A typical semester for Eve Mason during her collegiate career at Webster University included a course load of 21 credit hours. She’d take undergraduate classes for her BFA in dance and choreography in the mornings and afternoons before attending night classes for her MA in business and leadership. In 2008, Mason graduated with both degrees after an accelerated four-year workload, which included summers spent taking nine credit hours — the maximum allowed — for her master’s degree.
On top of that, Mason made ends meet by working at Starbucks on mornings when she didn’t have classes and at a retail job on weekends. She squeezed in teaching dance during the evenings she didn’t have a night class to run off to. “A typical college student I guess, right?” Mason said, laughing.
In hindsight, Mason, 31, said she may not have attempted to complete two degrees in a four-year span — with multiple jobs and extracurricular activities mixed in — had she known how difficult it would be. But successfully navigating that gave Mason the resolve to help start Velocity — a dance convention and competition that frequents 20 cities in the U.S. and Canada per year — in 2012.
“Anybody who’s an entrepreneur would say, ‘If I had known how much work I was going to have to do to go into this, I don’t know that I would have done it.’ I truly believe that,” Mason said. “Same thing with going to college and doing two programs at the same time — if I had known how much work it was going to be, I don’t know if I would have done it. But having the business degree helped me along the way. It just gave me the confidence to go, ‘You’ve made it through college, and you can do this now [start Velocity]. Just apply what you’ve learned.’”
Mason grew up in Arnold, Mo., a city just south of St. Louis, and knew she needed to select an in-state college with a strong dance program for financial reasons. Webster fit the bill. The university’s small-school atmosphere, high-quality faculty members and guest choreographers, and ability to provide exposure to real-world experiences piqued Mason’s interest. The opportunity for her to acquire two degrees in two completely different subject matters pushed Webster over the top.
“Webster really opened up my eyes to a new perspective of dance I hadn’t experienced yet — the concert side of dance,” Mason said. “Webster broadened my range of thinking. There’s so much to do in this industry. You can do anything. You just need to find a little niche in it. Finding that business niche for me is what kind of launched my dance career, oddly enough, out here in Los Angeles. Anything I wanted to do in the dance world, I knew just having that business background would push me a little bit further with getting the right connections.”
Since graduating from Webster and moving to LA, Mason has engaged in an assortment of projects, including ones where she choreographed for Jennifer Lopez and Eva Longoria. She has worked with the Latin American Music Awards, Mexican Billboard Awards, SoleVita Dance Company and Princess cruise line, to name a few. She’s worked for Disney, was a coach for an episode of the MTV show “Made” and was a co-choreographer for a yet-to-be-released DreamWorks animated film.
Mason and her business partner, Cory Jones, worked at dance conventions and didn’t like the path they were heading down. So they decided to develop their own. Mason and Jones made Velocity stand out in a saturated market by emphasizing education, mentorship and the numerous opportunities within the industry beyond just commercial work. Now in its fifth season, Velocity has thrived, with an average of 800 to 1,000 students in attendance at each tour site.
“The dance convention industry was going in a direction where it wasn’t about the children. It wasn’t about the education. And it wasn’t about bridging that gap of when kids graduate from high school, do they want to go to college and pursue performing arts, or do they want to move straight to LA, New York or Chicago?” Mason said. “The goal of Velocity is just trying to give more of a mentorship program on a national level. Just make sure kids walk away feeling inspired and good about themselves and what they accomplished that weekend.
“We need to start having conversations with kids and going, ‘It’s OK if you want to double major. It’s OK if you don’t want to dance. Maybe you want to do something in medicine but still work in the entertainment industry — become a physical therapist for dancers.’ There are so many options. You just have to initiate the conversation.”