A direct opportunity entrepreneur with national TV credits, Dong led master classes in conditioning and a professional development session, “Harnessing Your Authenticity to Lead Your Protection” during a campus visit
Finding success as an artist and entrepreneur is as much about understanding your purpose as talent and hard work, Colette Dong ’14 shared the benefits of a recent campus visit to Elon’s Dance program.
Dong should know. She is the co-founder and co-owner of Nessia — a sounding board fitness company with clients around the world — and has been featured on NBC’s “Today,” “The Drew Barrymore Show” and in the New York Times. He was also the first Elon student to graduate with degrees in both performance and choreography and the science of dance.
Through a variety of master classes providing training and critique, as well as a career-building session, “Building Your Authenticity to Lead Your Resume,” Dong provides students with real-world advice to develop the mindset, skills, and resilience needed to get things done.
“Your purpose and your passion are essentially your brand. Who you are and how you put yourself out into the world. Purpose is really what drives you to life and it’s how you lead an authentic life where you find happiness,” Dong said on Thursday, March 30 , to about 30 dancers gathered at the Center for the Arts. “What if you’re not happy, what are you doing?”
After graduating from Elon, Dong spent time with the American Dance Festival back in New York City, where he worked as a part-time guest dancer and Pilates teacher. A version of fitness training that she found aligned with her values and goals, she and Alison Giampolo founded The Ness in 2018 to create in-person and online movement — and choreography-based workouts — some of which involve trampolines. They launched publicly in 2019, introduced custom trampolines in 2020, and tripled their revenue over the next two years. This year, Ness is opening a location in the Hamptons.
“We’re continuing to grow and now the business is pretty much running,” Dong said.
Dong’s students had a short exercise in identifying their values and purpose before designing a roadmap to success in researching, organizing and building an authentic network.
“Your network is essential, and the network in this room is with you now. Read on them and create authentic relationships. Let’s play the game. As much as they take from you, give to them,” said Dong.
While at Elon, Dong was also the first dance science major to present research at the International Congress on Dance Medicine and Science, and obtained an internship at the Harkness Center for Dance Injuries at NYU Langone Health. Dance professor Lauren Kearns worked closely with Dong while she was at Elon, including her as an undergraduate student, and followed her career in the years after graduation.
“Colete’s classes expertly blend both of their levels, and our dance and choreography students, as well as our dance science majors, gain a deeper understanding of the various career paths they can take in movement,” said Kearns. “Colette is a creative innovator and disruptor in the boutique fitness industry who is methodically building an authentic and holistic curriculum around mental health and wellness.”
Soon after graduation, Dong said he was initially hesitant to ask people for help or money to pursue his goals. Experience has taught her the best ways to ask for people’s favors: Ask the right person and get them to tell you why they are the right person; to offer something in return; set a schedule and offer times and follow-up times.
“If you don’t ask, it doesn’t happen. It’s time,” he said.
He urged students to create crisis response plans for worst-case scenarios, identifying support networks in advance, financial support and mental well-being.
“I like to sow the seeds,” Dong said. “Every day you sow seeds. So when you feel defeated, say to yourself, ‘I planted many seeds today.’
The students liked the candor and wisdom of Dong’s advice.
Makayla Kanerviko ’23, a science and entrepreneurship double major in dance, said Dong’s guidance helped her better understand the path to a career in fitness entrepreneurship.
“She’s done a really good job of branding herself, and I think it’s really important how you present yourself to the world. Doing this just really paid off,” Kanerviko said. “I made connections with teachers outside of Elon, and Colletta really dove into how important this type of network is.”
Madison Valgardson ’24, a dance science major with a conditioning teacher’s class, said Dong provided a greater understanding of the mind-body connection, while the career workshop helped her begin to face her fears in the world after Elon.
“This workshop was a beautiful reminder to ask myself, ‘Why not go and try?'” said Valgardson. “Often not for fear.” I think that we forget that we don’t just go through it, we can always have a reason or find a reason. Collette is inspiring because she was willing to jump and go for what she wanted.