Past the Prestige

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.


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 - making it 15

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, 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!

3 Responses to “Past the Prestige”

  1. Karen Attix

    Though we are separated by almost 40 years, reading Maggie’s thoughtful story reminded so much of my own. In archetypal terms I did “make it” when I joined the Merce Cunningham Dance Company . then I left after 2 years for pretty much the same reasons . I could never leave my love of moving or my kinesthetic appetite. Being in your body and experiencing its amazing ability to tell your story ,at wahatever age , is making it and that is a gift to be cherished .
    Thanks Maggie for inspiring me . Karen

  2. Jessica Spinner

    What a beautiful, honest and true story. While “making it” tends to be the ultimate goal, the pressures associated with company life can certainly be stifling. Thanks for sharing your experience so openly Maggie. I think a lot of dancers can relate.


  3. Vanessa Kettler

    I am a professional dancer at 72 with 40 years of training. I started very late for dance and that was a real blessing. I get stronger and more flexible every year, perform many times and invent new dance forms often. My specialty is a fusion of modern dance and middle eastern dance. I have long felt that to be successful as a dancer, it is best to learn another trade to support yourself. I have worked half time and danced half time for many years. Trying to make a living as a dancer is extremely difficult and often results in getting burned out as seemed to happen to this lovely lady. The trade I took on was computer programming and systems analysis, well paying work with much individual structure, often these days available as work from home.

    Dance is a multi dimensional art form that can enhance physical health when learned properly. Be careful which dance form you study. Do some research on older people who were professionals in that field to see what kind of physical problems may result from studying that form. Also ALWAYS study with the very best teachers you can find. Make sure they are knowledgeable about the proper form because bad technique may not show up today or even next year…but you can be sure it will show up…later on in your 60s, 70s or 80s.

    Blessing to all dancers.

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