Friday, February 3, 2012

Mom In the Spotlight: Alexandra Beller

Alexandra Beller (MFA: U of Wisconsin at Milwaukee 2006; BFA in Dance U of Michigan 1994) is Artistic Director of Alexandra Beller/Dances. As a member of the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company (1995-2001), she performed in over 50 countries and throughout the U.S. She helped to create “The Belle Epoch,” (Martha Clarke and Charles Mee). She was a 2-year Artist in Residence at HERE Art Space, and has also been an AIR at Dance New Amsterdam.
Alexandra is on faculty at Dance New Amsterdam and has taught at the Atlantic Theater School, The New School, 92nd St Y, and at universities throughout the United States. She was a visiting artist at APA, CCDC, and DanceArt in Hong Kong, D-Dance Festival in Korea, Den Nordsk Balletthoskole in Oslo, Henny Jurriens Stichting in Amsterdam, Open Look Festival in St. Petersburg, Bytom Festival in Poland, and Cyprus Summer Festival in Nicosia. She was a guest choreographer at the U of Michigan, Rhode Island College, The U of South Florida, MIT, Texas Woman's University, Connecticut College, Texas Christian University, and Bates College, among others, and received an NCCI commission from Montclair State University in 2003/2004.
Alexandra’s choreography has been presented at and commissioned by Dance Theater Workshop, 92nd St. Y, Aaron Davis Hall, Danspace Project at St. Mark's, Joyce SoHo, P.S. 122, WAX, HERE, The Connelly Theater, SUNY Purchase College, Dance New Amsterdam, Symphony Space, and Jacob’s Pillow and has been commissioned by companies in Arizona, Michigan, Texas, Korea, Hong Kong, Cyprus, Maine, New York City, Florida, Boston, Rhode Island, New Jersey and elsewhere. Her company has toured through Michigan, Massachusetts and New York and received The Company Residency at The Yard in 2004 .
Film work includes “Romance and Cigarettes” by John Turturro.  She was the collaborator and subject of a series of photographs by Irving Penn, "Dancer," (Whitney Museum, Houston, Chicago, Sweden, London, St. Petersburg, Paris, Japan and other locations globally). Alexandra is also a part time dance critic and writes reviews for Recent projects include performances at the Henry Street Settlement, Bytom Festival in Poland, and Open Look Festival in Russia as well as a choreographic commission in Oslo, and a NY season at Dance New Amsterdam. Upcoming events include the premiere of her evening length work, “other stories” at ICA in Boston, and a subsequent tour to The Southern Theater in Minneapolis, and residencies in Nebraska, Iowa, Michigan, and Amsterdam.
Alexandra helped design the Choreographic Investigation Course at Dance New Amsterdam, a new training ground for emerging dance makers, and teaches regularly in the program as well as serving as a mentor for many of the participants. 

How old are your kids?  Boys? Girls?
2 boys. One 5 years old and one 3 months.

Where were you in your career when your child(ren) were born?
I was 33 years old, post touring career with a large company, mid choreographic/teaching career with my own company.

What were your plans? How did your plans square with reality?
I don’t think I really was able to plan since I didn’t have any idea what it would feel like to have kids, but I did hope to be able to continue to grow my company, and I was able to succeed in doing that after the kids arrived.

How does being a choreographer, an artist, play into your parenting?
I like that my kids get to witness art on a daily basis -- that the people, my colleagues, with whom they associate are all artists. And of course, I think an artistic perspective helps me parent creatively.

Has being a parent changed your dancemaking at all?
It makes me much more aware of the financial illegitimacy of art-making. It makes me both value and de-value the act of making art at alternate moments. It makes me more efficient with my time in the studio. It makes me dream faster.

You are a well-known and sought after teacher and choreographer.  What are your childcare arrangements for teaching, touring etc?  How do you make this work?
I always brought my first with me. I have never toured without him. He has been to Poland, twice to Russia, five times to Amsterdam, twice to Oslo, and all over the US. I get local childcare on tour, which I arrange with the presenter in advance and pay for usually out of pocket. Sometimes at universities they give me a work study student but normally even in the States, I pay for it.

As a regular woman, I was elated by my pregnant body.  Like many women, I had nude pregnancy photos taken. As a dancer, however, I’ll admit to finding my body rather upsetting, to put it mildly, both aesthetically and functionally.  Nudity is often an element in your work, and in the final days of your more recent pregnancy, you performed nude.  Can you share a little about this choice? 
I actually made the decision to perform in order to force myself to appreciate the beauty of my pregnant body, since I had gotten very down on myself during this pregnancy. Obviously I appreciate the miracle that is pregnancy, but I definitely suffered from body image issues, especially in the beginning before I was telling everyone I was pregnant, and at the end when I was ginormous.

Many mothers would like remain viable in their art form, not to mention satisfy their creative hunger.  The demands of motherhood and running a household, however, often leave little energy and time for this.  You, apparently, are succeeding at both. For the love of God, woman, share your secret!
I try to arrange for most of my work to be during the school times. In the beginning, I brought the baby with me so there was less time away and I could nurse at the studio on breaks. I’m quite tired. I phase my art-making so that it is not a constant going, but I will make a show and then take a break to spend better quality time with the family, then make another show. I try to take vacations. Bringing the family with me on tour helps me justify going, but makes it hellaciously tiring. I’m fortunate enough to be married to a man who supports my career and makes enough money himself that I don’t have to bring in a full half of our income.

What is the best thing Lucas, your older son, has said to you?
There are far too many to count.  I have a five page record of his words of wisdom.  But here is one of note:
Hubby (to me): "Does she like boys or girls?" 
L (interrupting): "I think she likes boys AND girls because she likes people, and boys and girls are people." 

Can we codify this somehow?

Best FML mommy moment?
Getting locked out of the apt I was sharing with my then 2.5 year old in St Petersburg Russia w/ no phone and only “Please,” “Thank you,” and “I love you” in Russian.

And here’s a recent one: Just the other night I was breastfeeding my 3 month old at 5 am when my 5 year old wakes up with a tummy ache.  My husband is in Australia for work. I am contorted to attempt a simultaneous tummy rub and breastfeed when he throws up all over the bed and me. Dumbfounded…

Your parenting style in 5 words or less.
Spontaneous, Magical, Loving, Democratic, Realistic   

To TV or not TV?
Hell yeah. But sufficiently guilty about it.

As parents we create a rich fantasy life for our children, both to stimulate their imaginations and to shield them from certain harsh truths.  Any household “tales” come to mind? 
The biggest one lately is simply telling our five year old things that the baby is thinking… (“Ivo really wants to sit next to you!”) And Santa was big this year. We already told him Heaven was only a theory…

What advice would you give women who are embarking upon their journey as mothers, but want to remain strong contenders in the dance world?
It sounds incredibly cheesy, but follow your heart. I was incredibly surprised that if I really checked in with myself I could figure out whether I needed to devote myself more to career or more to family because my heart would ache for the one I was neglecting. Now, granted, there is not enough time to devote oneself as fully as one would like to both, BUT if I really was honest with myself I would figure out where my energy really wanted to be.

Note: Alex typed this written interview one-handed, with a baby on her lap, and at one point also on the breast. 


  1. Wow, what a great interview!!! Never being a dancer I can't imagine what pregnancy must be like when your life if about moving your body and there is a passenger riding along and affecting what you can do with it. I love how you have incorporated your dancer life with your mommy life! And, only a mom could type, feed a baby and care for a baby at the same time! Mighty impressed!! Thanks for such a great post!

  2. This really was a great interview! I really enjoyed reading it. Such a different perspective, and a real treat!

  3. Wonderful interview, love the photos in your article.

  4. Such a great interview, really enjoyed it. The photos really brought a realness to it. Loved it!

  5. Must be exciting to perform in such historic places. Great to read your blog :)
    Have a great weekend,

  6. Great pictures and post :) Uhh, I'm NOT a dancer so I can't imagine dancing more so while pregnant. You're cool :)

  7. Great interview! I danced when I was younger, but can't imagine trying to do so while pregnant.


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