How did you start dancing?
My mom was the director of the theatre program at Blanchet High School in Seattle, WA, where I was born and spent my early childhood. I would always watch her rehearsals, so I spent a lot of time under her production table. I was always around theatre and around the arts. One time, she was doing a show in which there was movement of birds. As a little kid, I was fascinated with how they were getting actors’ bodies to look like birds and there began a fascination with flight that I have continued to have.
I started dancing formally a little bit late, when I was 13 years old. By that time, we were living in Iowa. There wasn’t a lot of ballet in Iowa, so we had to drive to Minnesota. I had a Russian teacher who had seen me at this random little dance camp. She bent me in half and was like, “This back, you must go study with my friends. How far are the Twin Cities from you?” I replied, “4 hours.” She said, “This is not too far. You go.” So, I started formally training with that encouragement [laughs]. But I started really because I was fascinated in flight. I wanted to fly. That’s why I started dancing.
How did that dream of flight evolve into becoming a professional dancer?
I studied in Minnesota and then in Iowa, so my parents drove me either four hours or two hours for dance. We would stay with friends in the Twin Cities or in Des Moines. It was this amazing family thing that we did together. I continued to study classical ballet, and at the age of 17, after I had done Youth America Grand Prix a couple of times, I met Edward Ellison who’s a teacher here in the city. He knew my teachers from Iowa, Lori Grooters and Serkan Usta. They encouraged me to take his summer program, so I came out here when I was 17, took his summer program, stayed for a year. By that point, I was on a pre-professional classical ballet track.
I had my first job at Tulsa Ballet second company the next year when I was 18. I was in Tulsa for a year, and then I auditioned for Gelsey Kirkland’s studio company in New York. With Gelsey, I got to perform Marie / Sugarplum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and I was coached by Gelsey, which was an amazing experience. Working with artists like Gelsey, Era Jouravlev, and Pilar Garcia...I was right where I wanted to be artistically.
When I turned 20, I ended up getting stress fractures. I wondered what I was going to do. It wasn’t a career ending injury, but it was long enough. I kept coming back and getting re-injured, and it was a really difficult year for me. The thing that happens to dancers when they’re injured is this identity crisis—the question of “If I am a dancer and I can’t dance, who am I? What am I bringing to my life and to the world?” I started to reevaluate my life and needed to find my voice again. I needed to find out why I started dancing in the first place.
In March 2013, I read an article in the New York Times about the decline of monarch butterflies. When I was growing up in Iowa, monarch butterflies were around all the time, and I had a couple of amazing experiences with them:
I was about 10 years old. My family had a farm in a rural town of about 2,000 people. Every summer, I’d go outside and spend time playing and getting lost in the tall grasses. One day, I saw that the monarch butterflies were making this deliberate pattern from our pasture on the edge of town to the cemetery down the road. There was this butterfly highway. As a curious 10-year-old, I followed the butterflies to the cemetery for an adventure. I saw that at the far end of the lane, the lower branches of the trees were orange instead of green. These orange branches were moving, but it wasn’t a particularly windy day. I got close enough to the trees, pulled down a branch, and let it spring back. About 200 monarch butterflies were dancing in the air, all around me. I was surrounded by this cloud of dancing butterflies.
That experience has never left me, and when I read that New York Times article, it hit me.
While I was injured, I took the opportunity to figure out how I could use dance to talk about this subject and inform people of the “dance of life”—the process of pollination—and how important that is in our world. Between classical ballet and where I am now, I have had this crazy segue in my life where I had the amazing opportunity to travel to Mexico to give a TEDx performance talk—a piece my team and I created called La Danza De La Vida—about the “dance of life” and how people can be partners in that dance with the natural world. As dancers, we know a lot about partnering and how you move together affects the dance. To me, the monarch butterflies are some of the best dancers in the world. If you watch them in slow motion, they do this amazing Martha Graham torso movement, which is how they fly.
I am now the director of a project called Moving for Monarchs, a dance project for monarch butterfly conservation. So that's been the last few years of my life intensively, in addition to some Off-Off-Broadway stuff [laughs].
(Note: “La Danza De La Vida/The Dance of Life" has been accepted for participation in the 2016 New York International Fringe Festival.)
What are you up to now?
I just finished working with Royal Family Productions with director Christine Henry on an Off-Off-Broadway musical originally called Cheesecake Girl, now called Rock and Roll Refugee. I got to work with JoAnn Hunter who just choreographed Disaster! on Broadway. She’s amazing. Same with Liz Ramos and the whole team at Royal Family. That was really wonderful.
I am sort of breaking into the musical theatre world. I am going to be doing a new musical on Long Island coming up in July. It’s called Evangeline, A Curious Journey. It’s based on the Longfellow poem by the same name. I get to be the Evangeline / Emmaline dual character, set in the 1750’s and the 1950’s.
As a New York City dancer trying to find my way, I am also going to auditions every day—as often as I can when I am not working as a hostess at a restaurant. I consider myself a storyteller, so whether I am telling a story about butterflies and how crucial their delicate dance is or telling a story about Genya Ravan who survived the Holocaust with her family in Poland and became a rock and roller in New York City—whatever the story is, I find a lot of fulfillment being a storyteller and getting to be a part of that process.
How long have you been in the musical theatre world?
It’s really been in the last year and a half. I love musical theatre and the community of musical theatre. People in musical theatre, I find, are really generous. I love that even in auditions it feels like a team, which is a little bit different than classical ballet. I am still the process of transitioning but enjoying the process very much. I stay away from tap auditions because I can’t get past shuffle hop step [laughs]. But other than that, I think it has required a lot of setting aside any sense of ego, going to classes, and having a beginner mindset again. I joke that I am a bun head and stick out like a sore thumb in these rooms.
One of my values is courage. So if I get out of bed in the morning, that’s courageous [laughs]. But it’s really courageous if I go out and push myself to step beyond my comfort zone. No matter the outcome from these auditions, I’ve been really fortunate to work with some really awesome people. It’s sort of my pilgrimage from one style of dance to another and one world to another. Because of the crisis of identity that happened to me when I was injured, I’m finding out that my identity isn’t wrapped up in the gigs I am doing or not doing. It’s just about stepping forward every day, giving it my all, and remembering why I started in the first place. It’s a little exercise in courage every day.
What are your aspirations?
My safe version of my aspirations is to be a steadily working performer. If an amazing opportunity came that skyrocketed my career, I’d welcome it openly, but right now, my goal is to be a steadily working dancer / actor here in New York. I’d like to be getting to tell stories on a daily basis and make storytelling my day job and my night job.
I’d love to be on Broadway—but ultimately I’d love to do good work with people who care. That’s really what I want to do wherever that is. I’d love to work with people who have artistic and ethical integrity and a sense of why they’re doing what they do. I think sometimes we lose sight of that in the dance world. We get wrapped up in that world and stop realizing why we’re here and how blessed we are to have bodies that do these amazing things and have people who we can dance with.
What would be the toughest time you’ve went through as a dancer?
I would say definitely that identity crisis I went through during my injury. I knew that I must be something more than just a body that moves, but I didn’t know exactly who I was or what I was supposed to be when I couldn’t dance. That was a really difficult time.
What would be your number one advice to your younger self?
Never lose sight of why you started. Remember what you started and why you started. That first time you enjoyed dancing as a little kid—you see it in little kids when they’re moving in their healthy, happy bodies. Go back to that and never lose that. If it is lost, find it again. Maintain that inner reason for why you’re here and bring that with you to the places you go.
Another little thing I wish someone had told me as a young person—something that I heard much later—is that perfection is a mental construct that doesn’t exist. Even though we work really, really hard to get things right, that’s the pursuit of excellence. It’s about going for the essence of what something is in movement. Perfection is a mental construct that doesn’t really exist in this world. Also, find some kindness for yourself along the way. Too many dancers are not kind to themselves.
Is there any last thing you want to share with the world?
I guess, that the world is constantly dancing. In addition to emotional, mental beings, we’re physical beings that move constantly. As a dancer, from that perspective, the world is dancing, and I wish we could see it sometimes and see how beautiful it is—even the patterns of people moving through an open space. Dance isn’t just something that only happens in a studio or on a stage. Things are always in motion, and finding where you are in that dance is an exciting opportunity that we get to be a part of every day.
And everybody is a dancer. Some of you will tell me that you can’t dance, but you have a heartbeat and rhythm. You can dance [laughs]. Everyone can dance.