Read Part 2 of the interview with Tiffany Rea-Fisher for insight into being a professional dancer, transitioning careers, and the future of Elisa Monte Dance.
MA: What is one piece of advice you would give to young dancers pursuing a professional career?
TRF: You can’t have any questions about whether or not you want to do it. I think you have to really commit mind, body, and soul. Even though I didn’t know I wanted to be a dancer every time I was in dance class, I was fully there. Every time I was in an audition I was fully there, giving everything that I have. You can’t be discouraged. Having that attitude in an audition is helpful. They may not pick you, not because they don’t like you, but maybe they are looking for a red head. Maybe they are looking for someone to fit into a specific costume. There are so many elements that go into an audition that I think if you’re doing it for the right reasons, you’re doing it for the love of the game, then you’ll be fine. Just remembering that it’s not personal. And remembering that there are so many other jobs now! Everyone has their own company now, it’s not like the chosen few that it used to be. There are a lot of opportunities to be seen. Don’t have tunnel vision about where you see your career going. Be open. You never know what will lead to the next thing. Be present, don’t take things personally, and be open to new opportunities.
MA: What was the transition like going from performing with Elisa Monte Dance to Director of Operations as well as Associative Artistic Director?
TRF: It was awesome! It was easy, I loved it. I think when you take yourself out, rather being taken out either by being fired or from an injury, then that would have been harder. I always saw myself having three or four careers. This career for me was over and that doesn’t mean I had to go away from the dance community as a whole. Applause just wasn’t enough anymore and again, I had accomplished and exceeded everything I had set out to do. It was time, and I felt good about everything. Let’s try something new! I also always liked the back end of things. I always thought, if someone makes a dance and it’s in the studio and no one sees it, does it exist? No, it doesn’t. You have to have an engine behind it putting it out there. Some people think that if the work is good then it will happen. Trust that there is amazing work out there that you will never see. There are so many levels that it has to get through. You have to get funding, dancers, a presenter or a curator. It’s not easy and the chances are very slim. When I was a curator at The Tank there was an article called “The New Lords of Downtown.” The whole article was about how if we don’t deem it worthy, it doesn’t get seen. So, if all these places pass on you, then the audience doesn’t see it and you’re not part of the conversation. I wanted to be part of that conversation and help these works. I was a curator while I was dancing as well, so I knew what the backend was like. I took accounting classes in school because I didn’t know where I was going to end up, so I wanted to have a diverse enough skill set to land on my feet regardless of where I was. I love the work and nothing makes me happier than passing it on. It’s easy, if you’re really ready to take yourself out of it, and that’s key, you have to be really ready you can’t be longing and wishing you were up there. Because I am so passionate about the work itself and the company, the backend is easy to handle. I get excited about budgets because it’s budgets for us.
MA: “I get excited about budgets,” that’s impressive.
TRF: Yes, because it’s budgets for us! I like talking to presenters because I want you guys to go to Aschaffenburg and to be in Brazil. I want you guys to have those fond memories that I have and stay around and pass on your knowledge. When you’re a dancer you have one main focus and that has to be your focus. I always worked in the office in one capacity or another, but when I started worrying about what our box office numbers were I didn’t feel like I was here and present. For me I always felt like you can pass on your parts. We are all unique, but look we had Lisa Peluso, she was amazing, we have JoVonna Parks- also amazing, and it all started with Sarita Allen. There is a history to the roles and that’s what is great about it. When I first met Sarita I was star struck because I had a role of hers and she was so nice and normal. She told me to feel comfortable about bringing myself to the role. It is incredible to be involved in something that has that long of a history. Serious people that have been recognized throughout the community have come through and made their mark on this company. It’s a very strong alumni community and I am very happy to be a part of it. To be able to create something with people that you picked, with an original idea, and an original score is amazing! And to have the trust that Elisa has given me to put my work in the program next to her work that has clearly stood the test of times, I can’t really ask for more. A lot of people get praise from the those they work for, but to be brought in as a collaborator and handpick the dancers with her feels like my mark is being left on the company and I wouldn’t want that anywhere else. It’s my life; I met my husband through this company. If we have kids they will be in those rehearsals. It’s penetrated my life in ways I didn’t expect. So, the transition has been great because it just means I get to get deeper into what it is. My very last career I go into is going to be a dance critic, so we will see how that goes.
MA: I noticed you and Elisa both seem to cherish individuality and presence.
TRF: It’s so important. I think because she allowed me to do that, so it’s something I also look for in dancers. I don’t want you to look like me because no one can do me like I can. No one can do you like you can. Spending your energy trying to replicate something that already exists in the world is silly. It’s like being jealous of people. You have to work with what you have and focus on what you have. That’s the only way people are going to notice. I could never be Sarita for numerous reasons...mainly because I am not Sarita. Trying to mimic someone else doesn’t seem feasible or logical and I am just not that good of an actress! Elisa allowed me to do that. There would be times where I would try something new with a solo and it would be a complete disaster, but she let me try it! I think people who are courageous enough to be themselves, I’ll take it. There are a lot of people that are chasing after something that isn’t genuine to them. So the people that are just being themselves, you see coming a mile away. Of course I have my list of heroes that I love, but I don’t aim to be them. I think that their contributions are extraordinary or there is some element I like that I try to heighten in myself. If you’re the smartest person in the room then you should change rooms. You need to stay aware, learning and present. Sometimes that means being in a room surrounded by people that are far more intelligent, but then hopefully you can learn and grow from them. In an audition, if five dancers are all trying to be the same person, then that eliminates five dancers right there. You can’t look at the same piece done by the same type of person for thirty years, that’s just boring! We want to see individuals add to it and see where the pieces can go. Elisa is very open to that and by working with her for very so long it allowed me to also be open to it and see the value in it.
MA: Ideally, how do you see Elisa Monte Dance progressing in the next couple years? What are your hopes and dreams for the company?
TRF: I would like to institutionalize the company, ensuring its place in modern dance history, so that I am able to pass it to someone in 30 years.
MA: Besides a cell phone, what’s one thing you always have with you?
TRF: Chapstick. And I actually don’t always have my cell phone.
MA: If you could have dinner with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be?
TRF: I would like to have dinner with Hilary Clinton. Also, I would like to have dinner with the actual real life Jesus to see what actually happened. I read Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth not too long ago, which was an historical telling of what happened during the era he lived. It was really fascinating. Then I would invite Jim Henson. I really love The Muppets. With a mind like that, who wouldn’t want to talk to him?
MA: That sounds like a fun dinner party! Tell me about your idea of a perfect day off.
TRF: I would sleep until I woke up naturally. Then Matt would serve me breakfast in bed whenever I awoke. I might go back to sleep. If I was at my grandparents house in the Bahamas I would go for a mid day swim. Then I think I would make popcorn with coconut oil and either binge watch Parks and Rec or two movies in a row.
MA: What three qualities do you think are more important for running a successful dance company today?
TRF: The work has to be good. The company needs to be of a certain quality. Who ever is running the organization has to have a strong business sense because again just the work is not enough. I think that you need backers...people who believe in the work. You need patrons, foundations, government organizations to say, “Yes we believe in the work.”
MA: What “motto” do you live by?
TRF: I always say “Free to be you and me”. I think it’s just the way to be. I’ve just never been that concerned with other people, not in a mean way, I can just agree to disagree with you. I take people in for what they are and I hope they take me in for who I am. It’s has a very simplistic way about it and I don’t think there is enough of that happening right now. There’s a lot of tension and anger about people seeing things the same way. How boring is it if everyone saw everything the same way! There are a lot of things I don’t agree with, but I think people should be able to express it and other people should be able to hear it without it infuriating them to the point where they can’t see straight. It’s a bit dramatic for me! So, I say “Free to be you and me” or “Player’s choice” a lot.
MA: There’s a beautiful through line with that motto that ties in your perspective on individuality in dancing as well.
We hope you've enjoyed this bit on insight into the life and times of Tiffany Rea-Fisher. Stay tuned for more exciting pieces on Tiffany this month, and be sure to check out the blog the first Friday of every month for a new interview with the person of the month!