To: Visceral Staff & Board/ The Visceral Dance Community/Chicago Dance Community,
I’ve written a few versions of this letter, thinking hard about what I wanted to say, and I realized that I just need to speak honestly and openly. I’ve really been torn up over how I was treated recently at Visceral, and my integrity and passion are leading me to share my story . . . now that I’m in a better mental space.
I’m writing this letter because Nick Pupillo refuses to truly take accountability for his actions, and both his staff and board do nothing to hold him, nor themselves accountable. I refuse to be silent and allow my story to go unheard, like many others in the Visceral Dance Community.
I will also not stand by and allow Nick Pupillo to destroy my character as a strong dance educator by sharing with his Teen Studio Company, our personal messages. Nick was aware that I had positively Influenced many of his studio company members, in both rehearsals and classes; I do not believe that it is right for any director to share personal communication exchanges to underage students, in coercing them to be on their side. (Note: A current member of the Visceral team felt led to share this pertinent information with me recently.)
I received an email on May 5th at 11 pm from Nick Pupillo stating that a meeting with me wouldn’t be beneficial and that he’s expressed why he chose to end our business relationship. Mind you, this was after I reached out several times and was ignored — it took 3.5 weeks for him to answer my email about meeting in person. Personally, I don’t think it’s appropriate for an employer to email their former employee about such a sensitive subject so late. And a “friend” would have responded to my previous emails/texts at a decent hour or texted me that he received my messages and would get back to me later.
Please let it be known that I’ve never maneuvered with any ill intent. I took my involvement at Visceral very seriously and I did my job with complete humility. The moment I was given the opportunity to teach and work at Visceral, I was “Team Visceral” all the way!
Here are my contributions to the Visceral brand:
Aside from teaching, in my Creative Operations role, I…
● Assisted with the design and product completion of all new apparel, which involved correspondence with multiple entities; I also took many photos of students & the new apparel.
● Assisted with social media:
o Started building post strategy
o Initiated IG story engagement, handled analytic monitoring, answered DMs
o Helped build aesthetic by implementing IG highlights, introducing IG Live, IGTV, setting up Linktree and IG Guide
o Increased followers tremendously with post consistency
o Provided off the clock posting/engagement
o Content creation & video editing, when needed
o Managed/delegated tasks for SM intern, nightly posting by creating doc for IG story/post guidelines
● Spearheaded the Monthly Series, corresponded with artists, created Series doc for process monitoring, created flyers & captured content when needed
● Updated Visceral YouTube account
● Took initiative in looking through every teaching submission and flagged accordingly.
● Subbed multiple Adult & Youth HH classes, both scheduled and last min
● Opened up/linked conversations re work-study fairness & possible discrimination that was brought to my attention.
● Contributed multiple ideas and support for Visceral decision-making and diversity progression
Now here’s where the “friendship” part came in, outside of my role:
I cleaned Nick’s Studio Company solos & rehearsed his group pieces. I also taught a studio company class in his absence. And with the time that I spent doing this, I had to ensure that I was being compensated for the time I was giving because we never discussed it…until after the fact.
Now, allow me to give you some pertinent FACTS:
On July 23, 2020, Nick Pupillo asked me to come to the studio for a chat after 6 PM. Before this, we hadn’t spoken in years! We hashed out our differences from the past at this time.
Back in 2014, I asked Nick for a meeting in person, to resolve the issues we were having; He never responded.
From July 23, 2020 on, all of our messages were full of jokes, laughs, and gifs on FB messenger + via text.
On August 26, 2020, he gave me and a friend a tour of his potential new space, in which we all shared our excitement.
On September 30, 2020, Nick and I spoke on the phone and I gave him tons of suggestions, on how to build midday classes; I started subbing classes at Visceral in October 2020.
On Dec 10, 2020 at 1:30 pm, he asked me via email to come and interview for the Studio Manager position.
After writing up a thorough proposal as he asked, Nick decided to offer me a position as Creative Operations (working title) on 12/28/20.
Moving Forward . . . 3/18/21 — I shared a text with Nick, hoping to chat on that coming Monday; There was something bothering me. Nick never responded.
3/22/21 — I informed Nick Pupillo that I needed support for our scheduled meeting. given how uncomfortable the conversation would be, but I wasn’t allowed to have that (from a current VDC company member, nor a current staff member.) Being the only black staff member, I felt concerned with bringing up topics like contractual agreements, role clarification, and feelings of discomfort in the office.
4/5/21. I asked Nick if we could talk without one of the VDC Staff members being in the room because I knew the talk would also be a follow-up to the meeting that we had on 3/22. Nick didn’t want this staff member to leave, so she was present as we discussed some disagreements regarding The April Series E-blast, my class to start the April Series, my office discomfort, and my Social Media role/clarity.
That same day. . . Nick and I had another 1:1 meeting. It was impromptu and was initiated by him. Nick walked out of our meeting for his 2:30 pm Zoom meeting, leaving things unresolved. Nick was very dismissive, and he kept stating “You’re not happy. You’re not happy in the office. You’re happier when you’re teaching, I see it!” I never stated I was unhappy in the office. I shared some discomfort. Was I having a bad day that particular day? Yes.
4/6 I was asked to work remotely. This email was received just hours before my office shift. There was no plan given. I also never had a discussion with Nick about wanting to work remotely. I was forced to.
In the middle of this process, I received 2 disheartening text messages from Nick:
1. “Dionna, 10 years ago our friendship ended because of the FB posts that were negatively directed towards Visceral and me. And here we are again.” 4/7/21 @ 10pm I didn’t respond to this text until the next day because I was in shock!
PLEASE NOTE: ALL my recent posts regarding Visceral and my classes were completely POSITIVE. You can find my posts under ‘Guest’ FB posts on the Visceral page + my POSITIVE review of Visceral on Google. Nick made an unwarranted assumption about 1 post he read on my PERSONAL page without asking for clarification, as my “friend,” his assumption was wrong. I responded the next day and expressed how I felt about his text message — “offended and demonized.” Ireceived no response. Notice the pattern?
On 4/10, I received this email from Nick Pupillo. (between 4:30–5pm)
Your resignation has been received. We appreciate all the work that you have contributed to Visceral during your time.
I would like to have you continue teaching at Visceral. Your talent and passion are a great influence on the students here.”
Please Note: I never resigned from my job as Creative Operations When I tried to reply immediately following, all my Visceral access had been removed. I then texted Nick. No response. Then I emailed him and sent the same email to my colleagues via my personal email. Prior to, I honored my word and sent 2 emails on that Friday (4/9, the end of the week) stating the following:
1. That the original offer letter was void. (It included office hours and pay, not remote work and pay.)
*There is a difference between an offer letter being voided and rescinding a contract.
2. A possible Social Media plan that would need Nick’s approval before proceeding.
I received no response.
On 4/10 I was told that a conversation could take place on 4/11, but I was denied.
On 4/11/21 @ 8 pm, I received this text message:
“It’s been brought to my attention (and sent to me) what you have been doing behind my back. I have nothing further to say to you.”
NOTE: I texted and called Nick several times after this text was received, for clarification. He never responded.
On 4/12 I received a payroll email, nothing regarding my “resignation” or what was “brought to his attention.”
On 4/15 Nick called me and said he thought it was best that I didn’t teach at Visceral. A nod back to what he emailed me on 4/10:
“I would like to have you continue teaching at Visceral. Your talent and passion are a great influence on the students here.”
— — -
With all this said, despite Visceral’s claims to stand in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, it didn’t matter whether I received clarification regarding the blatant lie about me resigning, the assumption that my FB status was about Visceral, or what Nick meant by “what you’re doing behind my back.”
Another note: When I didn’t hear from Nick or the current staff about said “resignation,” I decided to contact 3 members of the Visceral Board. Now, I’m intelligent enough to do my homework in being aware that the studio and the company are separate entities. However, I thought that the Board would at least see the situation at hand and offer some compassion or at least an email stating that a meeting needed to happen. No one responded. Nick made it a point to tell me (the day he called regarding my classes) …”The Board will never respond to you because you went over my head.”
Once again, Nick and I were “friends.” None of this would’ve happened if he hadn’t pushed me out by asking me — the only black staff member — to work remotely or lied about my resignation. He also could’ve asked for transparency regarding my FB post (as a friend), given clarification about what “behind my back” means, etc. I can’t say it enough: there was no response regarding my supposed resignation. FYI, Nick and the Staff were also CC’D on my email to the board.
I also want to note that this situation is even more concerning for me because I was never offered an official contract to sign for my Creative Operations position nor teaching, only an offer letter via email, which I brought up in our meeting on 3/22. I have no physical documentation that I worked at Visceral, in my Creative Operations role, nor did the current pay method reflect thatI originally took this offer without considering my contract first because I truly believe in the Visceral brand, was excited to get started and I also valued the friendship that Nick & I had already established. I also took note of my time outside the office via the Toggl app & brought it to Nick’s attention, though he never took the time to acknowledge these hours.
I also need to share what I sent to both the staff and board:
“I am very thankful that Visceral Dance Center offered me another home after Lou Conte Dance Studio closed. LCDS was where I met Nick, but also a place where I started my teaching journey in 2004. Nick & VDC provided space for my Multiple Sclerosis Fundraiser & allowed me to share as an artist in so many capacities, from teaching in the Adult Program, Youth Program, rehearsing with the Studio Company, teaching VSC company class, & judging the Youth Program Adjudications, which were all very positive experiences. I was honored & grateful for these opportunities. Moreover, Nick had recently asked me to be a part of a new Advisory Board that he’d be starting.” + I shared a full account of my contributions to Visceral, Nick, and I’s last email exchanges, A positive review from one of my students, as well as footage from classes I taught at Visceral.
I was also told by Nick that I was hired because I’m a creative and not just an implementer (a concern he’s expressed to me about his current team,) & that he respected my perspective when it came to diversity.
However, there wasn’t a space created for me to do my job effectively. My contributions and my classes that received multiple positive student reviews didn’t matter. As a black woman, I now feel “thrown away,” without a single care; I didn’t deserve that.
I feel like the decision to dismiss me was planned after the first scheduled 1:1, where I inquired about my Creative Operations role and teaching contract and expressed office discomfort; Based on pure emotion. He never responded to me as a friend, nor did he handle this situation correctly from a business perspective. There was no warning or clarification regarding neither my work, nor my work relationships in the office. I also feel like this situation stemmed from an over-extended boss & the atmosphere created by the Executive Director: Dawn Stanislaw. I never felt welcomed by her.
My transparency was likely seen as combative and negative when I never brought any negative energy into that space. Was I silent when I felt unheard? Yes. Did I feel uncomfortable when the work-study/intern beside me wasn’t being paid and had more access/responsibility to both personal and professional things involving Nick and Visceral communication? Yes. Privilege. Was I questioning my role, when all my tasks via my offer letter were completed? Yes. Did I express that I could take on more responsibility in my office role? Yes. Was I given more responsibility? No. Was more responsibility given to his intern/work-study? Yes. Did Nick vent to me about what his current staff wasn’t doing in their roles or how they weren’t as detail oriented as I was? Yes. Did he make the time to approve or figure out a strategy/plan for my social media role? No. Did I ask him if he could acknowledge the extra time I was giving outside the office? Yes. Was his answer that he didn’t have the money to pay me for my social media role? Yes. Did I take a loss for myself for 2 months, building his IG page, to show what I was capable of? Yes. Was this enough? No. His response was to have me work remotely for 1.5hr for social media. Huh?
If something was bothering me, I shut down and stayed silent to keep the peace and just did my job. But being so quiet apparently appeared as me having a negative spirit or bad energy. That was a misconception. When Nick shared that my energy was “negative” in the office, I felt unsafe.
There was not a viable reason to let me go, aside from his own discomfort and need for validation from his white counterparts — His fragility. Also, my classes were doing really well, and I was doing everything I was asked to do in the office; I completed my tasks, plus more . . . always making students feel comfortable in his absence, as well as taking the time to film classes.
My voice didn’t matter. It makes me feel used. It makes me feel manipulated. It makes me feel unappreciated. It makes me feel discarded… like I wasn’t enough. It makes me feel bad. It makes me feel like “Black Lives Matter” is only a button on their website to show allyship.
The Visceral Board is predominantly white. The work-studies that get hired are predominately white. The Visceral Staff is predominantly white; I was the only Black staff member and a huge asset to the team in SO many ways — dance knowledge, credentials, and creativity! I deserved a conversation about my “resignation” and the classes (and income) I lost, but I wasn’t given that. I was removed and dismissed.
Aside from everything stated, Nick is VERY aware of how great of a teacher I am (many positive reviews of my classes,) and he chose to take away my positive impact! Unfortunately, I was a black woman who became a “problem.” The one who NEVER expressed anger or any negative energy in the workplace but somehow still got those labels. How could I possibly become an enemy to a space where I felt the most joy from teaching? Where my “friend” and I reunited? Where I was doing the work? Never did I slack off, disrespect anyone, or get the least bit belligerent.
I was judged for my energy being “different” in the office when I just put my foot down when It came to working on my off-hours and asking for respect regarding pay/contracts. The catalyst for this letter was the blatant lack of communication from a team I served and served well. And I just wish that Nick Pupillo/Staff/Board would hold themselves accountable for this unfair treatment: to be ostracized from the Visceral community or demonized as an individual. I was not protected at Visceral; I’m heartbroken.
This is my truth.
My questions to Nick, as well as the Visceral Dance Community . . . Are you really doing the work? Taking proactive steps towards understanding and educating yourselves on your role in the status quo? Are you looking to amplify minority voices? Are you truly open to uncomfortable conversations within our Chicago Dance Community and beyond?
Openly and transparently,
moveDIPR Founder|Creative Director
Freelance Dance Educator|movement artist
Supporter of the Black MS community
Advocate for Artists of Color