Mona Nicholas | Jackson Free Press | Jackson, MS

Mona Nicholas

This story has been edited to contain information from USA IBC regarding Sue Lobrano's retirement and Nicholas' position, and to clarify information in some of Nicholas' quotes.

Mona Nicholas, the newly appointed deputy director of the USA International Ballet Competition—one of the largest international ballet competitions in the world—,fell in love with dance the first time she saw a performance.

"I loved dancing so much I did it every day of the week," Nicholas said. "I grew up taking dance classes of all types all the way through college, and my mother also found me a dance teacher whose door was open anytime I wanted to dance. I helped my dance instructor teach other students (to help pay for my college tuition), and I'm still dancing today."

Nicholas went to St. Aloysius High School in Vicksburg and practiced her craft at Debra Franco Preparatory School of Dance, where owner Debra Franco exposed students to a wide variety of venues by taking them to conventions and dance recitals. Nicholas went on to attend Millsaps College, where she majored in business administration. She remained in Jackson after college and became an account manager at Siemens Healthcare, where she worked for 22 years.

While still working for Siemens, Nicholas became involved with the USA IBC around 2012, when she helped revive and eventually became president of Friends of the USA IBC, a volunteer organization that supports the USA IBC financially and generates interest in the community for ballet through annual events such as membership drives and a fall fundraiser.

"Living in Jackson, I learned about the USA IBC and thought it was a wonderful way to promote the city and Mississippi," Nicholas said. "I helped revive Friends of the USA IBC because I knew I wanted to be involved in the competition any chance I could get."

As deputy director, Nicholas currently focuses on learning from Sue Lobrano, who has been executive director of the USA IBC for 34 years. Lobrano advised the USA IBC Board of Directors last year that the upcoming competition—her seventh to manage as executive director—would be her last and that she would retire at the end of 2014, Brenda Trigg, Marketing & Public Relations Director for USA IBC, said in an email to the Jackson Free Press. The board created the position of deputy director and hired Nicholas to provide transition in leadership and executive management upon Lobrano’s retirement.

Nicholas said the USA IBC takes anywhere between 700 and 800 volunteers to run smoothly, and this year's competition needs more volunteers. The USA IBC is looking for transportation drivers, ushers at performances, and host families for the organization's Adopt-A-Dancer program. Adopt-A-Dancer host families encourage their "adopted" dancer during their time in Jackson and act as a point of contact for the dancer if they have any needs. Most host families bring a welcome basket in the first couple of days of the competition. Organizers also encourage they attend performances, and bring flowers and notes. Other possibilities include inviting the dancer for dinner out or at the family's home, or showing them around Jackson; however, dancers stay on campus at Belhaven University, not with host families. Volunteers can call 601-355-9853 or visit the USA IBC's website.

"I'm very excited about helping out with this year's competition because it means being able to do something I'm passionate about that helps the city and state at the same time," Nicholas said. "The hospitality out-of-country visitors find here in Jackson is one of the things that makes the USA IBC a favorite among dancers. I also love doing this because Jackson has such a great dance scene, with (Ballet Mississippi), Ballet Magnificat! and the Metropolitan Ballet in addition to the USA IBC, and I want to get the word out about it. There are so many opportunities for people of all ages to study and practice dance right here in our city."

The USA IBC started in 1979 and takes place every four years in Jackson. This year's competition takes place from June 14 to 29 at Thalia Mara Hall, and will feature 95 dancers from 20 countries.

Nicholas and her husband of 21 years, Chris Nicholas, have two daughters who are both dancers: Avery, 14, and Anna Chris, 12.

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