A conversation between Associate Artistic Director & Director of Operations Tiffany Rea-Fisher and EMD dancer Maria Ambrose about choosing career paths, how to be an all-star at multi-tasking, and who to invite to the ultimate dinner party...
MA: What's one of your most cherished moments growing up in California?
TRF: My dad would take me to Santa Cruz to go to the beach. He is an amazing cook, he would take a little grill and we would grill there. The beaches there are super hot and the water is super cold, so you’d run in as fast as you could, but then you would run back as fast as you could. But he would always have a hamburger for my friends and I. That and going to Six Flags. He would take me every year for my birthday and I could bring 5 friends. I love roller coasters and he would deal with five screaming girls every year.
MA: When it came time to choosing a university to attend, what impacted that decision for you?
TRF: I had applied to a lot of colleges in California, I had a knee injury at the time, and I didn’t really even know you could go to school for dance. So, until a friend’s mom told me about SUNY Purchase I didn’t know anything. I was going to go to UCLA because I had gotten in there. Once I realized I could go to school for dance all of the auditions had passed except for the very last one at Purchase and I had to fly to New York to attend. So, I did that, I got in, and that was it. I had to do the whole audition in attitude because my knee wouldn’t straighten due to the injury and I left my ballet shoes somewhere, so I was just convinced I wasn’t going to get in. But they told me right then that I got in. I came out of the room and my mom asked, “How’d it go?” and I said “Oh, I got in with a scholarship”. I didn’t feel like I had done my best and my knee was swollen because of cabin pressure from the traveling. I didn’t believe them; I thought they just pitied me. My mom was like “I think they think you’re good.”
MA: Wow. Well, it goes to show even if it doesn’t always feel like your best, people can still believe in you.
TRF: Yes that was unexpected. I have odd reactions to things and that remains true to this day.
MA: Was a career in dance always a direction you were planning on going?
TRF: No! I didn’t know until I had my second job in Cyprus, and this was my second paid contracted gig, that I realized I was making a career in dance. Before, I didn’t understand that that was what I was doing. I was slow to pick up on it and I think it was because where I came from, no one had done that. You would go do a Gap commercial or you would do an industrial or be a background dancer for someone. It would just last for two years or however long the gig lasted. So, I didn’t know you could make a career out of it. I thought I was going to be in business overseas with an international corporate job. Once I was done with that I was going to make a lot of money by age forty and then run a non-profit. Dance was not anything I had planned. Even when I joined EMD I thought, “I will be here for two years” and now it’s year eleven.
MA: Do you remember your “A-Ha” moment where it was clear you wanted to keep doing this?
TRF: I think it’s when I got my first Dance Magazine article. It said I’m “On the Rise,” so it was a moment like “Oh, I am doing something.” I remember being so nervous because that was the year I had decided I wasn’t going to come back. So, I stayed for two more years after that. If it wasn’t for that article I think I would have left earlier, but I felt a lot of pressure because it was all about my plans and me with Elisa Monte Dance for the future. I don’t know if it ever feels like you “did it”. I got to do everything that I wanted. In my head I would dance for two years and then go do something else. So, by the time I had toured, then I found a company that I really loved, I met my husband in the company, I got to tour with him, I got my New York Times articles, I got my Dance Magazine articles and I felt very fulfilled. Even though I hadn’t set out to do that, that felt good. I think that’s why it felt easy to [later] step off stage and pass it on to other people. I want you to have your moment and for you to get your reviews and your features. All of those things are really exciting because you don’t know it’s going to happen. I asked Elisa, “Did you call Dance Magazine about me?” and she just said, “No”. The editor happened to be at that Joyce season and she just happen to see the program where I was in five out of five pieces. It was a very random type of thing. In retrospect it feels very done and I feel proud of what I’ve accomplished. But, at the time I don’t think I realized it was a thing, it was just my life. It was going to rehearsal and being on stage. It was extraordinary and ordinary at the same time. I think it’s the distance that helps. Looking back at it and realizing what it was.
MA: That’s amazing. It’s something people work for their whole lives, that fulfillment.
TRF: I know! I think that if I had planned that, I don’t think any of it would have happened. It was just that I was really passionate about what I was doing and luckily someone believed in me and saw things in me. Left to my own devices I don’t think that any of it would have happened. I wouldn’t have gone to SUNY Purchase, gone overseas, auditioned for Elisa, met my husband Matt. None of those things would have happened. I probably would have been in a corporate job somewhere.
MA: All dancers want to know this. When you were performing did you have any pre or post performance rituals? Meals, snacks, warm-ups...
TRF: Yes! Before a performance I always had to do the first set of sun salutations from the company warm-up and then I had to do the alternate breathing to get my nerves out. I go way low. I get very calm and very Zen before going on stage. I have a lot of energy...there’s a lot of nervous energy that comes into my body before every performance. It’s like it’s my first show every time. Which is great because it hits on stage and I think that’s what got me through five out of five pieces. Not because I was in amazing shape, it was pure adrenaline. It was a super rush. So, to be able to then stand on my leg I had to drop my energy down and find my mid range. After the company’s circle everyone does their own thing. I would always make the sign of the cross, kiss the floor and pray to the dance gods for three things:
- For me to give a performance that I could be proud of.
- Not to hurt myself during the performance.
- Not to injure any of my fellow dancers during the performance.
After I would do my sun salutations, my breathing, and then I would just go away from the group until it was time for places. I needed to distance myself so I could be aware and available for everyone on stage. I couldn’t do that if I had energy going everywhere. I needed to focus. It works like a charm.
MA: Was it mostly mental preparation or did you rely on any particular snacks or meals as well? Obviously you didn’t need the caffeine!
TRF: I am obsessed with Matcha Green Tea from Jamba Juice. I would try to get one of those, but I can’t really eat before a show. I am ravenous afterwards. If I did eat, I would have some nuts and Matcha Green Tea from Jamba Juice and that was it. Afterwards I’d go for Thai food. Unless we were in France...then it’s Steak Frites for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
MA: You’re after my own heart, Tiffany. Speaking of France, any favorite performance memories or favorite places you’ve traveled with the company?
TRF: Aschaffenburg, Germany is number one favorite place because it was the first place that Matt and I went on a date.
Everyone in the Office: Awwwwww!
TRF: He tricked me. I don’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, not because I have anything against it, it’s just not a priority for me. So, Matt had been after me for quite some time and knew I was back on the market. We were traveling in Aschaffenburg and we were out and starving. Usually you can just get Gyros anywhere at anytime there, but I guess because it was Valentine’s Day everything was shut down except for this really ridiculously romantic restaurant across the street from our hotel. It was very exotic; they had ostrich and all these unusual meats you could order. I was so hungry and Matt was like “Let me just take you to this restaurant.” I told him, “You’re not going to fool me. You’re not taking me out on Valentine’s Day. I’ll just go find a Gyro. It’s not happening.” So we walked pretty much all of Aschaffenburg and there were no Gyros, and finally he was like, “Are you ready to go to dinner now?” It was ridiculously romantic. Candlelit dinner and they handed me a rose when I walked in. It was also great because in the show program I got to do Volkmann Suite and Shattered together. Those are my favorites to do, especially in the same show. I feel like if a program is going to be hard I want all of it to be really hard, I’ll take it all. For me, I like to hit it hard all at once and then power down. They take very different energies, but at that time I had the same partner, which was Matt! We also did a 6-week tour in Brazil. My really good friend Solomon was in the company and this was his last tour, so it was great that we were together in Brazil. He was my Treading partner and we got to perform that there. Then I flew my mom out for an extra week! We started the tour in Rio, so I took my mom back there and we traveled around together. Those two tours are my favorite...
Stay tuned for the second part of this interview next week!