Updated: Jan 26
Oregon Dancer Achieves Dream of Not Leaving the State for a Successful Career
Welcome Andrea Parson to Bird in the World Blog! Andrea is the premier dancer of Sarah Slipper’s Northwest Dance Project in Portland, Oregon.
Andrea and I attended the same small town studio under Director Anita Mitchell from the age of 8 to 14 years old. I was as impressed and inspired to dance alongside her then as I am today by her work in the cutting edge company, NW Dance Project.
In this new interview series, we explore the mindset of a professional performer and the roads that led them there. Thank you so much for sharing, Andrea!
Ok, let’s start with the basics, what age did you start to dance and after how many years of serious training were you offered your first job or professional opportunity?
AP: My mother enrolled me in my first dance class when I was three years old in Hillsboro, Oregon. I continued to dance throughout my childhood. At the age of 13 I decided to devote myself more fully to dancing and began to train more seriously in ballet and modern dance. I studied at Northwest Conservatory of Dance in Hillsboro, OR and attended summer dance intensives with the Joffrey Ballet, San Francisco Conservatory of Dance, and Northwest Dance Project. I was offered my first company contract with Northwest Dance Project at the age of 22.
So, it was about 9 years of serious training before being offered a professional dance job.
Nine years,wow...and in that time can you remember roughly how many auditions you went to? Did you have to take many rejections?
AP: After graduating college I attended about 3 auditions in Europe and was not accepted into any companies. I auditioned and was rejected twice with Northwest Dance Project before being accepted into the professional summer program. I was waitlisted and then a spot opened up so I was able to take part in the project. From there I was offered a contract for the professional company.
I was waitlisted and then a spot opened up
Amazing and would you say your first job was your dream job?
AP: I never imagined that I would be able to dance professionally in Portland, Oregon because there were very few professional companies.
I thought I would have to seek work in another city if I wanted to dance professionally. However, I think a part of me secretly dreamed of dancing in Portland because it is my home and my family live here. Also, Northwest Dance Project was only just forming a full-time company as I was joining.
Northwest Dance Project is a company that creates new work with a variety of international and local choreographers. I have been exposed to the voices of many artists and toured abroad, all the while staying close to my own roots in Portland. So yes, I have been able to gain my dream job and dance with my desired company!
If you cast your mind back, was there any point when you thought you might not make it as a dancer?
AP: There were times I imagined myself doing something else other than dance so as to be practical and please people around me. Though in my heart I always knew that I would make it because I felt the desire to be a dancer in a deep and powerful way.
Photo Credit Kristen Francis
There were times I imagined myself doing something else other than dance so as to be practical and please people around me
Of all the triumphs and successes in your career, can you pinpoint a “break-out” moment? Maybe a performance when everything seemed to change after that?
AP: Yes. In my first summer project with Northwest Dance Project I was cast in a piece with Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto. His contemporary ballet style was completely new to me and very challenging in a very inspiring and invigorating way. The movement was extreme and physically demanding, detail oriented, dramatic, and fast! After performing his piece in the final showcase I was offered a contract with Northwest Dance Project.
Can you describe that moment for us? Did you know it was a defining career moment at the time?
AP: Yes, I could feel a physical shift happening within my body. Because the movement was so demanding and fast, I had to let go and trust my body to flow in the choreography. My mind and body were completely absorbed in the work. I knew something was emerging within myself. I didn't know exactly where it would take me, but I could feel that I was headed towards becoming an artist.
Absolutely. So are there any personal mantras or habits you could share that helped you to stay motivated through the tough times before you achieved success?
AP: Keep working. I often felt like I was on the weaker side of the class or the auditions. I was shy and I really had to work at ballet technique. My heart and passion were there, but I knew I needed to improve my technique if I wanted to dance at a more advanced technical level. So I committed myself to work by taking extra classes and seeking out teachers that I knew would push me.
For me confidence builds slowly over time.
Of course, so when did you finally feel secure and confident in your career as a performer? What contributed to those feelings of assurity?
AP: For me confidence builds slowly over time. With each performance my confidence increases and I think there is always more confidence that can be found. Performing in more theatrical pieces like Carmen and Hedda Gabler helped me to conjure powerful energies as a performer. By engaging in the theatricality and drama of character, I felt more powerful and secure on stage.
And what would you say has been the high point of your career so far?
AP: Performing either the roles of Carmen or Hedda Gabler. I loved immersing myself in the mind of the character and allowing it to propel my movements. While in character I felt able to really go on a journey through the ballet and reach a satisfying level of intensity and passion. These big characters are big energies that command the attention of a room. It’s thrilling to get to play with that energy and dance with it.
On the flip side, can you tell us about at least one MAJOR set back in your early career?
AP: It's hard for me to pinpoint one major set back. I think a major challenge and struggle that I faced, especially early in my career, was accepting and trusting my body fully. I think I restricted myself to eating a certain way and obsessing about the ratio of food intake to exercise. I think this obsession held me back from being fully present in the process of making dance and performing. Anxiety is something I have dealt with throughout my career and have found tools to help me deal with it over time. I find meditation and laughter really help, I laugh a lot more now then I did early in my career!
Using just 3 words, describe the life of a professional dancer:
AP: Soulful. Devotion. Ritual.
Nice. What’s the one thing you are most proud of?
AP: I am most proud of being able to offer movement as a way to express stories and emotions of the human experience. I am proud of the work I get to do as both a company member and as a solo artist. Through this work I am able to be a part of bringing new creations into being. That is the most rewarding and satisfying work I can think of. So I am proud to be able to do that.
What was necessary for you, personally, to achieve your career in dance?
AP: I don't think we can achieve anything by ourselves. I would not be the dancer that I am without the dancers I have danced with, the teachers and directors that have coached me, and the audiences that have come to watch. Dance is a social activity. We dance with and for one another. In order to achieve a career in dance I have trusted those around me, and had faith in their abilities as well as my own.
Dance is a social activity. We dance with and for one another.
The dance world is constantly changing as we know. What have you noticed has changed in dance in the last 5 to 10 years?
AP: Over the past 5 to 10 years I have noticed more work being done around stories and storytelling. The earlier works I did were much more abstract and purely movement based. It wasn't until within the past 5 years that I had the opportunity to play a character. So I have noticed choreographers taking on more story based productions and blending dance and theater more. I also think dancers are being asked to step into more creative roles in the creative process. Dancers are being asked to research and develop movement more, thus playing more active roles in the creation of work.
Do you think there are more challenges facing dancers today? Are these challenges different to those you faced or do many remain the same?
AP: Finding work and making a living was and still is a challenge for dancers. Of course now there is more information at our fingertips to find classes, auditions, and network via social media. So in some ways it might be easier for dancers to find and create their own work now more than ever. I think that being connected and promoting through social media is now necessary in order to build an audience and connect with other artists. However, being too immersed in social media can take away from quality studio time. So we have to find the right balance.
So would you say you had an optimism about today’s dance opportunities and what the future of our industry holds?
AP: I see so many dancers and artists creating their own platforms for their work through the internet and social media. I think when used with the right intention, these outlets can give positive voice and opportunities for artists to grow, network, and create new work.
Out of all the things you've seen and dancers you've known, are there any secrets to making it? Be honest. We can keep a secret.
AP: I think generosity and gratitude can go a long way. The dancers I admire most are those who are generous with their partners and colleagues and who support and uplift the people around them. To me generosity means being open. Open to communication, listening, suggesting, making, offering and taking feedback, trying new things, and playing!
Connect with Andrea Parson at her website: www.andrea-parson.squarespace.com
Thank you Andrea! Sharing our stories with other dancers, dance creators, dance students and dance admirers really knits our community tighter together. Wishing you all well, see you soon for more interviews and another dancer’s story!
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