Alexandra: Pivoting Toward More Than Dance
Each summer for the past nine years, I have asked a group of dancers where they are with dance. I leave the question open-ended in order for them to answer however it resonates personally. My goal is to create a yearly check-in to chart how these women evolve through dance. This project began in 2013 when they were still in high school. Below is Alexandra’s yearly update, as well as her shifting perspectives over the past nine years. It is an honor to document Alexandra’s path; I eagerly await what direction her path will lead in the future and what role dance will play. –Emmaly Wiederholt
2021: age 25
I knew this blog entry was coming, and I’ve been dreading it ever since I accepted my full-time Biddable Associate position at Croud, a digital marketing agency, back in March 2021. I knew this was going to be the hard one. The one where that little sliver of childhood dream drifts away, but I could not be happier. I truly feel 100 percent that this move is correct for me in this moment.
I always knew I was more than dance. I always knew I had more to offer to the world besides being a dancer, choreographer, and artist. However, I never realized how much dance was intertwined with my identity to others and how difficult it would be to try and divorce myself from this view. When I see friends and family I haven’t seen in a while, I excitedly exclaim to them that I have a new job in digital media with this super cool UK-based company. I can immediately see the looks on their faces “…but what about dance?” I just smile and say, “I am taking a break for a bit. It will always be a love and passion of mine, but we are just seeing where this other path takes us.” I try not to read into their disappointed looks and assume they are thinking “she’s giving up on dance” because I’m not. I am pivoting, just like so many others did during the pandemic and just like I knew may always be a possibility for my future.
But dance isn’t going anywhere. Dance IS intertwined in my identity, and I could not divorce myself from it if I tried. Movement is so ingrained within my being that I can barely go a few days without exercising or moving my body someway through space. Dance is presenting itself in new ways: becoming the dance floor queen at all these post-COVID weddings, continuing to teach Jazzercise, and making fun, silly TikTok videos of dance moves I get to share with people all over the world. Not to mention new movement explorations… I will be running the TCS NYC Marathon on Nov. 7, 2021! These are all things that keep me excited and motivated to keep moving.
Nothing is permanent, and I know dance will always be there for me if and when I choose to return in a more full-time, devoted capacity. For now, I keep moving, smiling, and being grateful for all the amazing skills, memories, and opportunities dance has taught me throughout my years.
2020: age 24
I was all set to perform with Harper Continuum Dance Theatre in Georgia on March 20 when the entire country shut down. We had been working on this show for many months, and the company was so looking forward to performing and interacting with students at local schools. Fingers crossed we will be able to reschedule and put on the show sometime in the near future.
Over the past year, I have made a definite shift in the type of dance work I am pursuing. I started auditioning for more commercial and theater type work. I want something with a contract, something that would actually pay my rent and be my only job. I had been doing a fair amount of freelance and project-based work over the past two years but wanted to make a change.
I began taking singing lessons in the fall and actively reached out to other dancers who have had successful performing careers in the entertainment industry with jobs such as cruise ship and theme park work. If you would have asked me four years ago in college if I would be pursuing this type of work, I probably would have scoffed at the question, but right now it not only feels relevant but a sustainable form of dance for me to pursue into adulthood. I also began taking more jazz and theater classes and re- fell in love with a type of dance I used to train in exclusively when I was younger. Jazz is what I started with many years ago and had been a love of mine up until I went to college and left it for more intense ballet and modern training. Over this past year, I have rediscovered a child-like love for dance that makes me joyful and excited to move.
I have also found “performance opportunities” in the many open call auditions I began attending. Get up at 6 a.m., do your hair, put on a full face of makeup just to put your name on a list and hope you get seen before lunch. Go grab a coffee and then sit in a room with a hundred (or more) other hopeful dancers waiting for your moment to show the casting team some semblance of your talents. This process would happen day-after-day and especially so in high audition season January through March. I still had many more auditions on my calendar before the COVID-19 outbreak.
I remember making a commitment to myself at the beginning of the year that this would be the year I become a “professional dancer,” sign my first contract, and truly prove to myself that this is something I can do. Now with the current situation, I do not know if I can keep that promise.
On March 17, I left New York City and came to Houston, TX to reside with my family until things settled down in NYC. I have been here ever since but have plans to return mid-August. The first two months were difficult. I had no motivation to take class even with the hundreds of FREE online dance classes being offered. It just didn’t feel relevant. How am I going to take this silly dance class when people all over the world are dying from this horrible virus? But I kept at it; taking classes here and there when I wanted to and trying to stay connected with my online dance community.
I am still skeptical on what my dance future will hold. With the recent closure of Broadway until 2021, it is hard to believe much (if any) performing arts will be back in the fall. I have contemplated taking some time off from dance and pursuing other ventures like more marketing work until things return to “normal.” However, the thought of moving into a traditional, more stable full-time job scares me. In my mind it equates to the end of my dance career. I know this isn’t true, or maybe it is. However, it’s starting to feel more and more like the correct move to make for the current situation.
I guess you’ll just have to tune in again next year to see how this all pans out…
Photo by Heather Harper
2019: age 23
I am coming up on my one-year mark of living in New York City. I moved here in August 2018 and am just now starting to feel settled. I am so thankful for the support of my family who helped me make the move and all my friends who have made NYC feel like home. I’ve truly felt supported every step of the way!
Here are a couple things I’ve learned…
- The NYC hustle is real
- Life as a dancer is hard
- The term “making it” doesn’t really mean anything
- It is possible to have five part-time jobs
- College did not prepare me for the rigor of auditions
- But it doesn’t matter because auditions are just a formality
- The mental game is half the battle
- I truly love to teach (my younger self is eating crow)
- You’ll always run into someone from some past dance intensive (I recently reconnected with Ayala at a Cunningham workshop – we attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance together in 2013)
- I’ve rediscovered my passion for dance!
- Being able to pay rent is the ultimate accomplishment
- How to pack for a dance class, work, teaching Jazzercise, and a dinner date all in one backpack and still carry it around all day long
- Surround yourself with the BEST people – friends will fuel you
- **Everyone is on their own timeline**
- How to live with less
- I forgot how much I loved jazz (guess who bought a pair of LaDucas)
- Seeing dance is my new classroom
- Taking class is part of my job
- BE PATIENT!
- How good it feels to truly be happy!
Here’s some of the dance things I’ve done:
- Attended 25+ auditions
- Performed a solo adaptation of my piece MINDSCAPEat SMUSH Gallery in Jersey City, NJ
- Performed with Harper Continuum Dance Theatre at the Ailey Citigroup Theater
- Got hired for a project called Musicals with a Message where I got to dance on the subway
- Reconnected with one of my favorite choreographer friends, Ross Daniel, on a new piece
- Started planning/organizing a new performance platform with my collaborator Sarah Rose in Vermont
- PLUS many more things on the calendar this summer!
2018: age 22
Here we go! I just graduated in May from Florida State University with a BFA in dance and a BS in marketing. I am getting ready to move to New York City in August to pursue my dream of being a professional dancer. I would be lying if I did not say I was a little scared. Dancing in New York has never actually been my dream (I always envisioned myself on the West Coast). However, it seems like the best move for me right now as I have many friends and contacts up there who I believe can help support me during this transition. I do not actually know what the “life of a professional dancer” entails. I see myself doing more project and freelance work but possibly joining a larger company in the future. I guess you’ll have to tune in next year to see how it all pans out…
My senior year was a challenging one. Trying to keep up with finishing both majors, preparing for the future, and trying to enjoy my last moments of college proved to be almost impossible. I also incurred my first major dance injury. (I had been pretty lucky up until this point!) I was attending the New Dialect winter intensive in Nashville when I broke my toe right before my last semester. This took me out of technique classes for most of the semester. (Thankfully, I had enough credits that this was not a problem.) Instead, I enrolled in the Cross-Training for Dancers course that is provided by the FSU dance conditioning staff for dancers who are unable to fully participate in technique class. I am truly indebted to the conditioning staff for helping me create a conditioning program personalized to me and my injury that kept me optimistic and motivated during this trying time. My conditioning program involved not only injury rehabilitation but also increasing capacity of other muscle groups and areas of weakness that I may not have been able to focus on in the past. I am now fully recovered and back into regular dance classes. I can’t wait to try all the new and exciting classes in NYC!
Also, I choreographed my first official piece, entitled MINDSCAPE, which was selected for the FSU Days of Dance performance in April. This was something I had been wanting to do for a long time, and I am happy I finally pushed myself to do it. The process of creating a new work was both invigorating and exhausting all at the same time. Thankfully, I was blessed with an amazing cast who came on this crazy ride with me. I cannot thank them enough for their dedication and support as I navigated my own choreographic process. I have attached a pic of me and my cast!
2017: age 21
I am about to start my senior year at Florida State University. I will be graduating August 2018 with my BFA in dance and BS in marketing. I have worked really hard to achieve both majors, and am excited to complete them both with just an extra summer of classes. This past year has been a really telling one for myself. I have come into my own within the FSU dance program and have been able to make educated, more mature decisions. I had the pleasure of working with Suzanne Farrell in the fall of 2016, when she set Stars and Stripes on a group of dancers in the program. I am not sure how much longer I will be continuing pointe work, but I still love it and want to continue until I can’t. Additionally, I was given the opportunity to be a rehearsal assistant for guest choreographer Andre Zachery. This gave me a completely different perspective on the choreographic process, and trained my eye in a more specific way of watching dance.
Being a junior, I did have more seniority, but I feel like I finally learned how to say “no” and how important that can be to my health, happiness and drive to continue dancing. I was less concerned with the quantity of dances I was in but more focused on the quality. I only chose to be in pieces where I knew the choreographer or had a clear desire to work with them. I was not in a mental place to start a new process with a new choreographer. I found the value in working with a single choreographer for an extended period.
Over the past three years, I have had the pleasure of working with now MFA graduate Ross Daniel. We have established a great dancer-choreographer relationship, and he has me doing just about anything. When you find that comfort with a choreographer that you just want to give them everything you have and more, it is a really special thing. This past year, I worked with Ross on his MFA thesis concert, entitled Infinite K, which included a 25-minute work with him, myself and two other female dancers. Never have I been with such a tight-knit group of dancers in a rehearsal process. It was absolutely amazing to work with people I trust and would do anything for. A section of his work was selected to be shown at the Southeast Regional American College Dance Association conference at the University of South Florida in March of 2017. I think it was the most important work I have done up until this point. It taught me so much about myself, my own love for choreography, and what type of creative process I want to be involved in.
After being involved in Ross’ work and having an amazing composition class with Gwen Welliver, I am ready to embark on my own choreographic journey. Up until this point, I have never had the desire or drive to choreograph. Now I can’t wait to get into the studio. I think it will open a whole new world of my dancing. On top of that, I have officially decided I want to dance professionally after college, and plan on auditioning for companies throughout my senior year. Don’t ask me where, don’t ask me who, don’t ask me how! I don’t know the details yet but I just know I’m doing it. My goals for the summer are to work on my reel, develop a website, and update my resume. Additionally, I will be participating in the Axis Connect summer intensive in late July, and hope to connect with a lot of new artists.
More than ever before, I am just so excited about my dance career, all the possibilities, and where it might take me. I have definitely seen a shift in my thinking over the past year as I slowly make the transition from student to professional artist. I am constantly thinking about networking, getting my face out there, taking care of my body, etc. I will be riding this momentum all the way through senior year!
2016: age 20
This past year in dance has been an interesting one. After finishing another great four weeks at the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, I started my second year as a BFA dance major at Florida State University. This past year taught me the lesson of not overextending yourself the hard way. I involved myself in too many dance pieces and projects, and my body suffered as a consequence. The 13-hour days plus my 19-hour course load left me exhausted and tired for most of the semester. I loved all the performing, but it had a negative effect on my studio performance. I often found myself tired and unmotivated in the classroom, which is something I had never experienced before. I quickly learned that overextending myself did not push me as a dancer but actually had negative effects on my wellbeing. However, this pushed me to make some hard personal decisions about what I want my future to look like. Even with the hectic schedule and lack of motivation, I came to the realization that performing is my favorite thing and what I want to do as a profession. I have committed myself to doing anything and everything in my power to get there and fulfill my dream of being professional dancer. The time I recently spent studying abroad in Paris helped revitalize my motivation and open my eyes to different ways of moving and understanding dance. I took a variety of contemporary classes that really felt like they suited me and my movement style. This was encouraging — to know there are choreographers out there who I could see myself working with. On top of it all, I saw so many amazing dance performances, including work by Pina Bausch, Hofesh Shechter and Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui. The choreography and dancers were unlike anything I have seen before and left me speechless every single time. It would be a dream to perform for any of these companies! I will keep this dream in mind as I start my third year at FSU and move back into the studio with a fresh perspective and revitalized motivation.
2015: age 19
It has been an amazing year of dance as I started my freshman year at Florida State University. I chose this BFA program because I thought it was the best choice for me but I never imagined how much I would love it! My perspective of dance has completely changed as I have been exposed to so many different people with various styles and backgrounds. I love being able to study dance in a university setting. There is so much support for new, innovative choreography. For me personally, my modern skills have greatly improved as I took different modern and contemporary classes four times a week.
To continue the growth I experienced during the school year, I have chosen to come back to the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance for session three. The Conservatory was very transformative in my dance career two years ago and I cannot wait to see where it takes me this year!
2014: age 18
This past year has been quite the journey as I prepare for the next step in my dancing career. I have been everywhere from Arizona, Florida and Oklahoma auditioning for college dance programs and sent in DVD auditions to even more universities. I received multiple letters of rejection that made me question the path I was taking. It wasn’t until I auditioned at Florida State University when I truly knew I was making the right decision. Their program was exactly what I was looking for as it focuses on multiple disciplines and allows for choreographic development of their students. The university was also beautiful and exactly what I was looking for in the traditional college experience. This fall I will be attending Florida State University and pursuing a BFA in dance. I also plan to double major in marketing. I am not going to any intensives this summer but plan on working on my technique at my local studio before leaving in the fall.
2013: age 17
Currently I am in a pre-professional dance company outside of Houston called Kingwood Dance Theatre. I am preparing to start applying for colleges and audition for dance programs. I feel that this past year I have experience significant growth in my dancing, especially in my upper body. Attending the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance summer program has pushed my dancing to another level and given me an even larger opportunity for growth! I feel this growth and maturity will help guide me in the right direction in choosing the college dance program that is best for me. I still have so far to go before I am ready for the professional dance world but I hope the steps I am taking right now lead me in that direction. I’m not going to lie — I ask myself everyday if I am good enough to get into any college dance programs, but I will work hard for these next couple months and see where life takes me.