As we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, Salt Lake City is concentrated with artistic animation — it seems everyone is perpetually on the move. In times of dramatic change and transition, artists have found ways to keep dancing; performing companies such as Repertory Dance Theater strive to embrace adaptability in their organization.
The company welcomes two new dancers with a spirit of excitement to their 2021-22 season. I had the pleasure of interviewing both new dancers, Lindsey Faber and Megan O’Brien. I virtually met with each dancer to discuss our thoughts on dance in Salt Lake City. They shared with me their arts stories, pandemic experiences, and aspirations for the upcoming year. The following is a coalescence of these two conversations.
Dancing in Utah since the beginning of their training, Lindsey Faber and Megan O’Brien felt strongly tethered to their teachers and expressed how those influences brought them to RDT. Each dancer felt drawn to the community that RDT created.
Faber: I grew up dancing at Tanner Dance at the University of Utah, which was founded by Virginia Tanner — one of the same original founders of RDT — so I grew up admiring [RDT] and hearing great things about [them] and their dancers. Quite a few of their alumni were my teachers. I think that’s what drew me to them, seeing my phenomenal teachers be a part of the community that they foster. Then, as I got older, we had lots of workshops from them at my high school and I, throughout college, kept doing their workshops. I loved the positive environment that they fostered.
O’Brien: I actually wasn’t introduced to Modern until I was in high school. I had two teachers in high school, Natosha Washington and Nathan Shaw. Nathan Shaw danced for RDT and Natosha Washington was also very closely associated with [RDT], having choreographed and danced with them a lot . . . I attended the University of Utah — and then from there I started to get to know RDT and I made friends with a lot of the dancers who were on the company. Lynne Larsen — who is the education director of RDT — was one of my professors in college, [and] through them is how I got my teaching jobs out of college; meeting her, learning the RDT style — that’s how it all connected. Just being in community with the people around me and having conversations [to] get to know them.
When reflecting on Salt Lake’s dance community, both dancers agreed that the valley had helped them to create strong professional connections with the artists around them.
O’Brien: I think that something that is really special about [Salt Lake City] is everybody is connected in some sort of way. I meet people and they know people I know, indirectly — through some sort of show or through school. A big part of that is there are a lot of us that support art, arts education, and the traveling and developing nature of art and what that means as a culture. People in our community are so brave, I think. We have a lot of brave artists that are willing to stand up and say, “This is important, and this is important” and be consistent about it. There’s no flakiness to the community. We are all finding a way to support each other.
Faber: I think that what makes Salt Lake City so special in terms of dance is how the community is not small by any means, but it feels that way. It feels like you get to know so many people in the dance community easily. I feel that in other larger cities and places I’ve been, you just go around the same community without meeting the same people twice. What’s great about taking classes in Utah in general is that you run into the same people over and over again, and that gives you a chance to get to know different creative artists on a deeper level. That’s what I love about the Salt Lake arts community, it’s not small but it feels like a hometown to me.
Lindsey especially felt that the multifaceted dance training she had received in Salt Lake City led her to Boston, where the lessons she learned prepared her to accept this position with RDT.
Faber: Through Tanner Dance I was made ready for this [position] because they really focus on dance as a whole. Dance is about the individual, but when you are in a group dance with a lot of people it’s [also] about the art as a whole. Learning how to efficiently work with others was important and [Tanner Dance] taught me and all their students well how to do that—work as a community, as a company. I also went to Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts for my high school career, and there they prepared me in a way that I became a more organized, well thought out, and smart dancer. Bethany Hansen — who is the [dance conservatory] director of Salt Lake School for the Performing Arts — taught me discipline in a good and positive way. After graduating high school, I went to Boston Conservatory; I feel like there they taught me confidence in myself. After being there and learning with my professors I gained another level of confidence in myself that I don’t think I had before. You need to have confidence in yourself and your abilities to be a professional dancer — otherwise you might get knocked down and not be able to stand back up. I learned how to get knocked down and stand back up on my own. Those attributes of community, discipline, organization, confidence, and all-around flexibility are things that I learned from all of those institutions and am excited to implement with RDT.
Megan felt as though her own experience within her dance journey gave her a unique perspective that she is excited to share within her administrative, teaching, and performing work.
O’Brien: I’ve had an interesting dance journey because … I have a chronic illness — I have a connective tissue disorder and a disorder that makes my autonomic system malfunction. The past couple of years I’ve had two major surgeries that I’ve had to recover from. As a dancer we are so close to our bodies — I’ve had to learn a lot about taking care of myself and do that in a way where I’m not comparing myself to other people and not getting stuck in this trap of [thinking] “I’m not as strong as this person.” What I would like to contribute to RDT is that kind of diversity in experience with my body. I can bring my hard work and my individual approach — because I have to approach things a different way, because of how my body works. I bring that gratitude to the company and [I] represent a different kind of dancer. We all struggle with our bodies and mine has been through a sensitive journey — I don’t want people with similar injuries from chronic illnesses to feel like they have to completely give up. [I believe] that [dance] can be a part of their life in different ways. I want to continue with the education aspect [of RDT and teach] the idea that “everybody can dance” and “movement is dance,” and that it’s really healthy physically but also emotionally. For kids, and students, and adults — everyone of different ages.
Lindsey similarly expressed her desire to become a dance educator and immerse herself in teaching.
Faber: So many of my teachers and professors along the way have inspired me. I want to become a good teacher because I had so many great ones — and so I hope I can do that for the Salt Lake community as well. I hope that I can bring my outside experiences of living in Boston, among other things, and maybe that will mean something to somebody. Maybe I can give a certain correction or note that is different and clicks with somebody that it hasn’t before. I think that is something I’d really like to bring and strive for. There are already so many great teachers in the community — I would love to learn from them and hopefully become one someday.
When discussing the pandemic, each dancer reflected on how they had grown artistically during quarantine. Megan and Lindsey agreed that physical and mental wellness should contribute to the art we create and the process that makes it.
O’Brien: There’s a lot of things [in the pandemic] that were gifts wrapped up in really ugly wrapping paper. I think that at the start, there were online dance classes that came about and there were these opportunities to take from teachers we can’t locally access in Utah. I remember taking a Gaga class, and there were 600 people on the Zoom [meeting] and I imagine they were from all over the world … the opportunity to be expanding our opportunities while at home [was amazing]. Obviously, I went through a phase where I was like, “I don’t even have the energy to take dance classes in my living room, this is exhausting,” and that was good for me too. I’m constantly in this battle with myself about rest and what is the appropriate amount of rest. How rest can help me rather than make me feel like I’m falling behind. It was a good lesson to learn that dance will always be there, and I can take a break. I can walk, I can swim, I can lay on my floor—and it will still inform my dance journey and my creativity. One of the big things that happened in the beginning [of the pandemic] was it gave me some space to get to know myself a little better, outside of just being a dancer that goes into the studio to train. It expanded a lot of my views on creativity.
Faber: I think not losing the joy in [dance], for me [was important]. At the very beginning of the pandemic, it felt a little less joyful because I was completing my degree online and it was honestly really hard. During the summer I decided to get a group of my friends together [to] dance and create together. I think that’s where I re-found the joy in dance. The biggest thing I’ll take [from the pandemic] is that you do it because you love it — you do it because it’s for you. Yes, it’s for an audience most of the time but I have to remember that I am dancing because it’s for me. It’s not for vain gains or anything like that. Sometimes I feel like if I don’t move in a day — whether it’s walking or hiking — I go crazy. Dance is my way of keeping my life together.
Both dancers used the phrase “showing up” as a way of describing their connection to the arts. They felt that by standing in rapport with the artists and institutions that encircle us, we uplift the entire dance community.
O’Brien: Community is so important. How you show up to people relationally is how people will see you show up to work. They want to work with people they feel they can trust and can get to know … something that Lindsey and I have learned is that showing up to things to be seen is really important. I know that in this time it’s kind of tricky — but [now] you’re showing up on Zoom for a Q&A or for a class, because that then builds the community, and you’ll meet people that you can continue to get to know and work with in the future. I’ll also say that you should continue with that adaptability and work on yourself — that is most important. If you can be your best self — the self [in which] you know how to push your limits and how to take care of yourself — then you will be able to show up and ask for what you want and what you need. I think that is the most professional and healthy thing to do as a dancer.”
I concluded our interviews by asking Lindsey and Megan what advice they had to give for budding artists seeking a career in dance during this time. The two dancers emphasized the importance of prioritizing personal health, wellness, and development as the foundation for a successful career.
Faber: My best advice is — I know it’s easier to say it and harder to do — don’t give up. I worked so hard on trying to find a bunch of different options before this RDT endeavor was presented to me … there is no shame in going back to school if that is the easiest place for you to find consistent practice. I was heavily thinking about going back to grad school before this opportunity was presented to me. I would say just don’t give up on striving for what you want. Take any opportunity that comes your way. If you think it would be beneficial, then take it and go with it. I think that’s been positive for me — you want to plan during this time, but it is hard to create solid plans. So, you have to take it as it comes and be flexible and pivot when you need to pivot.
O’Brien: At the end of the day, whether you dance for a company, you dance projects, [or] you work freelance — what you’re going to have at the end of all that is yourself. You want to care for and not neglect that because, unfortunately, you can’t dance forever. I think that is something about one of my favorite artists, Bebe Miller, [who] came and worked with RDT. I was able to sit in on some classes and rehearsals [to] watch and listen [to her] — she was talking about how she goes sailing, and [how] that makes her a better dance artist. I love that she said that. All these different parts of ourselves are going to inform, curate, and fuel our creativity and longevity. If we are always in the studio we are going to get burnt out. Living who you are is really important.
Repertory Dance Theatre opens its 2021-2022 season with North Star, an evening of choreography by Lar Lubovitch, Sep. 30 – Oct. 2.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org.
Brianna Bernhardt is a current loveDANCEmore intern and a BFA candidate in the U of U’s School of Dance. She aims to cultivate creative excellence and promote academia within the arts through her role as a student leader and freelance artist. She enjoys going to museums, reading books, and long walks without destinations. Find her on instagram @bybriannabernhardt.