What is the hardest part about being a professional dancer?
That's a tough question! Well, first I'd like to say that it varies to each individual and personally I've seen my challenges change every few years depending where I am in my life. Dancing in New York for nearly 12 years, I've been faced with the task of balancing crazy and unconventional schedules which makes spinning plates at the circus seem easy! Many dancers manage different jobs to support their dancing and its important not to loose sight of the main reason we came to this great city which is to dance. Keeping an even head on your shoulders is also something to contend with. Competition can be intense at times, directors are known to be demanding, and sometimes its easy not to check in with the fact that we are all just human! You really have to be your own biggest fan and best friend. Stay motivated, driven, kind, and of course; hydrated!
What do you love most about dancing and teaching?
What I love most about dancing and teaching is seeing this beautiful art form come full circle. Most mornings I dance in my own ballet class or rehearsal with other professionals. Then in the afternoons I teach and work with young students. I live my day both as student and as teacher and get the full spectrum of perception which is very cool and enlightening. Any artist will tell you that they are forever a student of the craft, and when I teach I feel that my dancing elevates to an even higher level. Breaking things down with the students reinforces things even stronger within myself, and anyone who works with kids will constantly learn things about themselves. When I first was given the opportunity to teach I was very hesitant and doubtful. I had a director who explained to me that teaching is merely the act of sharing information. From then on I strive to be joyful and generous with my sharing of knowledge and passion.
What is the most inspiring thing a teacher has said to you?
So many teachers and so much good advice!! It's really hard to narrow it down to one thing said by one person but I'd like to share an eye opening exercise one of my teachers gave to the class in college at CCM... The teacher asked each student to say who their favorite dancer was. Many said Misty Copland,
Mikhail Baryshnikov, Julio Bocca, Natalia Makarova (my favorite)..... and so on.
After everyone said who their idol was the teacher said we were all wrong!
He stated that your favorite dancer should be YOU.
That day really struck a chord in me. I also saw an interview with Maria Alexandrova from the Bolshoi which as very inspiring. She said that when she is dancing, Who ever she is dancing with is her favorite person. Imagine if we all took a piece of that. The loving energy would be so uplifting and achievement would be so natural!
Why have those words made an impact?
Those words really spoke to me about confidence and self love. Sure, we can be inspired by others and try to emulate what we admire, but at the end of the day you live your own life.
What advice would you offer a teacher, director or choreographer to bring out the best in their dancers?
I've worked with a bunch of different teachers and directors over the years and I have to say that I dance the best when I feel good. I know it sounds like a very basic statement but it's true. No one can function well under circumstances of intimidation, fear, or with a lump in their throats. Sometimes authority figures use the tactic of breaking somebody down just to bring them back up and make them a servant to approval. I feel that positive reinforcement and encouragement is just as effective as far as productivity goes and remember, the creative process is like a handshake. One doesn't work without the other.
What is the professional working enviroment for dancers like?
I feel that the tone can vary depending on the company and the person in charge of the rehearsal, but overall everyone is extremely focused. Dancers take class as a way to maintain and fine tune their instrument as a part of their job and well being. There is rarely a time wasted in the studio because it is considered valued space. Especially with New York real estate!! Everyone is either stretching, reviewing choreography, or rolling out sore muscles. Not every day is easy but a 'bad' class is better than no class at all. What is important is that you are respectful and present because tomorrow is always another day.
What works and what needs to change?
What works really well now is the fact that we all have the technology to network and be your own best agent! With smartphones and social media, dancers can promote themselves like never before right from their pocket. This is an advantage my generation has over my teachers' and also choreographers and directors can reach out to bigger audiences through viral videos to share their work.
What needs to change......
Tradition is a huge part of ballet and dance. However, I feel the treatment of dancers as a disposable entity is quite antiquated. Because there are so many very talented girls out there who want to be working dancers, the treatment of dancers ( especially women ) can sometimes be dismissive and looked upon as ' a dime a dozen.' At times dancers will endure unfair or unpleasant situations in fear of being replaced immediately. I feel communication can be more open between directors and dancers as people in collaboration as opposed to taskmaster and puppet. Let's bring each other up to bring out the best in each special artist.
What is your best advice for dancers to remember?
My best advice is to always be true to yourself. When things get difficult I always return to why I continue to dance and what inspires me : The beautiful city of New York with its amazing history of artists who had the same love of dance that I do, a fresh pair of pointe shoes as a tool for new dancing and possibility, and of course the young students whom I see a little bit of myself in all the time! I encourage dancers to dance with passion and also kindness and also joy. We're so lucky to be able to do what we do. Keep that in mind and strive not only to be great dancers, but also great people.