I spent my early training years (ages 8 to 14) at what was then a wonderful new dance school called Studio One in Clackamas, Oregon. There, I learned from great teachers who gave me a solid foundation, but by age 15, I was on a mission to discover the potential dance could have in my life. I had been included in the oldest group at my school, so I didn’t yet have a group of graduated dancers to look up to and model my budding dreams after. It was then that a friend encouraged me to take one of Michelle Mckinney-Holt’s Saturday technique classes at her studio, Dance Vision.
Michelle’s Saturday technique class is the cornerstone and heart chord of her studio. It’s an all center-floor technique class that ranges from yoga to Pilates to ballet. It was, and still is, an incredibly difficult class. On my first day with her, my eyes were opened to a new level of dance, not only in my own body but in the other dancers, as well. I learned that many of her students had moved to Los Angeles, completed the EDGE Performing Arts Scholarship Program, and had thriving commercial careers that previously I hadn’t even known existed. It exploded my brain at just the right time. I could see that she could lead me in the same way she led them.
Michelle’s teaching style is based on rigorous work and wildly enthusiastic support. It never felt like what she asked of us was impossible—she was there to tell us we could do it. I could feel her excitement for challenges that required effort. Her energy bolstered the rest of her dancers with that same excitement, and we were all eager to push ourselves in our rep. When I think of Michelle now, I think of her loud music, her jumping in to do the movement with us, and her voice asking me to do something that felt impossible, then yelling, “Wooo! You can do it!”
I remember one private lesson with Michelle in which we were working on my senior solo, and she asked me to do something along the lines of levitating my body horizontally, hovering above the ground. My young self wanted to ask, “What? Michelle, that’s impossible.” But she was unwavering, telling me that she was confident I could do it and that I just needed to try. I honestly don’t remember if I ever did exactly what she was asking me, but I remember feeling buoyed up by her belief in me. It pushed the bounds of what I thought I was capable of then, and later in my career, as well. Whether it’s as a dancer or as a choreographer, her lessons on hard work and support have been essential to me. Now, whenever I am faced with something that seems impossible or requires hard work (this industry has no shortage of those types of opportunities), I am able to embrace the challenge with enthusiasm and curiosity.
Michelle and I stay in touch to this day. In fact, I will be setting a piece on her and her students soon; she builds bridges between the generations of students so that we can teach and inspire one another. I want to thank Michelle for expanding my world as a young dancer, and for always encouraging me to think beyond and know that I am capable of anything I dream of. Thank you for reinforcing my belief in myself every step of the way.