December Interview: Maria Ambrose
It's time to wrap up the month, the holidays, and the year with an interview from our very own Maria Ambrose. Moving from interviewer to interviewee, this EMD dancer goes in-depth about her love of literature, the many mottos that govern her life, and how bacon and pancakes are a must for every dream meal.
JG: You always seem to be reading a new book. What is your favorite book and/or author, and why?
MA: I love reading in the city because I spend a lot of time on the subway and bus. The MTA isn't the most scenic forms of travel, so reading is a great distraction for me. My favorite author of all time is Ernest Hemingway. I like his characters and the time period he wrote in. Also, the settings of his books are some of my favorite places I've been or would love to go…Key West, Paris, South of France, Cuba, etc. My favorite book of his is The Old Man and The Sea followed closely by The Garden of Eden. I'm also a big fan of Ken Follett books. I've loved a lot of books and authors I've read though, I am not picky at all.
JG: Do you have a favorite style of literature? Least favorite?
MA: Give me cheesy beach reads, give me classics, give me nerdy science fiction. At this point in my life, I pick up a book to enjoy a fun read before bed or during my travels. I'm not trying to impress anyone with my reading list. Actually, one of my favorite series to read is the Key West Food Critic Mystery Series by Lucy Burdette! They're just fun and great "beach reads". They have these hysterical names like Appetite for Murder and Death in Four Courses. The author included the recipes mentioned in the stories at the end of each book. I made the key lime cupcakes with coconut frosting for my boyfriend's birthday last year and they were a hit. I will pick up a challenging book from time to time as well. Actually funny story, in 4th grade we had this big presentation where we had to come in dressed up as some famous figure in history. Most of the girls in my grade showed up dressed as the Olympic figure skaters of that time. I came in as Mark Twain. I wore my Dad's suit jacket and glued cotton balls to a swim cap.
JG: Is there any connection between your love of reading and your love of dancing?
MA: I started to love doing both at a very young age. My Grandma would take me to the bookstore in the summer once a week and let me pick out a Great Illustrated Classic. They were easy-to-read adaptations of classics. So some of the first full books I read were Oliver Twist, Gulliver's Travels, The Swiss Family Robinson, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. So much of those stories went way over my head at that time, but I appreciate that at an early age I learned how to just sit and be by myself and strengthen my imagination. In my opinion as a performer, it is our job to transport the audience, similarly to how a good book would. Without the imagination, the stage remains a black floor with a curtain and wings. Modern dance doesn't usually have elaborate sets or effects to rely on to create an obvious backdrop to the dance. That is up to the choreography and the dancers on stage. At least something I am working on is incorporating my imagination into my movement. How can I take this performance outside these walls and bring the audience with me? I think that is what makes a great dancer and a great book. There's the connection!
JG: When did you realize that you wanted to be a professional dancer? Was there an “aha” moment, or did it come gradually?
MA: When it came time to picking colleges and majors, I considered the option of going to school for something else and just dancing on the side. The thought of that was so grotesque and impossible that I think right then I was like "hey I can't live without this I'm going for it". That was a pretty big moment for me. Before that I had just taken dance for granted. As if my body had decided that it would always dance, but my mind still considered other options. I loved soccer. I played on teams year round and always went away for soccer camp during the summer. I think in high school I was better at soccer than I was at dancing. But when I actually was faced with a moment that I had to choose, my body took over and I just knew it was dance. A lot of dancers say that. Dance is so much a part of our identity there's just no question.
JG: What is your best dance-related memory?
MA: Oh definitely getting the call from Tiffany that I was hired. Both times haha! The first time when I was hired as an apprentice was even more exciting because I was only 2 months out of college. Not only was it a relief, but it was seriously something I didn't think would happen for another 2 or 3 years...if at all! Leaving college was terrifying because there was just no guarantee about when I would perform again. So that particular phone call still makes me excited to think about.
JG: If you weren’t a dancer, what would you be?
MA: I don't know. But I want Ina Garten's life on Barefoot Contessa. Hang out in my beautiful house in the Hamptons and teach people how to cook and decorate and send my husband on errands and laugh about it. I feel like I'd be satisfied with that. I am also fascinated with media marketing and business strategies, but I would have to go to school for it to really understand what exactly I'd like to do with that. Other than dancing, I can't even imagine a specific job title I would go after. But, I do know what I am good at and bad at, so if forced to find another job I would just follow those guidelines!
JG: Describe a day in the life of Maria Ambrose. In my head you are working outdoors on a cranberry bog in New Hampshire with your family while wearing some sporty yet stylish outerwear and everyone is all smiles and completely blissful. I know its not like that 100% of the time, especially since you actually now live in NYC, so what is it really like?
MA: Ha I'm a long way from blissful NH now! I'll let you keep that exact image of me in New Hampshire though. That's totally what my days there are like...everyday. Just one Ocean Spray commercial after another. Wink, wink. I am so lucky I got to grow up in New Hampshire though. I spent everyday outside in the woods or on a lake. It was so picturesque and peaceful. I've made a nice home in NYC though. I grew up in a very relaxed and calm environment, so despite the crowd rushes of NYC, I still try to live my life like that. I think it can be very tempting to follow the energy of New York and push your body and mind to the limit, but I like to keep my own pace and make sure I rest and call my own shots.
JG: What makes you happiest?
MA: Pancakes and Bacon. Real bacon. and real Maple Syrup.
JG: If you could have dinner with 3 people, alive or dead (or future?), who would they be and why?
MA: Woody Allen. Ernest Hemingway. and Prince. That conversation would be incredible. Woody Allen would talk the whole time, Hemingway would pick a fight with him and Prince would make us all pancakes.
JG: What inspires you? Is there a certain place you go or activity you do when you are in need of artistic inspiration?
MA: When I need inspiration, I get away from dancing. I go see movies, I hang out with friends, I go shopping and take in the sights and the people. It can be really refreshing to give the mind a break and just hang out and enjoy life. When I go back to dancing later, my mind is clear. I think it is important to go to class and refine your technique and keep the body strong, but I think it is equally as important to go into rehearsal with a sharp and interesting brain. A friend of mine got me interested in boxing, so I have spent this month off taking private lessons twice a week. I am obsessed! It's like my version of yoga. When I leave the gym I feel so zen. It is also beneficial for dancing. It keeps me on my toes, helps me map out where my weight is and how I am going to use it, and forces me to be as efficient as possible or else I will be exhausted after 2 minutes. All of those things are incorporated in dance, especially Elisa's work since it is so physically and mentally taxing. You can't blow it all in the first 2 minutes or else the remaining 15 minutes will be absolutely dreadful. And I gotta admit, it feels pretty bad ass to hit things.
JG: What is your routine before (or after) a performance? Is there a particular meal, exercise, even song you like to listen to that completes the performance ritual for you?
MA: I have the worst pre-performance ritual. I am so mad at myself for ever getting involved with it. I have to go over every dance beginning to end pretty much up until places is called. I started this in high school when it was fine because dances were 3 minutes long. When I got to college I worried that if I didn't do it before each show I would blank out on stage. So it became a superstitious thing. Well, I can't give it up now. The other dancers are usually stretching and listening to music and breathing, meanwhile I am in the corner marking through each piece at lightning speed. I do get very nervous before shows still, so continuing to move and focusing on the sequence helps calm me down and keep my mind off my nervousness. My post-performance ritual is eating more than I thought humanly possible.
JG: Do you have any advice for other dancers out there?
MA: Put the work in. One time in high school my dad said to me "sometimes you just have to kick yourself in the butt." He said it because I didn't want to go to school for 2 days in a row. It was senior year, I was over school and ready to move on. It was a really simple thing to say and he didn't elaborate on it, but for some reason it resonated with me. You have to put the work in. Keep yourself in shape, eat well, keep your brain active and alive, and stay engaged. If you don't want to go to class everyday, then don't go to class everyday, but figure out what you do want to do to be a dancer. Put the work in and make a plan! And enjoy yourself. Maybe not every single moment, but if you aren't finding any enjoyment in the pursuit of dance then maybe some reevaluating needs to be done. That's my opinion.
JG: Describe your perfect day off.
MA: It depends where I am. Perfect day off in NYC: sleeping, seeing a movie, going out to dinner. Perfect day off in NH: My mom's pancakes and bacon, taking the boat out on the lake, enjoying wine by the water, and getting a lobster dinner. Perfect day off in Key West: sitting on the porch drinking a cafe con leche, a bike ride, a burrito for lunch, and live music for dinner.
JG: If you could dance anywhere in the universe, at any time in history, for any choreographer (that is not Elisa or Tiffany), what would you choose (the three don’t have to correlate)?
MA: Okay not including Elisa or Tiffany, I would love to do Paul Taylor's Esplanade on the moon.
JG: What is your motto?
MA: Oooo I actually have a motto I seriously live by. I think my dad made it up. He wrote it in a letter to me once and I have Googled it to see if someone else made it up because it's that good, but nothing pops up. Which makes sense because when it comes to living life, my dad has pretty much nailed it:
"Sometimes you have to be still and give happiness a chance to catch up."
It's another way of saying "stop and smell the roses," I suppose. So when I am feeling particularly overwhelmed or unfulfilled I will literally stop myself and think about all the wonderful things I have going for me and all the wonderful things I have experienced in life. I watch so many people get down on themselves because of something they're "not" doing or haven't accomplished yet. Which is only natural for this generation because most of us (including me) will wake up and immediately look at Instagram and Facebook and right away see what everyone else is doing that we are not. Information is spoon-fed to us at lightning speed, so of course it's easy to become overwhelmed and overlook the positive. It's also the easiest time in history to compare yourself to your peers. I'm all for social media, I love it, but I do make sure to chill out and think about what I am doing personally as much as I am thinking about my Facebook friends.
This motto is a great boost of energy and motivation too. It can put a smile on your face and that's better than any food, drug, or drink. Be still and give happiness a chance to catch up!