This is an interview with Annika Nonhebel, who I first met at AXIS Dance Company in 2013. Annika is very involved in integrated dance, and has played an important role in my dance education, and future. I hope you enjoy this interview!
1: How did you first get started working in the dance world?
I first started teaching dance when in college. A friend of mine mentioned they were looking for someone to choreograph some dance pieces for a high school play. I had never taught before, but they hired me and I loved it. I continued teaching dance on the side while in college and during my work as a manager at a deaf institute. When I moved to the United States I came across AXIS Dance Company. There my love for dance, non profit management and working with the disabled all came together.
2: How did you first discover integrated dance?
I remember seeing a play when I was little where people with Down syndrome acted along non disabled actors. It was beautiful. I didn’t learn about this genre until someone told me about AXIS and I researched them.
3: How was your time at AXIS Dance Company?
I was at AXIS for 8 years and learned so much. We had a very small team so you quickly learn all the ins and outs of running a dance company.
I absolutely loved the assemblies that we brought to schools as well as workshops we did for youth. Seeing the impact you have on students and their teachers was priceless.
4: What has your journey in the dance world been like?
I started taking dance classes when I was 8, prior to that I joined a musical theater group. Dancing always made me happy, gave me a feeling of freedom. I never thought I would work in dance though. Sometimes life just takes you in certain directions.
5: What are some of the struggles you have faced working in dance?
When I worked as an education director there was the constant struggle to convince people that dance is as important as all the other art forms. Even though students might never grow up to be dancers, (creative) dance is a wonderful outlet and an incredible way to teach creativity, team building and problem solving. Especially young boys LOVE doing crazy things with their bodies. I believe many learning/behavior problems would be solved if creative movement was a bigger part of the curriculum.
Another struggle is money and work/life balance. You don’t work in the arts to get rich. Everyone is so passionate about the work they do they work non-stop. Art non-profits learned to do with less, because everyone works way more than what is being reflected in budgets and job descriptions. Eventually this leads to burn outs and to organizations that can’t sustain the amount of work they did with people that basically did the work of two sometimes three people.
6: What is your favorite thing about working in integrated dance?
Teaching dance to people with disabilities (including learning and developmental disabilities) pushes you to be the best teacher you can be. You need to be on your toes and stay focused. I love seeing how people push themselves to go beyond what they thought they were capable of.
7: What have you learned from working in integrated dance?
8: Can you tell me a little bit about Amy Seiwert’s Imagery?
Amy Seiwert’s Imagery is a contemporary ballet company based in San Francisco. Imagery’s artists are constantly pushing the preconceptions of what ballet is and can be. We respect swans and sylphs, but it’s not where the companies interest lies. Through risk taking and collaboration we strive to push the field of ballet forward.
Amy works from a classical ballet technique, but engages her dancers in a creative process that is more common in modern dance. She asks her dancers to make creative choices, to manipulate movement. Through this her work is constantly fresh and unique, plus she fosters strong creative dance makers. Something that you don’t see a lot in the traditional ballet world.
9: What is your advice to someone pursuing a career in dance?
Get to know people in the world of dance. Talk to them, visit companies, ask questions. Know that when you work for a small company or start your own, you’ll need to be an all rounder and be able to do a lot of things. Don’t expect to know it all, you will learn and don’t be afraid to ask for help.
Once you start working find friends among colleagues in the field, it’s good to know you have a network and people to fall back on.
10: How has integrated dance changed you?
It taught me to look at everyone as an individual not as (part of) a group. To look at someone’s strengths and to believe that everyone can grow and learn. This growth and learning might look different for everyone, but it will be there as long as you look closely.