How did you start dancing?
I started dancing when I was about 3. My older cousins were dancing, so I wanted to do it too. I started with ballet and tap. When I was in second grade, I went to the open house of my friend Hannah’s studio and got hooked on the teachers, the space, and the energy there, so I transferred to Accent On Dance that next year and joined their company the year after that. I was a competition kid, but my studio wasn’t so focused on tricks. My teachers really promoted improvisation and composition; we even got to choreograph our solos and some small groups in high school. Tools like that were really incredible to foster. It was my second home, and I’m really grateful for that
How did you know that you wanted to pursue performing?
I was looking for schools that had dance and journalism because I love to write, and I thought one way I could meld my passion for writing and performing might be broadcast journalism. Plus I still wanted to dance. Yet despite what my parents seemed to assume when I was looking at colleges, I never really thought that I’d be a professional dancer, mostly because I didn’t know the spectrum of what was possible. Growing up in Wisconsin, I just knew of the Rockettes—and I am too short to be an actual Rockette; I didn’t even know the ensemble existed. I knew Broadway. That was really it.
I was applying for schools that had dance and journalism with the thought that I’d keep dancing and become a journalist of some sort. I was going to go to Southern Methodist University in Dallas and was all set, ready to go when I got accepted into NYU. My mom convinced me to go visit at least and of course, I fell in love with the city. I had been here for dance competitions but really only to the Times Square area, which was not my jive. Seeing Greenwich Village and the dance building at NYU flipped my perspective.
When I was in school at NYU, I just fell in love with dance. We were more of a modern-focused program, and I loved that contemporary way of moving. By the time I came around to my second year and could finally take journalism classes, I got weeded out. I had fallen in love with my art form in a whole other way. That’s when I knew. My desire to pursue dance professionally blossomed later than some others.
How was your first move to New York?
It was pretty seamless honestly. I had been here before, and I just love the city. I was excited about going to NYU, and what was so cool to me was that I wasn’t just a student, I was another individual on the street. For me, that made it a little easier. You could navigate your way amongst all ages and all cultures. I also had a small enough community within my dance program to really feel like I had a home. And my college floor that first year, we always had our doors open. I have to say it was pretty easy, but maybe it was just meant to be.
What are you up to now?
I recently gave up teaching dance full-time in an effort to be dancing more. Coming out of school, I danced for a modern dance company called Elisa Monte Dance for three and a half years. I was lucky to start that during my last semester of school. I was leaving school with pretty much a full-time job, and one that was taking me on tours to Europe and across the United States. Since then, I have been freelancing – dancing regularly but still teaching a lot.
A little over a year ago, I got an emergency offer for West Side Story at Merry-Go-Round Playhouse, and it really shifted my world. It thrust me out of a place of safety and security into a place where I was able to explore in a whole other way. Not to say that I wasn’t enjoying teaching dance or learning from that experience; I very much love teaching. But West Side Story and my second offer of that summer, Saturday Night Fever, gave me the chance to delve into my creativity and be inspired by my peers in a much more tangible way. It thrust me into a place of unknowns and forced me to trust myself in the face of so much fear. As much as I don’t like to be fearful, I really appreciated how much growth came forth from that experience, artistically and personally. It rekindled my love for the form and my desire to be more fully a part of it on my own time, versus just sharing it with others. Being able to be a full-time artist all of that summer shook things up for me; it thrust me into an awakening of “This is my time”. Creativity certainly can be fostered throughout the whole of my life, but my dancing vessel is at its prime.
It’s taken me about a year to transition out of my dance teaching. I was very fortunate to have performed on various contracts throughout that time. Since this summer, I’ve been delving into my creative life all the more. I went to Sweden for an international dance festival with Jamal Jackson Dance Company. I am working on a project surrounding the world of vulnerability with my friend and collaborator, Aeric Meredith-Goujon. He’s a brilliant photographer, videographer, musician, and thinker, and we’ve been playing different roles, being both behind and in front of the camera. It’s a work that is still in progress but that I’m stoked about. And then I’ll be a part of a US tour with ‘Israel Story’ in November thanks to and along with my friend, Maya Orchin. ‘Israel Story’ is essentially Israel’s version of our ‘This American Life’ podcast, and the tour will be all about women’s stories, with the hopes of coinciding with a Hillary victory.
What are your aspirations?
Lately, I’ve been thinking about how when I initially gave up my dance teaching I had this vision of all the big projects I could do, big being more well-known sorts of things that would be impressive on a resume. I would love to do those things. I’d love to dance at the Met; I’d love to do more regional theatre; I’d love to be on Broadway, particularly in an original production. But I also am fascinated by process. I’d love to be a part of pre-production work and to be on the other side of the creative team. My heart is still in contemporary dance, so one of my dreams is to be able to mesh my interest in contemporary movement with theatricality. The world of immersive theatre that’s been opening up is of incredible interest to me. But in reflecting more, I’ve been recognizing that maybe those bigger displays of my art aren’t absolutely necessary. Just cultivating a creative life and surrounding myself by these curious people that artists tend to be could be enough. I am trying to stay open. My career has wound in a way that I never imagined, and I’ve been lucky enough to bounce from different worlds. I am hoping to keep that versatility and be surprised by what comes. Since I do love teaching and am fascinated by the world of yoga and meditation and energy work, I find myself being drawn to dive deeper into those studies too, and in a way that ultimately could lead to some sort of service work. It’s definitely a time of transition and growth, and needless to say, it’s very up in the air.
Toughest time you went through as an artist?
I’d say it’s a two-fold answer. In my younger years, when I was just out of school with EMD, I didn’t necessarily have the extent of modern technique that many of the other dancers did. I was 21 years old after all. But whether it was that or other aspects of me that held me back, I was usually reserved for more ensemble roles. I wasn’t considered right for the alpha roles, which is fine especially as a young dancer, but that in combination with comments on my look and my weight were really trying. Especially being younger, that identity that you are developing with your physical body and your identity as an artist is sensitive, so such trials were tricky.
Another of the most challenging times is happening now as I again try to figure out where I fit in and how much I want to abide by the norms and the rules that are set by the different worlds I interact with. Trying to jump between contemporary and musical theater work, giving up security—now that I am older—in order to pursue it...it is really frightening. I wonder where my life will lead. I trust that it will lead where I need to go. It’s been drawing up a whole lot. I think being an artist is beautiful because you get to interact with so much emotion and so much of the human experience in general. There is so much self-reflection in it and within that, a constant push for growth. There also more often than not is a daily grind with it all, and you can get caught up in trying to perfect it. Messing with self-worth and the perception of your skill set and talent can be overwhelming. I am trying to remember the euphoria that comes with the art and to remind myself day in and day out that the reason why we pursue it is to delve deeper into the human experience, and that we’re lucky to have the opportunity to do that.
Could you elaborate on the first part of your answer?
The very first company I witnessed in the city once I was at NYU was Elisa Monte Dance. So it was very serendipitous that that was the first company I entered into after graduating. Elisa danced for Martha Graham and came from a more classical world. Her work was very informed by the Graham technique, and since I had taken only one Graham class and been built in a more release-based environment, there was a huge learning curve. Now that I think back, I think I am at a place where I could hopefully bring that sort of work into my body more readily and more successfully than I could at the time because I know my body better from age and experience. I appreciate and still apply all that I learned from her, but at the time it was a big learning curve. I have to admit, though, I was lucky enough to be out of school with a mentor. Once we graduated, many of my friends were taking class and trying to get jobs, while I already had a steady mentorship. There was a lot of pressure in the room because we were getting to perform on these incredible European tours and even at the Joyce. At times I felt like I was falling behind and wasn’t enough. Plus I had been very thin in school, too thin, and it was during the course of my time with EMD that I was growing into my adult body and learning to fend for myself so my body changed. I definitely have to own up to my personal choices that led to that, but being confronted about that on multiple occasions was disturbing, because I had imagined my work as a dancer in the room would matter more. It did to a degree but not fully. It was very much a rollercoaster of a time. All in all, I was and still am incredibly inspired by Elisa, as her knowledge base and work is astounding.
What would be the number one advice to your younger self?
I’d say learn what you can and don’t expect perfection. It’s beneficial to be the lower man on the totem pole. You get to witness the artistry and the power of those who are ahead of you, whether they’re older or deeply steeped in that form of movement. Just soak up all that you can. Whether you recognize it now or comprehend it more fully later, all that you learn in that space is going to carry you in a way that you wouldn’t imagine otherwise. This is your opportunity to experience it.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
I came across this quote today that I thought was really beautiful and speaks to our work as artists. The crux of the quote is: “Be whatever you are right now. No more hiding. You are worthy, always.” And it goes in further, with “Be confused, it’s where you begin to learn new things. Be broken, it’s where you begin to heal. Be frustrated, it’s where you start to make more authentic decisions. Be sad, because if we are brave enough, we can hear our heart’s wisdom through it.”
I just love that idea of not shutting out our messier sides. We reap so much more from our challenges than from parts of life that we just happily glide through. We must trust each moment of our experience as one that we were meant to witness and be a part of, and we must go with those opportunities that peak our curiosity and further our growth. It’s such a blessing in our profession and with our passion that we get to be students for eternity.