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By Nancy Wozny
Five stories from professionals on what they gave up for their art
When the cast of A Chorus Line belts out “What I Did for Love,” dancers in the audience know they are not talking about romance, but sacrifices for their other love, dance.
Dance can be a hard mistress, requiring all kinds of heartbreak. Whether it’s forgoing a golden educational opportunity or missing your favorite football game, dancers have done it, for duty and love. Some famously defected from their home countries, leaving families behind, while for others the loss may have been an event that only comes around once, like homecoming or graduation.
A simple Facebook question on dancers’ sacrifices revealed a boatload of laments: my childhood, my pretty feet, my body, Ivy League school with a track scholarship, grandmother’s funeral, and 33 Thanksgivings. It all hurts, yet most say they would do it again. Dance Magazine spoke with five dancers on what they gave up for dance.
Going carless for your choreography
Los Angeles choreographer and dancer Andrew Winghart sold his car to get to the Capezio ACE Award Competition in choreography. Winghart needed the funds to send seven dancers to New York for the Dance Teacher Summit last summer. “I’m young and unknown,” he says. “I need to take charge, get my work out there, and put forth my best effort.” Winghart did not win an ACE award but felt selling his car was the right thing to do. “I learned how much other good work is out there. It was very humbling, but it made me excited to keep honing my craft and growing,” he says. “I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
Andrew Winghart working with his group on his piece Off the Floor last February. Photo by Danny Erb, Courtesy Winghart.
Winghart spent a few months carless, which is no small feat in Los Angeles. Selling the car seems a small sacrifice compared to the rewards of his current situation: He’s performing and teaching with the JUMP convention, a weekend-long competition event that tours to different cities. Plus he’s a full-time student at University of Southern California, which leaves him little time for anything else. “I have no social life,” he admits. “I’m completely missing out on the fun part of college.”
School or no school?
There’s many a missing high school milestone for dancers, especially ballet dancers, as those are the crucial years to build a career. Senior-year memories don’t exist for Hubbard Street 2 dancer Felicia McBride. After realizing that her training dreams were not going to come true in her hometown of San Antonio, Texas, McBride cut short her high school years.
After a season at Ballet Austin II, she joined Dominic Walsh Dance Theater for two seasons, and is now in her second season at HS2. What she really missed was walking the stage with her former classmates on their graduation day. “I was able to attend it but left early because I got emotional, seeing my friends walk.” McBride didn’t get to toss her tassel to the other side, but she did perform works by Kylián, Mauro Bigonzetti, and Dominic Walsh, along with much of the Hubbard Street repertoire. “It was all worth it in the long run,” she adds.
Above left: Felicia McBride (right) in Bonobo, by Penny Saunders, with other Hubbard Street 2 dancers Emilie Leriche and Alicia Delgadillo. Photo by Todd Rosenberg, Courtesy HS2.
Houston Ballet soloist Jessica Collado did graduate from a public high school, but that doesn’t mean she had time for all the usual fun. “I was in the dance studio every day after school and on the weekends,” says Collado, who was a “25 to Watch” in 2009. She feels she received little understanding from her high school, as opposed to the support she would have gotten from a performing arts high school or dance academy. “I had to give up all things social and extra-curricular–related,” she says. “I went to the Southeast Regional Ballet Association festivals every year and they were always during prom.” (You will be happy to know that Houston Ballet throws a prom for students in levels seven, eight, and HB II, as well as for those in their full-day program.)
Like many ballet dancers, due to the Nutcracker schedule, Collado has missed out on Thanksgivings, Christmases, and other special occasions with her family. “My brother’s college graduation fell during a performance day,” says Collado. “It’s crazy how you become desensitized to certain things because you value your job so much.”
Above right: Houston Ballet’s Jessica Collado and Peter Franc in Stanton Welch’s Core. Photo by Ron McKinney, Art Institute of Houston, Courtesy HB.
Madelyn Ho put off her plans to attend medical school to dance in Taylor 2. After graduating from Harvard in 2008, she had completed all her prerequisites, taken the med school admission test and was ready to apply, but an audition for Taylor 2 intervened. “How could I possibly turn down a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to dance for a choreographer whose work I absolutely admire and love?” asks Ho. “This was truly a dream come true.”
The decision came as a surprise to her family, since she had a strong interest in the sciences throughout high school and college. They assumed medical school was her ultimate goal. “They also did not know of anyone else who took a path similar to mine,” says Ho, “so it really worried them.”
Medical training may be a long road; she will be ready for it when she’s done dancing. “When I am onstage, I lose myself to dancing, and in these moments of transcendence, I know that I’m doing something I love. I’m constantly working towards embodying the emotional depth that Mr. Taylor aims for in his choreography,” Ho says. “One day, all these experiences will shape how I practice medicine and interact with patients in ways that I cannot even imagine now.”
Above left: Madelyn Ho with Justin Kahan in Paul Taylor’s Esplanade. Photo by Tom Caravaglia, Courtesy PTDC.
Family & Football
Sometimes, the sacrifice centers on the people and things we cherish. Andy Noble, co-artistic director of Houston-based NobleMotion Dance, missed his grandfather’s funeral for a performance while he was dancing with Repertory Dance Theater in Salt Lake City. “He was an amazing man, my mentor and a Jewish German refugee who escaped the Holocaust through the Kindertransport. [In 1938 and ’39, the British government rescued thousands of European children from the Nazis by bringing them to safety in England.] He went back and fought for us in WWII,” remembers Noble, who is now an assistant professor at Sam Houston State University. “My grandfather was the first person who suggested that I might become an artist.”
Noble was dancing in a new work by Yacov Sharir that involved massive amounts of technology. “It would have been a real detriment to the show had I stepped out. I did the show, missed his funeral, and felt so grief-stricken and guilty that I came down with a nasty case of shingles following the show.”
Thinking back, Noble also admits his grandfather would have approved of his decision. “He was a poet and a painter in addition to being a humanities professor. He would have insisted that the show must go on.”
Andy Noble’s Roundabout. Photo by Lynn Lane, Courtesy NobleMotion.
On a lighter note, Noble is a huge Florida State University football fan. “It’s my guilty pleasure where I can scream a lot with my dad and brother,” he says. Having grown up in Tallahassee, Florida, and as an alum of FSU’s MFA program, he rarely missed a game. In January 2000, FSU was playing for the national championship while Noble was in a dress rehearsal for Orpheus and Eurydice, a collaboration between RDT and Utah Opera. He arrived at the theater in full costume as Lucifer, with horns, six-foot wings and all. “During the dress, I realized the security guard down the long hallway near the theater had the game on his nine-inch monitor,” remembers Noble. “Any passerby that night must have really been intimidated to see this security guard with a huge devil character hovering over him watching a monitor.” Happily, FSU went on to win, and the opera received great reviews.
For Noble, doing what needs to be done is part of a dancer’s life. “I teach a class in career resources,” he says. “I look around and see all kinds of talent. I can tell who is willing to make sacrifices. Those are the ones most likely to have a career.”
During her high school years in Buffalo, NY, Nancy Wozny missed a big party to see the Ailey company, where Judith Jamison danced Cry. She has no regrets.