‘Dance is the passion of my life’: MFA graduate finds healing, connection in ASU dance program

April 27, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

When Tanya Dimitrov came to the United States in 2016, she was researching what possibilities were available to her. She already had an extensive background in dance. She started dancing at age 6 at the cultural center in her village in Petarch, Bulgaria. She said she always knew dance was the only thing that she wanted to do with her life. After grade school, Dimitrov danced with professional dance companies and pursued higher education in Bulgaria. In 2017, Bulgaria native Tanya Dimitrov co-founded Tupan Bie, an annual classic Bulgarian folklore festival in Phoenix that celebrates Bulgarian traditions and customs and educates participants about Bulgarian dance, music and verbal art. Photo by Holly Smith Download Full Image

“I never imagined doing anything else,” she said.

Dimitrov experienced an injury during her professional career that forced her to look at new ways of moving and connecting through dance. She said she realized during her education in the dance program at Arizona State University that she had been using somatics to help her body heal.

“I was able to heal myself because dance is the passion of my life,” Dimitrov. “I was able to move forward and achieve healing.”

Dimitrov said she came to ASU because she was looking for new creative learning opportunities. She’s graduating in May with an Master of Fine Arts in dance and an master's degree in creative enterprise and cultural leadership. 

“I am happy that I came here,” Dimitrov said. “There are always new things to learn. No one knows everything.”

Dimitrov has contributed to both the ASU dance program and the larger Phoenix dance community. In 2017, she co-founded Tupan Bie, an annual classic Bulgarian folklore festival that celebrates Bulgarian traditions and customs and educates participants about Bulgarian dance, music and verbal art.  

Her applied project involved a large-scale collaborative choreography that explored various cultural dance forms through a somatic lens. The project involved 22 ASU dancers, six professional Bulgarian folk dancers from her company Balkanik, professional musicians from Bulgaria and Turkey as well as ASU percussionist Sonja Branch. While at ASU, Dimitrov shared elements of her project in two co-presented conference presentations for the National Dance Education Organization and World Dance Alliance. 

“Tanya has been a dedicated, industrious student with a charismatic personality and a huge passion for fostering the continuation and furtherance of cultural knowledge,” said Becky Dyer, associate professor of dance. 

Dimitrov shared more about her academic journey.

Question: What is an interesting moment or accomplishment during your time at ASU?

Answer: My biggest accomplishment at ASU was my applied project concert because I tried to bring all my interests into the same place, to work with diverse artists, and it was so successful. I brought professionals and non-professionals into the same space. I worked with musicians and composers outside of the United States, and I only had 10 weeks. I challenged myself, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it. The feedback I received from my dancers and professors was really positive. It was so emotional, it was so powerful, it was so engaging. I had my defense last week, and it is still so emotional.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

A: I became more familiar with somatic practice and somatics in general. I wasn’t aware of using somatic approaches in my teaching and in my pedagogy, but after learning more about somatics I realized this is something that is interesting to me. I was using it but without knowing it. Somatics is the connection between your inner self, your soul, your emotions, with your body movement and explorations. If you experience trauma, there are different somatic approaches to heal yourself and connect with other people. For an artist, it hurts your soul, because when you experience physical trauma and you’re not able to dance, to do what you love to do, it hurts so badly. It takes time to heal your mind and your body as well. 

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: I can’t point to just one professor. Becky Dyer, Liz Lerman, Naomi Jackson, Johanna Taylor, Karen Schupp, Carolyn Koch, Adair Landborn, Carley Conder, John Mitchell, Robert Kaplan, LaTasha Barnes, Jorge Magana, David Olarte, Mary Fitzgerald. All of them! I learned from each of the professors. In my cohort, everyone was so open. We knew why we were here. A master’s program is not because you have to go; you go because you’re open and you want to learn. You’re open to learning new things. You explore and then you understand why.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Be open to learning. If you don’t understand something right away, it doesn’t mean it won’t be useful for you in the future. And get enough sleep.

Q: What was your favorite place on campus?

A: The rehearsal space. My first year was online, it was Zoom, so it was nice to get to rehearse in person.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My plans after graduation are to continue to pass on my knowledge to students who hold the same passion as me for dance. I also would like to keep exploring, to build community well-being and provide awareness and education about the Balkan culture and heritage.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: Food and water are some of the biggest problems that humanity has. Especially becoming a mother, my world changed and my worldview changed on a lot of things. The first thing that came to mind was children who don’t have enough. 

Lacy Chaffee

Media and communications coordinator, School of Music, Dance and Theatre


ASU Dean’s Medalist aims to answer world’s biggest questions as theoretical physicist

April 27, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Even back in elementary school, Max Pezzelle has always been intrigued by the world's unknowns.  Max Pezzelle will graduate this spring with a bachelor's degree in physics and a minor in mathematics.. Photo by: Meghan Finnerty Download Full Image

How does gravity work? What are black holes? Those were the questions he was constantly asking himself.

That curiosity and pursuit of answering those questions led him to Arizona State University to pursue a bachelor's degree in physics from the Department of Physics and a minor in mathematics.

Pezzelle, a Barrett, The Honors College student, spent his time in college researching the double copy theory, which explores the relationships between gauge theories and gravity. For his research, he received the Department of Physics Research Award. 

Outside the classroom, he regularly attended cosmology seminars and was a member of the ASU Society of Physics Students and Cosmology Initiative Journal Club and Seminar.

“My time at ASU has definitely increased my confidence and spirit to pursue physics. The more you learn, the more questions you have, and the experiences I’ve had while at ASU helped in that area,” Pezzelle said.

At The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences’ convocation in May, he will be honored as the Department of Physics Spring 2023 Dean’s Medalist. He spoke to us about his academic journey.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?

Answer: I love learning about the natural world and the deeper questions that you ask. There’s a picture of me holding up this notebook where I did a project on black holes before middle school. That is how long I have been interested in the field.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A:  It’s close to home, and I love Arizona so that was a huge factor. Outside of that, various opportunities were available in physics and space exploration. You don’t get those opportunities everywhere. 

Q:  Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A:  I have two that stick out to me; first was Damien Easson, who was helpful when I was working on my thesis. I was tackling a topic that he was working on, and he was not only helpful with that but also beneficial in showing me the day-to-day life of being a physicist. Another was a graduate student, Tucker Manton, who helped with my thesis.

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you would give to students?

A:  I would tell someone to take advantage of all the opportunities, whether that is joining clubs that interest you, attending lectures or conferences or connecting with professors. 

Q:  What was your favorite spot on campus for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A:  Most of the time someone found me in the Society of Physics Students room in the physical sciences building. I also spent time outside the Memorial Union.

Q:  What are your plans after graduation?

A:  I will be furthering my education at another university. From there, I want to move on to pursue a postdoctoral study and eventually become a professor in theoretical physics.

Q:  If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A:  I would form a group focused on answering the fundamental questions in physics that we do not know yet. 

Marketing and Communications Coordinator, The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences