My story starts like most dancers in that I began taking classes at the young age of 3. My mom was a dancer and knew the benefits of having me enrolled in dance class (discipline, coordination, creativity, etc). I grew up in Lewisburg, West Virginia, and what makes my early years unique is that in this small, artsy town, there were, and still are, multiple dance studios. I was extremely fortunate to take classes at two. Why take from two? The focus and philosophy was completely different in many ways, but both taught their students to love and appreciate the art form.
Greenbrier Dance Academy was a traditional ballet, tap and jazz studio that focused heavily on technique and performance. It was here that I fell in love with musical theatre and found a deep appreciation for Fosse. The Dance Studio was solely a modern/contemporary studio for students with an adult performance company, Trillium Performing Arts. The Dance Studio did way more than just teach me how to dance. It really molded who I am today as a person. It was an inclusive environment where all people were accepted as family, where it was ok to be who you truly were at your core, and every person was loved whole heartedly. Trillium is in its 35th year of operation, and I am deeply connected to its members and continue to perform with them as a guest artist.
Dance was rarely competitive for me. Of course, in both studios we wanted to excel to the highest level possible, to be the strongest performers, embodying great technique and strength, but we never actually competed in competitions. We participated every year in the West Virginia Dance Festival and adjudicated pieces to participate yes, but neither studio went to competitions. While I highly appreciate that world, recognize the time and energy it takes to compete, and am amazed by my friends whose choreography wins major awards, I am also grateful for never entering into the competition world of dance for myself.
When searching collegiate dance programs, I was immediately turned off by a few due to their cutthroat and overly competitive nature. Walking through the halls and dancing with current students, I got a cold vibe, a sense they were “surface” friends, and at the end of the day would do whatever it took to be better than. I am not blind that this is how the “real” dance world works a lot of the time, but I couldn’t image living in this environment day in and day out for four years.
I happily attended Radford University, and quickly learned that growing up in a modern studio, at that time, was rare to find as many of my peers had never taken contemporary before college. As a freshman, I was placed in the highest level modern with danah bella, and it was in this moment that I became extremely grateful for the foundation I had. I loved danah’s approach to dance. It was hard core and physically challenging in a way I had never experienced. Junior year, I was extremely fortunate to be an apprentice in d a n a h b e l l a DanceWorks, and my senior year I joined as a company member. Following graduation, I performed with Theatre West Virginia, and then moved to Richmond to travel for a year with Theatre IV.
Ironically, while performing back in WV in 2007 as a guest with Trillium, my mom started talking with a woman who was at the concert. She asked what brought mom to the show, and she responded that it was her daughter who performed the solo just before intermission. The woman asked where I lived, and mom answered Richmond. Talk about right place at the right time. Little did I know that night that this Richmond arts advocate, Joan Oates, would open the door to my entire adult dance career. She graciously shared my name with a member of Z. Mullins Dance Company, and that summer I came on as a guest and never left. Tara Mullins welcomed me, a complete stranger, into her company. She stepped out on a limb and gave me a chance, although she had never seen me dance herself. After performing with Z. Mullins for a few seasons, Tara moved, and our company had some decisions to make.
Remember those foundations I was raised on with Trillium? Tara had similar philosophies and our company was one big family. No member was ready for it to dissolve. We normally met only once a week and performed here and there, but none of us were willing to give it up. And so, RADAR was born.
Now in its 7th season, RADAR has become a huge part of my life, as I have been the Co-Artistic Director for the past 5 years. We still rehearse once a week, as well as one weekend per month. We always have one evening length concert a season and host a summer dance intensive for high school students, with a few occasional extra performances. We work hard to keep our small RADAR family going, while balancing the other demands of normal life. All in all, we recognize we are all busy humans with full time jobs, families, and our main common bond is our love and passion for dance.
I spend my days loving my “real” job as a Middle School Counselor at St. Catherine’s School, where I am also fortunate to be able to teach dance to 5th and 6th grade girls. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever imagine that I would be able to find a school where I could do both, but yet, here I am. No two days are the same, and I am energized by walking from building to building, counseling my girls one day and seeing them as artists the next.
The older I have gotten, the more I am living out what I was taught as a young dancer. I believe everyone can move. Dance can convey emotions and feelings to express what words cannot. This philosophy and who I am today as a dancer and teacher is hands down due to the inspiring, loving, and compassionate teachers and mentors of my past.
I have lived in Richmond for over 11 years, and have absolutely fallen in love with its charm. When thinking of a location for this photo shoot, I immediately thought of Libby Hill for its iconic city skyline. My family and I love to explore this great city and continue to enjoy everything it offers day in and day out.