Why I Dance: Kara Wilkes

February 28, 2016

Dancer with Alonzo King LINES Ballet

With Robb Beresford in King’s Writing Ground. Margo Moritz, Courtesy LINES.

A mentor of mine
once described dance as a rather self-centered profession: We have a small window of time to perform, so we are forced to focus on our craft intensely. And because we begin our careers young, we aren’t always taken seriously. (I’ve had many people tell me that they too danced—when they were 5.) But I know that my path as an artist leads to a greater purpose. I’ve seen firsthand the power that dance has to spark personal reflection within audience members. Such reflection is crucial in creating growth within society.

I began my career 15 years ago when Milwaukee Ballet took me on as a trainee for $100 a week. When I told people I was a dancer, many asked, “Oh, that’s your
?” or “Are you paid to do that?” When I was offered a contract with Victor Ullate Ballet in Madrid in 2006, they cooed “Oh, Spain!” But I wasn’t moving across the Atlantic just to live in a glamorous place; I was going there to work. The opportunity overseas revealed my capabilities not only as a dancer, but as a person. While developing my artistry, I was also learning how to ask for help, problem solve and embrace a new culture. Dance expands artists’ lives. Most of us work alongside talent from a variety of countries, and such exposure expands our understanding of the world. I’ve worked with musicians, worn incredibly designed costumes and interacted with magnificent lighting and sets. Dance has the ability to bring people of many backgrounds together for one shared experience. It creates community.

Last year, a friend of mine dragged her husband to a LINES performance. An avid sports fan, he admitted afterwards to “needing more of this” in his life. He felt rejuvenated. What dance gives to society is more valuable than a mere escape from reality. At its best, the art form can awaken audiences into wanting a better quality of life.

Dancers must give generously onstage, allowing the audience to live through us as we strive to achieve the ideal. As much as LINES performs, I sometimes still get nervous. My apprehension can mean my ego has entered the picture and I’m worrying too much about my personal success. I try to relax by reminding myself of our larger purpose: sharing a meaningful experience with the audience in hopes of awakening, inspiring and, ultimately, changing them.