Why I Dance: Jen Peters
A soft, velvety quality distinguishes the dancing of Jen Peters, who has been a member of Jennifer Muller/The Works since 2007. Onstage, she projects an openness and kindness that Muller has plumbed in her choreography. In Muller’s latest premiere,
The White Room, while other characters in the cruelty-descending-on-innocence scenario seemed driven by revenge, Peters stood out for her loving, nurturing nature.
Peters grew up in Freeport, IL, and St. Joseph, MI, and she started dance classes at 5. As a teenager, she joined the pre-professional group Southold Dance Theater in nearby South Bend, IN. She went on to attend the Ailey/Fordham BFA program, graduating cum laude in 2006. She has interned at Dance Magazine and still writes for DM, as well as for Dance Spirit and Pointe. When not on tour, Peters lives in Manhattan with her husband.
As a 3-year old growing up in the cornfields of Illinois, I never wondered why I danced. I just danced. My backyard, living room, and bedroom were my dance studios; I would twirl and kick for hours. I also loved pink, so it only seemed natural to ask Mom for ballet classes.
It didn’t take long for me to get serious about dance, and I’m still floored by photographs of 5-year-old me at the barre, my face intense with focus and determination. Somehow I knew then that dancing for fun wasn’t going to cut it. I always knew I wanted to dance professionally, and by high school I was driving nearly two hours a day for pre-professional ballet and modern training.
I caught the Hubbard Street Dance Chicago bug as a teen. However, New York City became my dream city, thanks partly to reading hundreds of Dance Magazine articles about the diversely exciting dance capital. My Ailey/Fordham acceptance letter turned my dream into reality, and I was off to see if I could stay afloat in the big pond.
During those four years the disappointments, perfectionism, and injuries made me wonder if dancing professionally was worth the struggle. Some days the repetition of pliés and tendus was meditative and rejuvenating, other days it was tedious and exhausting. Being cut during auditions and receiving critiques was also unfamiliar territory. Why would I want to constantly cause self-doubt or choose a career so unstable?
After graduation, I was excited to move beyond the classroom. But after months of uncorking wine for Upper East Siders and teaching 2-year-olds to “dance,” professional life was not as glamorous as I imagined. One morning, as I crawled with toddlers like a turtle, I realized I had to decide if dancing was worth taking extra jobs just to scrape together a Big Apple living.
At the time I was a scholarship student with Jennifer Muller/The Works, and I looked forward to the daily two-hour company class more than anything. The Muller technique combined my love of ballet lines with the freedom and weightiness of modern, and it felt like home! With deep, internal focus on energy and alignment, even simple movements revealed fresh complexities and challenges.
When a company spot opened just weeks before a tour to Bolivia, my window unlocked. I remember the day Jennifer asked me to join the company for the trip. After a two-hour private audition, she gave me the news I’d been waiting for since graduation. I walked out of The Works’ loft studio and onto 24th Street with a surreal sense of my surroundings. I was in my dream city with my dream job, and in disbelief. I just kept walking—almost 40 blocks—alternating between tears, smiles, laughter, and pure joy.
I realized that I dance because I have been blessed with a gift that is mine to share. To trade in a risky artistic career for a comfortable corporate position would reject the childlike wonder I feel while dancing. Now heading into my fifth season with JM/TW, there are of course days when I tire of the multiple-job grind. But I know I am among the lucky few whose work is their true passion. I remind myself of this blessing and savor the opportunity to transport truth, beauty, and something greater than myself into the world.
Photo by Paula Lobo, Courtesy Peters.