M. Samela Dingus – YOUR NEXT OPTION

A person is only as big as the dream they dare to live. – Author unknown

I grew up on the East Coast. My Daddy was a jazz musician by night and a truck driver by day. My Mama worked for the Feds, that is, the Federal Government. We regularly went to the theater, to Rockefeller Center, and to Radio City Music Hall. I saw my first show at 10 months old! They went out of their way to see that I had a well-rounded education, particularly in the arts.

My Mom sent me to ballet at 8 years old so that I would learn proper posture, and my Dad sent me to piano lessons so I would have some musicality. He and I would sing songs in the car together, him singing lead and me singing the backup or the chorus.

I started Modern dance classes when I was 12 and Jazz dance class when I was 14. I danced in my first recital at 9 years old, performed in my first play at 12 years old, and choreographed and danced in my first musical at 14. Although she was all for me having a ‘well-rounded’ education, my mother was completely against the idea of me being a dancer for a living and discouraged me from continuing to take dance classes as I entered college.

I discovered Communications and decided that I wanted to work for the Children’s Television Network in Boston, Massachusetts. I took classes at a college in the summer because it’s easier to get in then. I went for one semester, and then I took off on a 30-day tour of the US by bus. When I arrived home, I was ecstatic to see my Mom! We spent 4th of July together. It was a Friday. She was considering going back to school as well, as she had always wanted to go to college, but she got pregnant. But that’s another story.

On the following Wednesday, she was at work. I was at my apartment in West Philadelphia and we were having a pretty passionate discussion on the phone. We did this fairly frequently during the day or during her lunch breaks. Sometimes we’d debate the pros and cons of me moving back home for us to go to college together. Other times, we’d discuss the state of the human race. On this particular occasion, we were discussing my upbringing! When she hung up, I really didn’t feel complete. So I called her right back and told her that I would always be a leader, she had done a great job raising me, and I was going to be as great as she was when I grew up. I could feel her smiling on the other end of the phone. We said I love you, and we hung up mutually satisfied. 48 hours later, she was dead. I had just turned 21. She had an Aneurysm.

I was estranged from my two step-sisters and barely on speaking terms with my Dad who was pretty much emotionally unavailable and lived on the other side of town. Subsequently, I fled the entire East coast to as far away as I could imagine, because it was too painful to be there. I moved in with my cousins on the East Bay in California. My cousin’s resourceful wife found me a job and an apartment in San Francisco.

I discovered a dance class the third day I was in the city and that changed my life.  I danced in a company, and then went back and produced that same company a decade later. I continued to dance and choreograph. I also worked in the theater, stage-managing, producing, and directing.

I wasn’t prepared to work in a union town when we moved to Las Vegas. So I decided that I would go back to school, regardless of the fact that it took me 20 years to get my undergraduate degree! I was lamenting to my friend that there ought to be a degree for people with artistic sensibilities and great business acumen. She said, there is. It’s a MASTERS DEGREE IN ARTS ADMINISTRATION. I said sign me up!

For my fiftieth birthday present to myself, I applied to Graduate Schools. I attended Southern Utah University, home of the Utah Shakespeare Festival. I subsequently earned my degree and I worked in the Marketing department at the Festival for two years. It was too cold to stay in Utah.

I came home to a depressed economy and a booming arts community that I somehow missed its development while I was away. Now I needed something else to do.

So I started searching the internet for things women ‘of a certain age’ might be wont to do.

I came upon an organization called Encore. I read they were having a conference in nearby Arizona and I went. What a joy it was to be surrounded by several hundred individuals all over the age of 50.  What an inspiration it was to discover that there was still so much more for me to do.

So I created an organization called Your Next Option for individuals 55 years and older seeking alternatives to traditional retirement.

As a community, we have power. We have the time, talent and experience not only to find personal meaning and a paycheck, but to do something that’s meaningful beyond ourselves. We are living longer and healthier lives and it is imperative that we continue to be engaged in our communities and make the contribution our elders would be proud of! I know my Mama is.

And that’s how I arrived here.

M. Samela Dingus


Samela Dingus



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