Fri Dec 16 2011
Photograph: Anna Finke
When did you start dancing, and why?
When I was very little, like four or five. It was ballet and tap. I was in Great Falls, Virginia. And I went to ballet school there until I was probably 14, then I started going to the Washington School of Ballet.
Who was running it then?
It was still Mary Day.
I was pretty sure you had a ballet background. Did anyone in your family dance?
My older sister danced for a little while, and my little sister, too. And we all ended up juggling different activities. My mom was like, "Okay you have to decide now, are you going to do this one or that one?" And I just kept picking ballet and picking ballet.
What teachers were important to you?
Well, my first in Great Falls; the first real ballet school I went to was important. The first day my mom brought me to school—[the teacher] was British and she was very, very strict. All the little girls were leaving in tears. They were so upset, because she would yell at them. I was very timid as a child and sort of the same way. If anyone said anything, I would just bawl. My mom was like, "This is going to be really good for you. I think you need this." That thickening of the skin was good for me. And then at the Washington School of Ballet, we had a Russian-trained teacher, Rudolf Kharatian, and he was great. It was nice having a male teacher because I always liked turning and jumping and big, moving combinations. I learned a lot from my other teachers, Patricia Berrend and Victoria Leigh.
Did you spend time going to summer programs?
I did. The first one I did was at Vail. Margaret Haddad was the name of my first ballet school [Margaret Haddad Studio of Classical Ballet], and she had a relationship with Katherine Kersten, who was running Vail at the time. I got an audition and I remember I was like a country mouse—it was at Juilliard, and it was my first audition, and everyone had headshots and flowers in their hair. And we showed up in our polyester leotards and pink headbands. I was shocked that that was the dance world.
So you auditioned at Juilliard?
Yeah. Three of us went up there with my dad, and we didn't get in, but then the next year—maybe there were people who ended up not taking it?— there were spots open and we got in under the radar.
What was your level the year you didn't get in?
It was interesting. I think of the things that we did. [My teacher] put on four-act ballets and I would dance Aurora on pointe, and she would do all the variations. So I thought, I can do all of this. But then, the actual training might not have been quite... [Laughs]. I also did a Houston Ballet [summer program] and an American Ballet Theatre one in Detroit, later when I was in Washington School of Ballet.
So were you ballet focused?
Yeah. I had no interest really in doing modern dance. I remember our first modern-dance teacher at Washington School of Ballet. We were all, What is this? We performed to Enya, and it was strange for me and not aesthetically what I was interested in at all. I didn't get asked to stay and join the company or apprentice [at Washington Ballet], so I went to college. I went to Barnard and figured at least I would be in New York and get to dance, go to Steps.
And Barnard has a dance department too.
Yeah, it was great. I had no idea. I just wanted to go to school in New York. I didn't get into Tisch [NYU], and I applied to Barnard and Columbia, and I got in to Barnard.
Had you been auditioning for many dance companies?
No. I just sort of assumed. If I wasn't going to fly at Washington Ballet, then it probably wasn't worth jumping at. I probably had a little bit of a dancer complex and I was thinking that I wasn't quite good enough. But it was for the best. [Laughs]