“I had taken classes at the Northeast School of Dance, but it was color guard that really ignited it. I never had been able to find anything that really excited me before, but from that time on I was dancing every night,” she said.
Her discovery came at an age when others have sometimes been studying for years, but Coughlin thinks her late start has benefited her in the long run.
“I think what I lacked technically was more than made up for with the passion I felt for it. I think some get started much younger but then burn out after awhile. But I was dancing in the studio and around town, getting some side gigs working with Larry Life. I just took whatever I could find.”
Her commitment led her to major in dance at Hope College, earning the Distinguished Artist Award that provided a scholarship that enabled her to earn a degree in dance performance and choreography. Although she traveled around a bit and found numerous outlets for her desire to dance, she eventually came back to Fort Wayne and has managed to combine a busy schedule of performance and choreography while teaching at IPFW.
“I’m in my 13th year at IPFW, and when I started I had one class. Now with the dance minor, we have so many more classes, and I get to teach much more and choreograph some of the shows. I love performing, but I think from what people say and what I feel when I teach, I was made for teaching. People seem to be able to relate to me. One student who was in a musical said to me ‘I’m not a dancer and never thought I was one, but you made me feel like I can be one.’ And that made me feel really good.”
As she oversees the annual Purely Dance performances at Williams Theatre (this year running Dec. 2-11), her people skills allow many students and area performers to feel good about their dance potential. Her work with Mikautadze Dance Theatre and Fort Wayne Dance Collective, where she gets to work with her mentor Liz Monnier, provide a creative outlet.
“It helps me keep a balance if I continue to work in both performance and choreography. If I keep putting more in, I have so much more to share with others. I think it changes as you get older, when you stop seeing everyone as your competition and start seeing what everyone has to offer you.”