Monday, January 30, 2012

To My Fellow Dancer:

What do you want? Yes, we all want to be able to practice our art form and hopefully get paid to do it, but what do you want beyond that? What kind of relationship do you want to have with your choreographer and fellow performers? What kind of process do you want to be engaged in? What kind of work is meaningful to you? What do you want out of this practice that you put so much in to?

I dance with Malinda LaVelle’s Project Thrust because I believe in Malinda’s choreographic vision and because I am honored to be able to help her build that vision. I relish in the process, am challenged by the content, grow in my understanding of dance, and nourish a deep love and respect for everyone involved. I could recount how Malinda builds choreography off of her dancers’ abilities and personalities, or how she creates pieces that feel socially and personally relevant, or how she creates episodes that are at once poignantly funny and profoundly sad. But at the end of the day, more than writing about how I believe in her work is the simple fact that I choose to work with her.

After seeing Project Thrust, people regularly remark on the commitment and investment of us dancers. And while it is flattering, I am always surprised. Why wouldn’t we be invested? This is work that we choose to be a part of, that we want to be a part of. Malinda and the other dancers are my good friends, and I feel inspired to put as much of myself into the work as they do. They are my community, and we all want to make Project Thrust the most it can be. Why wouldn’t a dancer be committed and invested in the choreography that they willingly chose to partake in?

While I believe it is healthy and important for dancers to experience a broad scope of choreographic exchanges, as it expands not only dancers’ technical understanding but also their artistic understanding, I think there also comes a time when dancers can take inventory from their experience, evaluate it, and choose what kind of process they want to be a part of. Dancers can be just as discriminating about dance as choreographers, presenters, and audience members, and yet we’re often expected to take anything that comes our way and be thankful for the opportunity.

There are a million ways to be a dancer. Whether it is in a company or freelance, contractual or merely consensual, every day or once in a blue moon, strenuous or relaxing, classical or avant-garde, abstract or explicit, the ways we can pursue dance are myriad. However, how we choose to pursue dance is also a reflection of our values. Because most of us will seldom be handed dream opportunities and ideal situations, what matters is building and cultivating a dance environment and community that facilitates our dreams and ideals. I daresay that those choreographers and dancers in ideal situations more often than not sowed the seeds for making it happen.

I encourage every dancer to cultivate an environment for them self that goes beyond money or opportunity but that considers what they want, particularly with regards to choreography and community. Let’s move beyond waiting for any chance to be on stage. We do care about content, and we’re not replaceable. In the end, we make the dance possible.

So, my fellow dancer, what do you want? Go and make it happen.


  1. AMEN. Beautifully put!!!

  2. Such a great reminder to be true to yourself. That will always be the best choice. Thank you Emmaly!

  3. Great article Emmaly! I think your message about evaluating what you want out of dance relates to all artforms and careers. It's made me think about my relationship with photography, what I want to get out of it, how I want it to grow, etc. Thank you!

  4. I really appreciate and resonate with your blog post. I had a
    community of 8 incredible artist/best friend/collaborators like that
    at UCI .... and I miss that terribly. We continually made work that
    was risky and crazy and so meaningful to us all because we knew each
    other so well and believed in each other so much. Working on finding/
    building a new community here, bit by bit. It is a labor of love to
    cultivate personal and creative relationships that are incredibly
    entangled and so deeply trusting and meaningful. I crave that every
    single day.

    I am glad to be back at SFCD... it feels like a huge step towards the
    kind of work and people and passion I want in my life (you guys!).

    Thank you for sharing your writing.

  5. About dancing with Malinda. First off loved what you said. I believe in the early days of modern and even if you can believe ballet the dancers, choreographers and production all got in a school bus or cars together and camped their way to and from one night stands. It was all about believing in the work. Once a dancer and now a choreographer I would feel haunted if my dancers didn’t believe in what I did. Although I know certain projects can alienate them. I do hope dancers know that in order to grow choreographers have to fail. Not everything we do is magic. But as choreographer I also believe no matter what to find ways to give opportunities to my dancers to grow and change because they are my true and deepest collaborators and I want everything for them.

    -KT Nelson