Memorable Moments

When you've been dancing for 10+ years, there are a vast number of moments that happen throughout your career that really stand out to you. Some of these moments are pivotal to your career moving forward, while sometimes they are the biggest setbacks. At other times, these moments can be downright funny. I've decided to move away from a freelance specific post this week and focus on dance careers as a whole. Here are a handful of moments throughout my career that have been more than your typical, run-of-the-mill experiences. Enjoy!

Promising - It took a while for me to really get noticed after I joined Pacific Northwest Ballet. The first few seasons I was typically pushed to the back or left to dance in the 2nd cast corps of many ballets. When the company brought in stagers to set William Forsythe's iconic One Flat Thing, Reproduced (click link for video), all of that changed. The company went through a series of workshops and auditions in order to be considered for this piece. At the end of those three days, my name went up to learn this piece in the 1st cast. This was the first time that I ever really got to do a leading role with the company. In the cast of 13, I was one of only 2 corps dancers that got to dance this piece the first time around. After I got noticed, Peter Boal told me that he had never considered me for roles like that until they had pointed me out. In the years to come, I found myself dancing multiple leading roles in the contemporary repertoire of the company.

The whole cast of "One Flat Thing, Repoduced"
Embarrassing - It is pretty hard to embarrass me. Accidentally pulling down my tights while taking off my warm-ups, falling in class, and having a blooper onstage have always been a good laugh instead of an embarrassing story. If I had to name one moment that would be the most embarrassing, it would be when I was dancing with Alaska Dance Theatre this past winter. I was performing a solo to Johnny Cash's Walk the Line in an open rehearsal for donors. The very last moments of this piece had to be perfectly timed as I performed a series of running jumps and rolls to the floor only to end on one knee with my right leg held in one hand while being strummed like a guitar with my other hand. As I got to the point where I strum my leg and roll backwards over my shoulder into the wing, I realized I was early. As I strummed my leg, I very loudly dropped the F bomb for the entire room to hear. As I rolled over my shoulder, my hands covered my mouth and I very sheepishly apologized to the audience as they all roared with laughter. Luckily, they saw the humor in my error.

Funniest - When I was dancing with Houston Ballet, we toured to Cleveland to perform Ben Stevenson's Cinderella. In one of the shows, we had a bit of a snafu during the ballroom scene. It was that beautiful moment when all becomes quiet and Cinderella's carriage pulls up to the ball. As the 4 corps dancers dressed as horses pulled the carriage across the raised platform, you could hear one of the stage crew members scream. At that point, the carriage started to tilt, a la Titanic, and fell backwards off the raised platform with Cinderella still inside. The driver, the doorman, and one of the horses flew backwards off the platform while the other 3 horses struggled to get the carriage back upright. Once a few stagehands dove behind the platform to push it back up, it was back on track to make Cinderella's entrance to the ball. If you thought it couldn't get any worse, as principal dancer Lauren Anderson, stepped out of the carriage, her cape snagged on the door as she bourree'd forward. She pulled as hard as possible and was thrust forward about 3 feet when it finally tore off. All of this happened as the music quiets and the corps de ballet turns upstage to watch her entrance. Let's just say that even with our backs to the audience, you could see our shoulders jiggling up and down with laughter.

Challenging - When I first moved to Philly and was dancing with a local contemporary ballet company, I danced a pas de deux choreographed by Amy Seiwert. This duet to Jeff Buckley's cover of Hallelujah was essentially an emotionally wrought 8-minute lift-fest that ended with a deadly
dead-weight lift. Beyond the 6 shows that we performed in that one week, we also had two days of rehearsal and a dress rehearsal before we started the run. I couldn't believe I survived that week (I also danced in another piece on that program).

The beginning of that final lift - Chloe Felesina and myself dancing Amy Seiwert's "Not a Cry." (Photo: Alexander Izaliev)
Rewarding -Throughout my year at the School of American Ballet, I auditioned for 14 different ballet companies. While most students only auditioned for the companies that they really wanted to dance for, I was convinced that I had to audition everywhere to get a job. After spending 4 stressful months pushing my body and mind to the limit, I was able to choose my apprenticeship with Houston Ballet from 7 job offers.

Humbling - During my 3 years as a union representative at PNB, I had to handle a mix of legitimate complaints and selfish requests from dancers. But nothing was more humbling than watching the entire company come together to unanimously vote to freeze our salaries for one season to save 7 dancers jobs. My fellow rep and I put a lot of hard work into putting this deal together. I may have shed a few tears when we counted all of the votes and not one dancer chose their pay raise over their colleagues careers.

Daring - I was never really a dancer that got things easily. As a teenager, the director of my home dance studio constantly suggested that I go into what I was good at, jazz and modern dance. When I got into the Kirov Academy of Ballet, as Madame Vinogradova said, "It's slow year for boys." Halfway through that year, I was pulled aside and told that I should stop auditioning for ballet companies and focus on organizations like Momix. At the end of that season, I had solidified a Corps de Ballet contract with Colorado Ballet at the ripe age of 18. I had also been offered to attend the School of American Ballet summer intensive on a full scholarship, an invite that had not been presented to me the previous 3 times I had tried. Attending this school had been my dream since the age of 15 and inspired me to focus on ballet. I asked SAB if they were going to ask me to stay for the year and they told me they couldn't tell me until the 3rd week of the summer intensive. So, I signed my contract with Colorado Ballet and went to SAB for the summer. At the end of the first week of the intensive, Jock Soto pulled me aside and offered for me to stay for the year. After much deliberation, I decided that I couldn't turn my dream down. I called Colorado Ballet and told them I wasn't able to fulfill my contract and would spend another year training. One of the best decisions I ever made in my career.

Magical - While on tour with PNB to the Vail International Dance Festival, the company was rehearsing after warming up on the outdoor amphitheater where most performances take place. As two dancers began to dance the beautiful pas de deux from Christopher Wheeldon's After the Rain, thunder started to lightly roll in. By the time that the pas de deux was finished it was raining everywhere but under the canopy of the amphitheater. It was such a mystical and beautiful moment that everybody present was completely entranced.

Being Puck-ish with Jessika Anspach
Gratifying - When I went to the School of American Ballet back in the summer of 2002, in typical fashion, New York City Ballet performed their final program of their spring season, Balanchine's A Midsummer Night's Dream. While most male dancers dream of performing the lead role of Oberon, I instantly fell in love with the mischief and animation of Puck. My final season at PNB, I got to perform Puck right before I left the company. My debut in this role also happened on the night of PNB's Backstage Bash, my favorite event of the year. This occasion was a dance party thrown backstage after a performance. This event was put on by the young patrons/audience growing group that I was a liason for throughout my time with the company. To perform this role that inspired me as a student on such a special night with so many friends and supporters in the audience made this performance not only gratifying, but magical.

Biggest Mistake - The most common mistake that most dancers make is pretty much the same across the board. Whether involving a great opportunity in the form of a role, proving yourself in a new company, or fear of judgement, working through an injury and telling those around you that you are alright when you are not is a horrible idea. It's interesting how acting stoic through an injury is often considered heroic and selfless. But in the end, aside from making the injury worse, it could end your career. Or, even worse, put you through a lifetime of pain. I did this after a back injury during my first season dancing with a new company. Unfortunately, there were many other factors in my decision to dance through the pain. At a certain point, I realized that I couldn't continue dancing in such pain and took time off. Unfortunately, the company was not understanding of the situation.

Me performing Tharp's "Waterbaby Bagatelles" (Photo: Angela Sterling)
Horrifying - The first time that PNB performed Twyla Tharp's Waterbaby Bagatelles (I can be seen turning at :22 seconds in this link) was an interesting experience. This was my first introduction to Twyla's work. Waterbaby was a challenging piece that played with the idea that we were fish dancing in an aquarium. One of the most challenging lifts was for one of the principal couples. It was an overhead star lift that had the woman parallel to the floor with arms and legs in an X and the man only holding her waist above his head. After class, the dancers were practicing this lift when the female's body tilted forward and the male lost his grip. She slid through his hands over the back of his head and fell straight down belly flopping onto the floor. As she lay on the floor unconscious for about 20 seconds, everybody looked on in horror. Slowly she looked up, seeing all of the people staring at her and asked, "What happened?" Surprisingly, she stood up completely uninjured.

Least Shy - My final year dancing for PNB, we performed Jiri Kylian's Sechs Tanze. For the performances, I was 1st cast "Megastar" and 3rd cast in one of the trios. While being cast as a "Megastar" sounds like a rock star part, it didn't involve any dancing. I had to wheel a massive, old-style dress out in front of my body, only to have another dancer underneath it wheel the dress right offstage. The gimmick? I was wearing only a thong-ed dance belt with a fig leaf over my goodies. When asked if I had a problem with this, I said, "No. My only problem is that Im not dancing first cast." (of course spoken with a wink). They told me, I should run offstage sideways, as to avoid exposing my bare ass to the nearly 3,000-seat theatre. When my moment came on opening night, my dress rolled away, I did my job, and promptly turned forward to run to the wings, giving everybody a little taste of what they truly came for.

Shocking - One reason that I left PNB was because I felt that I needed to be surrounded by the most passionate artists around. Working for the same company for a long period of time can, at times, leave workers feeling apathetic and uninspired. When I left, I was on a mission to surround myself with passionate, driven artists. In my mind, I saw myself hanging out with the likes of Andy Warhol. My first summer project out of company work, I danced with a small modern company to recreate a classic work by a modern master. When we arrived in NYC to have a rehearsal with the 95-year old choreographer, we stepped not only into her studio, but her home. I asked one of the dancers where the bathroom was and he told me to go through the lobby, through the bedroom, and the bathroom would be there. I was utterly dumbfounded when I saw this elderly woman sleeping in a bed that was behind the front desk in the lobby. At this point, I realized that I had found exactly what I had been looking for. Passionate artists. And I also realized that it is important to find a healthy middle-ground.

Prideful - During my 7 seasons with PNB, I danced practically every role in The Nutcracker. The only role that alluded me was the Cavalier that danced with Clara in the snow scene and 2nd act grand pas de deux. I always dreamed that I would eventually be asked to dance that role with a live orchestra playing as I lead the company. Last year, I was asked to dance that role with Rochester City Ballet. To be brought in to dance this role for a professional company was a great honor. And to do it with a live orchestra made it all the better.


CONTACT (2nd edition) - In case you missed it

All Photo Credit: Patrick Mackin
A lot has happened since I threw the 2nd edition of CONTACT: A networking event connecting freelance dance artists. I've had 3 auditions (one being my first vocal audition), went to Los Angeles for a week, taught at the Mid-Atlantic Ballet's summer intensive, moved to a new apartment, threw a yoga event in Philly, and spent two weeks workshopping a project to create an excerpt of a piece that may potentially become a much larger show. While all of this craziness has been happening, I still haven't forgotten the feeling that I had the night of this event.

Giving away door prizes
Each time I think of this night of networking, it brings me a sense of happiness and pride. It is something that our community needs. And I am not just saying this because I threw it. The proof is in the immense response from our dance community as a whole. Not only did we have nearly 50 freelance dancers present at this event. We gave away door prizes and items that were donated by organizations and practitioners including Dance Magazine, New York City Center, Dance/USA, Sansha, Lyquid Talent, Armitage Gone! Dance, Fusco Knitwear, Career Coaching, Bodywork, and Gyrotonics. These companies and individuals understand the difficulty that is the greatest challenge of one of the most creative communities in the world.

Welcome to CONTACT
As I take in the success of this event and brainstorm how to bring greater resources to our community in the future, I want to leave you with a Phlog (photo blog…I made that up). It is great to hear about creative artists enjoying a greatly needed platform, but truly seeing their faces, their happiness, their connecting, their need, and their sense of community will stay with you longer than my gloating. So, please enjoy and feel free to leave a comment at the end of this post answering the same question that I asked all of the freelancers present at CONTACT. What resources do you need/put off because of the challenges of surviving the life of a freelance dancer? Cheers to the success of this event and many future ones!

Dancers connecting with dancers
Christopher Rudd, choreographer, & Brian Gephart, former Joffrey dancer

Catching up - Luke Manley, Suzanne Farrell Ballet, & Jennifer Goodman, former Joffrey

Elizabeth Walker, Los Angeles Ballet, and myself

Andrew Scordato, New York City Ballet, chatting w/ Mina Lawton, full-time freelance artist
New York City Center winner, Oliver Swan-Jackson (Suzanne Farrell Ballet), in glasses and bow tie