When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I was very settled at 17 on being a dancer, particularly in the modern/postmodern/contemporary world of dancing. From a young age, I was very curious about ways of collaborating that felt like the dancer is as agent as the choreographer. I also envisioned that I would be a choreographer, and was very determined to figure out how to choreograph without feeding into the authoritative hierarchical structures I saw in most companies. I knew that I wanted to be a pretty self-sustaining artist who could do many parts of producing a show or producing work, so that would mean having many trades and skills.
I started dancing at six or seven, but I wouldn't stay in class. I would cry because of separation anxiety and I would have these existential crises thinking about the universe and how tiny I was. Finally, I stuck with it, but I felt terrible in classes. It was not really making sense in my body. I remember standing at a ballet bar and thinking to myself, "Wow, all I want to do when I grow up is be a dancer, but if I have to dance ballet, this probably won't happen for me. I don't think I'm very good at this. I don't like it either." But in my suburb of New Jersey, ballet was the only option.
Then, in fourth grade, I took my first modern class. My teacher saw so much potential in me. She talked to the director of the Youth Modern Company, and I was invited to audition. I slowly learned about this complete other way of being a professional dancer and, truly, an artist. By the time I was 14 or 15, she was calling me her protégé, she really took me under her wing. There were moments when I almost didn't stay, but I stuck with it. She appreciated things about me that I wouldn't have seen in myself.
I went to a high school where you could dance every day. I did a little bit of Cunningham Warm-Up, learning this way of being, using the body to move through space and time. Merce Cunningham often worked with chance in choreography, and he was very interested in nature. That became a big influence in my way of understanding choreography movement. I was having a very integrated experience.
By the time I was a senior in high school, I was learning solos and going to rehearsals with the artistic director's professional company. She also encouraged me to go to American Dance Festival for two summers. It’s the largest dance festival in the US. A lot of companies go there to compete and perform, sometimes have auditions. The cool thing is that dancers come from all over the country and the world to dance together. It’s a lot of networking, getting outside of your bubble, and seeing a completely different way of dancing.
How did you decide to attend the Ohio State University?
When I was at American Dance Festival, I met some people that went to OSU. I applied to at least 10 schools, all specifically for dance, from Massachusetts to Michigan and Ohio to Virginia, and I got into all but one school. I was basically shopping to see what kind of dance people were teaching and what was the style, because I really didn't know.
I chose Ohio State because they spoke very highly of collaboration, interdisciplinary arts, and they broke down the hierarchy that I was talking about before. And they spoke of gearing students up to be able to do film work, film editing, photography. They gave you those tools as part of the dance department on top of focusing on choreography and performance and technique and analysis. There was a breadth of knowledge at OSU - the history of dance was very strong. I felt like, if I want to be a dancer, I need to do everything. So I went to Columbus, Ohio for four years.
It was trying at times. Because I had been dancing with the Youth Modern Company and then closely with a professional company, I was very much en route to dancing professionally in this postmodern, contemporary world. So the first two years, I was pretty bored in terms of movement. Because of that, I decided to apply for grants, design a self study, and spend nine months in Berlin, Germany. I worked with a couple of very important companies, and then some independent choreographers, and also learned German. OSU was very supportive. When I came back for my senior year, I was able to submit my field experience and get credit, which allowed me to receive research grants from the university for my senior project.
How did you choose your major?
I got a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance Distinction Basis, which means that you have to do a larger project. I wrote a 20-page thesis on the research I did for my senior project. I worked on improvisation as performance, utilizing text, improvisation of spoken word and movement with a group of eight people. Then I presented it in an undergraduate research forum. I won second place in art and architecture for my project.
I was also very close to having a minor in geography, looking at political structures, global markets, and how we design government on the local, national, and international level. I just love geography, I love people, and I care about politics and citizen's rights. There was an environmental focus too. I really am very passionate about water conservation and alternative energy sources.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
I decided to stay in Columbus because there was this arts collective that had started that I was really engaged in. They took over a former meat-processing plant and created artist studios. I talked to them about creating an entire evening-length show in which the dances would take the audience through the whole building, one-by-one.
Columbus was affordable, I was able to dive into a really meaningful project immediately, and I had friends that I still wanted to dance with in the city. After being in New York City and New Jersey where I grew up, I was looking at this smaller city and thinking to myself, "This is where people need dance. This is where communities need dancers to remain and build." I felt very passionate about being there amongst artists and musicians and being the only dancer in my community of artists. It's changed a lot since then, which I'm happy about, but at the time, I felt like I needed to give back to my community.
Then I had to have surgery on my foot to remove a bone that was broken in half.
Because of this injury, I stayed in New Jersey for a year. I taught dance back at the Youth Modern Company. That was very good training for my teaching, and I got a lot of positive experience from that. But I was very frustrated at the same time. I decided to move to New York after saving money. I was there for two years, and I really did not enjoy myself.
The first six months, I was heavily training and retraining, getting my strength back after surgery. As I was doing that, there were so many dancers and so many classes and so many options all the time, but I actually needed to simplify my life at the time. I think it was a clashing of energies. I was also trying to audition there. There just aren't many company structures left. You have to really get to know the companies, build those relationships with people. You don't just show up cold turkey and hope to get the job.
I did get to dance with a couple of really awesome projects that changed my life. And I directed, designed, and choreographed six dance films to my friend's music that he is releasing as an EP. I'm really excited about it, watching it every step of the way. It has been really amazing to see the progress.
In the time that I was trying to figure out what was going on in New York and not feeling like I was utilizing my energy, I was teaching at a really great school in Brooklyn that I love. I was choreographing in the form of the Youth Modern Company. They really took me in and gave me many opportunities. That was the best part of living in New York for me. The art-making, training, trying to genuinely get to know dancers and teachers and choreographers. But I just felt a huge gap for some reason. I was very restless, feeling like I wasn't really gaining, but I was putting in tons of energy, exhausting myself. So I applied to grad schools for an MFA in dance just to see how that would go.
I got into all three schools I applied to, and I received fellowships and teaching appointments from two of them. I was going to be able to teach university undergrad courses, which I thought was amazing; I was making the most money I’d ever made and getting an education in dance at the same time.
I went back to the Ohio State University, and I had very positive experiences again. I learned a lot about myself. I met one very important professor there who had danced for a prominent company in New York for 20 years. For whatever reason, we clicked on a deep level, and he really saw something important and meaningful in me as a dancer. But eventually, I came to the conclusion that I wasn't proud to say I was a master's student. It's something that's so full of honor, but I just knew something was wrong with my decision and the timing.
I stayed through the whole year, because I felt it was important before giving up a very important position that people had thought long and hard about giving me. I just wanted to be sure that I wasn't supposed to be there. I ended up moving away from Columbus and leaving the school. Then this past spring, I took a workshop with a choreographer who is based out here in LA. I loved her work, and I loved the way she talked about dance. I felt like it was reminding me of the things that I had worked on when I was in high school.
I also took a workshop with a woman who had taught me at a dance festival when I was 19. It was all improvisation. I completely opened up in that workshop. I felt like, "Wow, this is what I'm supposed to be doing that I have been denying myself."
After the two workshops, I tried to figure out what would put me in a position where I could train and dance most days, what would give me enough variety, how I could make money in my field, and where there were artists that I wanted to be in conversation with. So I decided to move to LA.
I feel really good about it. I've met amazing people immediately. I've fallen into some pretty incredible experiences. I've learned a lot about myself, I've accepted a lot about myself. I've chosen to find happiness and create what I want in the world, but also not be afraid to ask for what I want from people who inspire me. That has really changed my experience and my energy in how people interact with me. I'm kind of excited for this next cycle in my life. I'm very open, open now to engaging in all of these forms of dancing, and not limiting myself as much based on my values.
Even from the time I was 17, I really cared about longevity as an artist. I was always ready to take more time to grow, to learn, to build a company, to work on a project. I'm not super big on these immediate products. I love process. I'm young, but I'm learning that there's a lot of value to working in this way.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I would have pushed myself to leave home again instead of going to New York right away. I know from my experience in Berlin that I thrive when I'm on my own and I need to figure everything out. I think that being close to home was a little too comfortable for me.
Also, build a community of people that you can call and talk to about what's going on. Tell them, "You're really important to me. I enjoy that I can come to you if I need something. I want you to know that I'm here for you too." That has completely changed my past year; I don't feel like I'm in the dark trying to figure things out anymore.
And go for anything. Don't tell yourself what you can or cannot do. Just do it. I think really trying to understand that the more you spend time with yourself and being good to yourself and having a good self-care practice, the more connected you are to yourself and then others can connect to you. That felt like a major block for me. I wanted to be the best I could be rather than just being good to myself, which then inherently has allowed me to be the best person I can be right now.
One more lesson that has totally shifted my perspective is really trying to take things one day at a time. When people ask you about your five-year plan, ten-year plan, don't be afraid to say, "I'm not doing that." You don't owe anyone an explanation for what you're trying to do. It's totally okay if you do a lot less before you can do more. There's so much that you cannot control. The more that you can just figure out the things that you can control, the more you can just enjoy what you do get to do. There are many paths, and there will be people in your field who want to tell you you're doing it the wrong way because it doesn't look like them. But everyone's important. Your field needs you.