By SPECIWOMEN Photography MELISSA NELSON
Who are you?
I am a Latina in the arts. I am a series of contradictions. I am naturally joyous and affectionate but I can be very shy. I am incredibly independent, sometimes to a fault because my independence makes asking for help hard. I am ambitious; continuously redefining what I am working toward by the way it makes me feel. I am intuitive. Food both excites and grounds me. I believe sharing and creating can be synonymous.
When and how did you get into dance?
My Sister- one of the most inspiring women in my life in so many ways- was a dancer in High school, and I wanted to be like her so I too started taking dance classes. I was very quickly enamored by the dichotomies that innately rest in the art form. Dance is highly physical, and the appearance can have an ease; it is competitive, but without a scoreboard; Dance is both body control and abandon all at once.
Describe a day in the life of a dancer.
This can look like a lot of different things. The diversity of lifestyle is one of the most inspiring things about being part of the dance community. Particular to me each day looks different. It is a configuration of all or some of the following things:
-a physical practice (dance class, swimming, yoga or working out),
-administrative work (applications to residencies/grants or creating and editing content for my personal creative work,
-rehearsal (for my own work, for a project I have taken on with someone else, or both),
-cooking (I am an avid cook, making dinner most evenings is both self care and financial management)
In your opinion, what’s the most common misconception about dance?
This is tricky. I am on a constant inquiry- what is dance? Maybe that’s the misconception. Dance is a varied artform, it can be very intellectual, conceptual, it can be mindless entertainment or high brow and all of these are not mutually exclusive.
I enjoy noticing the various complexities of the physical and mental specificity it takes to be both a dancer and a dancer creator.
For audiences, there is no right or wrong way to enjoy movement; people don't go to the symphony and feel like they have to know "the story" the composer was trying to tell, the same goes for most dance concerts. Noticing a personal experience will tell you what the dance was about.
Where do you dance?
I dance with a few choreographers consistently: Brain Brooks, Helen Simoneau, Peter Kyle, and Madeline Hollander.
And I have a personal creative practice that is taking more and more of my time.
Who are your biggest dance inspirations?
There are so many dance inspirations. On a large scale Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Pina Bausch, Bebe Miller, Maguy Marin, Meg Stuart, Crystal Pite - who are/were amazing, brilliant, and directly influence/d the dance world in a variety of ways.
Wendy Whelan, as associate director of NYCB, a previously male dominated role within a very traditional ballet dance company model.
Here in New York, there are amazing choreographers that are doing cool things, those include Kimberly Bartosik, Shannon Gillen, Helen Simoneau, Francesca Harper, Stefanie Acosta- these are all female choreographers from varied dance worlds who are defining their own voice, and pursuing this crazy line of work with an immense amount of dedication, rigor and specificity.
There are dancers and choreographers that are blurring the lines between visual art and dance, and pushing boundaries- Madeline Hollander, the duo team Fluct, and Mariana Valencia.
How do you keep your mind and body ready for the stage?
Gosh- there is a practice within the willingness to be vulnerable, a willingness to fail in front of others. I can be empowered and self confident, but I also want to show humility and an eagerness to listen. Practising this in everyday life, helps me be this person on stage.
What is it about the movement that allows you to express yourself better than other art forms?
The human body is a collection of organisms, mass, systems, traits, consciousness, memories and much more than we fully comprehend. All of these things are collected and used as energy for motion. My own conditional body (brown, female) produces motion that is informed by personal history, societal implications and my physical manifestation. Each unique conditional body of every mover produces a different way of communicating despite the choreography potentially being the same. I enjoy watching and being a part of this conundrum.
On a more tangible answer, I am also a tactile human, I learn through action, a physical practice seems to make me feel more aware, and receptive of information in general.
Thus far, what have been your biggest obstacles as a dancer?
One of the aspects of this career that I love, also happens to be the challenge. It’s such a specific, niche career, no matter which kind of dance you do, each dancer really has to define success for themselves, and continually reevaluate that ideal. For me I really wanted to only bring in money through dance, and that was really hard when I was first starting off. Employment and therefore economic stability is challenging, and as I’ve grown, the challenges evolve; but the hardest part is always answering: what excites and propels me via motion and how can I turn that into a living?
Tell me a story about the worst dance injury you’ve endured.
Thankfully- I have never been debilitatingly injured- i am so grateful. I’ve have had the normal 3 broken toes from three different creative processes. I am continually stretching my tight psoas, overworked pecs and releasing my neck- every dancer has their spots (the places that are the first to tighten, or give them trouble).
How do you kick the nerves before a show?
I actually get more nervous starting a conversation with a stranger, then I do right before performing. Part of performing for me is moving in that thin line between completely believing in what I’m doing and total insecurity. It’s sometimes harder to find that place for me verbally.
You mentioned you're working on a solo piece entitled Present Tense, can you briefly tell us what's it about?
I am actually working on two pieces right now. One is with a choreographer and friend David Norsworthy from Toronto. We have been working on this piece on and off since 2017. The work is named Possibilities of Dialogue- it’s about an exchange of energy and awareness. Inspired by the parallels between making a dance and having a conversation, the performance is an abstracted collaborative creative process; moments of listening, curiosity, disagreement and spontaneity unfold through movement and text. It is often playful, lively and physically virtuosic, sometimes uncomfortable, sometimes surprising and almost always responsive to and inclusive of the audience. Audience members are welcome to observe and interact through the invitations that are offered.
Present Tense is a solo work I am diving into. Caught in an indescribable bind between protecting oneself from past traumas and being susceptive to new experiences, Present Tense is an investigative study of memory. Through the structure of a contained environment I am investigating the ways we cope with our personal history, and how those coping mechanisms influence our actions and reactions in the present.This work acknowledges the histories that unconsciously encage us. It observes our humanistic self preservation through a malleability and porousness of memory, and honors our resilience.
How is your process working here and what inspires, motivates you?
In general, my work seeks to create environments that foster a sense of curiosity, stimulate creativity, and promote transparency and exchange. To accomplish these things, I’ve learned to make collaboration an important feature of the creative process. Using a rigorous movement language and uncompromising conceptual investigation, my collaborators and I are interested in presenting works that show the inherent and inevitable unpredictability of performance.
I am inspired by the body. My current work deals with body ownership and its dependence on sensation and proprioception, but also kinesthetic agency and autonomy in motor events (actions). Roused by the millennial age, in which identity is often a difficult conflation of public and private personae, both on and off digital platforms, how are our motor actions dependent on external influences? I am interested in developing work that enmeshes performers and audiences in interactions that protect individual autonomy, while supporting active and empowered involvement. My work seeks to create live productions that demonstrate the vitality of the virtuosic dancing body and the ephemerality of dance, while inviting a sense of belonging.
Overall, what would you like to achieve for this passion of yours?
The goal is to be transparent, thoughtful and dedicated to a continuous learning process in developing and performing works. All of this sounds great; but honestly I’m just trying to make it in NYC! Diving into work head first! Failing and then trying again.
Follow Marielis’ work here.