Alumna Sarah Kaufman discusses dancing into journalism

Sean Lavery

Pulitzer Prize-winning dance critic for The Washington Post Sarah Kaufman, Medill ‘88, told an impassioned story about her transformation from dancer to journalist Monday night.

Kaufman spoke to an audience of about 40 people in the McCormick Tribune Center.

She said she had doubts about becoming a journalist but that the skills she acquired as a Medill graduate student prepared her well for a professional career.

“It’s knowing the field and having an original idea and pursuing it,” Kaufman said.

When Kaufman arrived at Medill she wanted to be a feature writer. After graduating from Medill, she moved to Munich, Germany, with her husband, where she freelanced culture pieces for English-language publications. After her return to the States, Kaufman freelanced for The Washington Post, writing dance critiques and eventually replacing her mentor, the newspaper’s former dance critic.

Kaufman said the journalism industry today is plagued by the nonstop pace of content production. The combined demands of early filing for online publication and fewer staff doing more work could eventually lead to an industry burnout, she said.

“Even this year compared to last year, I’m not sure how the same quality is going to be sustained that we’re used to seeing,” Kaufman said.

Kaufman has been interested in dance and performance since she was a young girl and only stopped dancing as an NU graduate student.

Medill sophomore Ceri Roberts said Kaufman’s dance background is what attracted her to the speaking engagement.

“She came from a similar place as me,” Roberts said. “She started loving to write, not necessarily as a journalist. And then she fell in love and wanted to write about dance because that’s what she knew and wanted to do.”

Roberts dances for NU’s Deeva Dance Troupe, an Indian fusion group. She said she plans to write about dance after graduation.

Zachary Whittenburg, dance editor at the magazine Time Out Chicago, said dance critics are not often in the running for the Pulitzer Prize.

“For the few of us in the field it was a big deal,” Whittenburg said. “A lot of what (Kaufman) has done to frame dance gets at the passion and what’s interesting about the performances.”

Kaufman said she has no plans to move on from her current job after winning the Pulitzer.

“I love The Washington Post, and I feel like it’s the perfect place for me,” she said. “I just see myself continuing and expanding upon what I’ve been doing so far.”

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