News

Eight Threatening Illnesses Weren't Enough to Stop Choreographer Marinda Davis

Marinda Davis. Photo by Louise Flores, Courtesy Davis

When Marinda Davis was named second runner-up at the 2015 Capezio A.C.E. Awards, she dove headfirst into choreographing and producing a full-length show for her company, marInspired; the storytellers. But as her career was booming, Davis' body was breaking down. Behind the scenes, she was dealing with eight very serious illnesses, one of which led to a months-long hospital stay. Now, as she prepares a piece for Giordano Dance Chicago (debuting in March), Davis reflects on how she's powered through it all.


In addition to leading a company, you've also choreographed for "Dancing With the Stars," and your dancers just competed on "World of Dance." But what don't most people see?

I was adopted, so growing up, I didn't have any idea of my family history. I got sick a lot as an infant, and when I was 4, every time I stood up, I would completely lose my vision. I would faint a lot, and we just couldn't get answers. Eventually doctors recommended I see a psychologist.

It wasn't until I was 28 that a team of specialists at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center started making diagnoses. The first thing they found was Hashimoto's disease, which is a thyroid autoimmune disease. Between the ages of 28 and 31—I'm 34 now—they gave me seven additional diagnoses, including lupus, Cushing's disease and mastocytosis. Some are genetic, and most are autoimmune. Once I got those diagnoses, it was this weird feeling of being validated. Then came this horrific realization of what each disease entailed.

How do you treat eight different diseases?

I'm on 25 different medications a day, and every single one comes with about 40 side effects. Mornings are particularly hard. And every four weeks, I'm in L.A. for chemotherapy treatment for the lupus, which completely knocks me out for about five days. I'm throwing up, I have a lot of bone pain, and I can't push through that.

How did these diseases affect your dancing?

Dance was always such an outlet for me, and I was able to pour so much of my frustration into my dancing. But as I struggled with my health, I started losing my facility and was constantly injured or dealing with surgeries. That's when I shifted to choreographing, and my career took off.

Headshot of Marinda Davis

"Anything is possible as long as you're willing to take a different route." Photo by Louise Flores, Courtesy Davis

One of your diseases—vascular Ehlers-Danlos syndrome—is not only extremely rare, but also life-threatening.

Eighty-five percent of people with type four Ehlers-Danlos don't live to be 40. I'm 34. While I hope to shatter those statistics, it's in my head every day. My aorta could rupture anytime. So that saying about living every moment to its fullest because it might be your last? That's very relevant.

You were at your sickest when you did your 2016 show, UNbreakable, with your prize from the A.C.E. Awards.

Everybody told me not to do it. Looking back, it was insane that I did. But I had a story to tell, and I had this company of dancers I loved and believed in. I think it actually kept me alive. It kept me fighting for something and gave me a purpose.

What can we expect from the piece you're creating for the Giordano company?

My work tends to straddle the contemporary concert and commercial worlds. It's been a lot of commercial lately, which means I'm cramming everything into 1 minute and 15 seconds. Actually getting 15 to 20 minutes is so exciting!

Any advice for dancers facing scary, serious setbacks like the ones you go through every day?

Where there is a will, there really is a way. Maybe your intended path was straight up over the mountain, but that's not going to work, so find a different way. Anything is possible as long as you're willing to take a different route.

Career Advice
Peter Smith, courtesy of University Musical Society

What happens during a performance is the product of the painstaking process of realizing an artistic vision. Whether held beforehand, afterward, offsite or online, audience discussions tend not to be so preordained, easily thrown off track without a skilled moderator at the helm.

"I'm someone who dreaded talkbacks and Q&As," admits Bill Bragin, former director of public programming at Lincoln Center. "While I was in New York, a lot of the time it was just audience members trying to show off how smart they were."

These events present a pile of difficult questions: How much do you reveal about a piece before it's shown? How can a conversation designed to hit key points feel casual and spontaneous? How do you cater to the needs of diverse attendees, from novice dancegoers to lifelong fans to scholars and critics? And how do you avoid smothering dance with language, flattening all its complexity?

Keep reading... Show less
UA Dance Ensemble members Candice Barth and Gregory Taylor in Jessica Lang's "Among the Stars." Photo by Ed Flores, courtesy University of Arizona

If you think becoming a trainee or apprentice is the only path to gaining experience in a dance company environment, think again.

The University of Arizona, located in the heart of Tucson, acclimates dancers to the pace and rigor of company life while offering all the academic opportunities of a globally-ranked university. If you're looking to get a head-start on your professional dance career—or to just have a college experience that balances company-level training and repertory with rigorous academics—the University of Arizona's undergraduate and graduate programs have myriad opportunites to offer:

Keep reading... Show less
Dancers Trending
Alice Sheppard/Kinetic Light in DESCENT, which our readers chose as last year's "Most Moving Performance." Photo by Jay Newman, courtesy Kinetic Light

Yes, we realize it's only August. But we can't help but to already be musing about all the incredible dance happenings of 2019.

We're getting ready for our annual Readers' Choice feature, and we want to hear from you about the shows you can't stop thinking about, the dance videos that blew your mind and the artists you discovered this year who everyone should know about.

Keep reading... Show less
Dancer Voices
Silas Farley in his Songs from the Spirit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rosalie O'Connor, Courtesy Farley

I dance to encourage others. The longer I dance, the more I see that much of my real work is to speak life-giving words to my fellow artists. This is a multidimensionally grueling profession. I count it a privilege to remind my colleagues of how they are bringing beauty into the world through their craft. I recently noticed significant artistic growth in a fellow dancer, and when I verbalized what I saw, he beamed. The impact of positive feedback is deeper than we realize.

Keep reading... Show less

mailbox

Get Dance Magazine in your inbox