Moving to New York as a dancer is like gaining access to a party you’ve heard about your entire life. Suddenly, there’s a space for you at the barre next to the latest Broadway star. Although you may be catering the food rather than eating it, you’re proud to finally be among an artistic population aiming to achieve an eccentric beauty to trump any big city glitz. The best part—though you don’t (yet) know a soul—is that everyone speaks the same language, participating in a conversation that you’ve been studying for years.
The opportunities available to a dancer in New York City make the leap into its relentless urban landscape worthwhile. After graduating from the University of Utah in modern dance in 2001, I made the pilgrimage to add my voice to the colossal chorus of artists who flock to the Big Apple each year. I was hungry to create a career that would allow me to continue the exploration of dance which I had thrived on at school.
With the recommendation of a fellow U of U alum, I became a part-time nanny and occasional live-in dog walker for two dance-loving families. I was thus able to create a schedule that allowed me to take morning classes and late night rehearsals. I auditioned endlessly, and ushered at every theater that offered it, in order to take in a vast array of performances. I took great comfort in the camaraderie that grew out of recognizing my new peers both on the dance floor and in the audience.
I renewed contact, through classes and workshops, with the choreographers I had worked with in my university’s Performing Dance Company. In this way I began working with Daniel Charon from Doug Varone and Dancers, and this led to an audition for a project Doug was choreographing for The Metropolitan Opera. Dancing on that legendary stage kept me gainfully employed for two years, while being part of a large cast expanded my community of friends and contacts.
I had given up my nanny job while a guest dancer in the operas, so when they finished I became a personal trainer while figuring out my next dance step. I chose this job because it offered a flexible schedule and the opportunity to apply the understanding of kinesiology I’d learned at the university (information and exercises highly beneficial in those early, uninsured years!). Throughout all this, I had continued working for independent choreographers in New York. Yet it was through California-based choreographer Keith Johnson that my next window opened.
One of the women I worked with in his long-distance company was also based in New York and danced with Bill Young and Colleen Thomas. I was invited to an audition to replace a departing dancer, and soon began another journey that introduced me to both the delicate familial balances of a small company and international touring. I discovered a zeal for travel and teaching that matched my interest in dance. After two years, I decided to leave the company in pursuit of more opportunities.
I once again immersed myself in classes and workshops, focusing on the Trisha Brown Dance Company. I had been drawn to the repertory and intrigued by the style of movement ever since the company’s three-week residency at the U of U my senior year. Fortune found me a month later with a number on my chest, auditioning for a spot in the company among 450 women and men. I made it through the initial cuts to become part of a “scholarship audition workshop” with 25 others. From September to December, we were able to see how well we fit into Trisha’s particular movement choices and principles.
Upon completing a three-month apprenticeship, I signed my contract with TBDC in April 2006, and became part of an entirely new family. After my first four years as a dancer in New York I am happy with the consistency of rehearsal and performance, the frequency of travel, and most of all the chance to work with such an important artist in the field of modern dance.
I think that the best part of passionately pursuing a dance career is that there is no separation between the process and the goal. By dancing as much as possible, you secure more opportunities for the future. To be hungry and curious and open to a wide assortment of experiences serves both your dance career and your personal evolution. Dance is truly the lens through which I’ve come to understand myself within the world. I’ve found enormous value in building upon the strong disciplines of technique, philosophy, and community that made up the foundation of my university program. I encourage all graduates to act on their dance aspirations with confidence that they have learned the tools needed for success in this adventurous career.
Tamara Riewe dances with the Trisha Brown Dance Company. Article adapted from Revolve, a publication of the University of Utah’s modern dance dept.
Photo by Colin Fowler.