shift from performer to business leader.

“CORe was a perfect middle ground to pursue information at an entry point appropriate for my career,” she says.

Equipped with a baseline in financial literacy, she was able to attend graduate school with a business mindset and launch her own business from there.

Fitting Rigorous Courses into a Busy Schedule

Taking CORe while working was challenging, according to Pollack. She found the coursework to be rigorous but says being a night owl was an asset in completing the program. She also notes that the HBS Online teaching method and platform made it easier.

“The different ways the platform gives you information was really helpful,” Pollack says. “It made the material easily digestible, and the case studies were beneficial, providing clear examples that rooted me in the real world.”

Even more helpful were her fellow learners.

“The value HBS places on being an active member of the cohort was invaluable to my understanding of the material,” Pollack says. “I process information best in context, and so being able to interact with the community—whether it be in a chat room or live study group—and bouncing questions back-and-forth in real time proved helpful for me. It also drew me back in when I was feeling frustrated, or like I didn’t belong as an artist in a business class. The course is set up to relay information in many ways for many types of learners.”

Pollack proudly completed CORe with honors and, after spending two years abroad in Scotland and Spain, she’s now living and working in Boston. She leads a busy life, juggling performances with commissions and teaching locally at Salem State University and the Boston Ballet. This year, she’ll be returning to her hometown to make a new piece at The University of Chicago and will be traveling to Colombia this summer as an Arts Envoy with the State Department. You may also spot her on the big screen whirling around Emma Watson in the movie “Little Women.”

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In her rare free time, she enjoys going to shows, hanging out with friends and her boyfriend—a lighting designer at the Boston Ballet—local thrifting, and biking when the weather cooperates.

Grateful for being able to combine her love for dance with her leadership skills, Pollack is now fully immersed in the business side of the arts.

“I now have a way of thinking about an ever-evolving business plan, building budgets, and negotiating contracts, and I can apply it to my career in the arts,” she says.

Her business skills also gave her a seat at the table.

“Being able to talk about the business side of what I do gives me more credence,” Pollack says. “CORe gave me the skills to back up my ideas and get people to pay attention. With it, I feel much more confident in negotiations, vouching not only for my work but for the things I think need to change in the dance world. I feel like I'm able to better plan ahead and am making wiser economic decisions for the long-term. This feels especially important inside of a freelancer culture where it’s so easy to get caught up in living gig-to-gig. Taking the course didn’t debunk my artistic intuitions or visions, but gave me a way of speaking about them that I feel has set me up to be taken more seriously.”

If you’re interested in evolving your career and are seeking a foundation in business, explore CORe and other learner stories to discover how the program can help you advance your career.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.