Editorial Note: Each August for the past three years, I’ve asked dance artists at different points in their careers what “making it” means to them. Please join us in looking at what “making it” means as a dancer, artist and human.
BY MAGGIE STACK
I decided I was going to dance after college. What the hell else would I happily pursue?
After graduating, I moved to San Francisco to fulfill my lifelong dream. It was a cloud of foggy opportunity. Determined to be a part of something, I threw myself into everything. For two and a half years I attended a different class every morning, did every workshop, met everyone I could and auditioned for anyone.
I made so little money dancing all day I had to work other jobs to support myself. I worked long, late night shifts as a hostess. I was the administrator at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance. I was a nanny whenever I could. I subletted cheap closet-like bedrooms for a bit, then moved into an overcrowded apartment of fellow dancers. I ate from the sale selection of oats and rice from Safeway. I took the bus.
But during this time I poured my blood, sweat, smiles and tears into a handful of project-based companies — companies where I was a vital member in their creation. Those experiences shaped me. They were my greatest, sweetest, truest loves.
Then in January of 2012 I was offered a full-time contract with ODC Dance.
My family was overjoyed: I made it! A dream come true! A full paycheck! Health insurance! Beautiful facilities! A company manager! National tours! My picture on the side of a bus! And I can’t lie, the prestige appealed to me, too.
ODC was also hard as hell, but in a very different way. I relished the physical labor of moving for hours every day and experiencing all sorts of new body developments. But my insights and strengths were valued far less. Dancers were under a microscope and constantly critiqued. I watched all of us put things on, layer after layer, and cover up our true voices. I felt stagnant — performing the same shows year after year.
More importantly, it was never my art. It was the vision of other people, and my artistic opinions were never taken into account.
I don’t want to discount those wonderful moments of camaraderie with my fellow dancers. But I wasn’t happy. After two and half years I decided no job was worth my happiness — prestige be damned.
Since leaving ODC, I’ve worked at an immigration advocacy reform group, broke my foot running upstairs in slippery socks, recovered, took some classes, taught some classes, moved into a co-op with 14 of my best friends, fell madly in love with a handsome Jewish man, did a couple of independent dance projects, became the proud aunt of two perfect baby boys, ate, slept, traveled and danced some more. Basically, I have been living my life.
As I get older, I realize stepping out is just as important sometimes as stepping in. And I am often reminded of what I already know — dance will always be my favorite.
I’ve made a lot of things I’m proud of in the dance world. I’ve made choices and changes along my path. “Making it” sounds like an ultimatum — the period at the end of a sentence. If we really made it, wouldn’t we stop and come to a screeching halt? Would there be anywhere left to go? Anything left to investigate? I like to think no matter what I’m doing, I’m in it. It engulfs me. I love it so much I’m happily drowning in it.
No, I have not “made it.” That state does not exist to me. The time I sit back and pat myself on the back for “making it” is the time I am no longer me — a genuine lover of dance.
Maggie Stack is originally from Pittsburgh, PA where she began her training at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. She received a BS in Dance from Skidmore College in 2009 and upon graduating moved to San Francisco to train at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance under the direction of Summer Lee Rhatigan. Maggie has performed with Amy Foley, Christine Cali (Cali & Co.), Alyce Finwall Dance Theater, FACT/SF, Katie Faulkner’s Little Seismic Dance Company, Malinda LaVelle’s Project Thrust, Elana Jacobs’s CabinFever, RAW Dance and ODC/Dance. She is currently a faculty member at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance and works as the executive assistant at FWD.us, an immigration advocacy reform group. She is the proud Auntie of two baby boys, Cully and Holton.
Maggie is also the illustrative genius behind The Bunion!