Catherine Messina
Edited by: 
Anna Prelack

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I started dancing when I was two.  My parents had a one sport rule growing up, and I liked dancing too much to quit.  I initially went to ballet school in New Jersey, and even went to ballet summer intensives like Orlando Ballet and Washington School of Ballet.  But, people would tell me that my body was not right for ballet so I wanted to find a school that had different types of dance when I began looking at going to college. I almost didn't apply to Emory because it felt far from Pennsylvania but I figured it was one more application, and then ended up there. They definitely have a “hidden gem” dance program. There is funding for you to go to the Bates or American Dance Festival, programs like that. The professors at Emory are connected with the Atlanta dance community and they have a lot of choreography and performance opportunities.  As I got older, my professors encouraged me to try for the professional dance world.  I graduated, and had networked my senior year. That was two and a half years ago now. I was offered a job at Kit Modus and that is where I am now.

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life? Or, has dance ever been a hardship in your life?

Both for me.  If you come from a heavy ballet background there is a point where dance may become a hardship.  It can get in your head. I am not naturally gifted in many ways: I do not have great feet, no fantastic turnout, not naturally flexible etc etc.  But, I worked on those things and overcame them.  It was definitely hard in the beginning after graduating, and the hustle.  It also was hard when I got really sick and had to wake up and dance because I never felt good.  I knew if I stopped I wouldn't start again, so I had to keep pushing. And of course, it is hard to get denied from a job you really wanted.  But, dance has also saved me in many ways.  It makes me feel powerful, free, and like I can overcome anything.  Growing up, I lived in a big family with my siblings, parents, and grandparents and dance felt like a place to escape to -  I always had dance as a constant in my life.  I made so many friends through dance, and I just love performing.

Q: How do you feel when you perform?

Kit Modus does a lot of athletic phrase work.  Performing that on stage I feel powerful and grounded.  I'm in a state of flow where my mind just rides it. It almost feels like everything just slows down, and I can see it all so clearly.  I am lucky that I can pick up choreography quickly, and it feels like the greatest adrenaline rush, even if the movement is more internal or more theatrical.  I just love being able to tap into the feeling of that other world, and deeply connecting with the people on stage.  You are a part of this community that is just pushing.  I have never felt anything else like it.  It is hard to put into words.  It is also a neat feeling to think you brought a choreographers vision to life.  It is an element of exchange of trust between dancer and choreographer.

Q: How can dance be a platform for social justice issues?

I feel that because dance can be multimedia more than any other art form, those topics can come together to create another world for the audience to think about a topic in a way they may have not before. There is music, movement, and the environment/set.  It's about giving light to things that are not given representation or making sure people see something in a different light.  Dance is able to do that by showing people vulnerability.  There is a fair amount of social justice work being shown in Atlanta right now.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

I think the COVID crisis hit at the worst time in the season, March and April are the busiest times in my season.  I had eight shows cancelled; I was so excited for these shows. My own choreography was going to be shown through Dance Canvas the week after COVID hit, and it was sad to have to rehearse for eight months and not be able to show my work.  Also, one of my dancers is moving, so she will never be able to perform it. I paid my dancers out of pocket even though the final performance never happened because I felt they deserved it.  One show was rescheduled to June and of course, that was cancelled. I teach at 3 studios.  One studio closed down immediately and laid off everyone. The other two immediately began with virtual class. The studios need to be able to pay rent, especially as Atlanta becomes more and more expensive. You can tell the studio owners are stressed. They cut classes and combined others, so now I am losing revenue from that as well.  Some studios are non-profit, some are privately owned, and they all have different structures.  That is why I work at a few studios because if one went down I would have other places to go. I applied to a few funding grants but over 2000 people have applied.  I feel like the grants always go to more established companies versus an independent dancer in Atlanta.  Everytime I apply for a grant it goes to someone who has more clout, which makes sense, but is hard when everyone is struggling.  

Q: What is your current daily routine? How do you feel about resting during this time?

I have two autoimmune diseases and I have been working on getting them stable for the past year and a half. When the pandemic hit, I was in a good place, but the stress triggered a relapse into some symptoms.  Rest has been very important for me.  I let myself sleep in the morning, especially now that I have less commitments.  Then I usually do my own ballet barre in the morning as well as some yoga.  I do not have a lot of space in the house. There are six people here.  In the afternoon I may film a virtual class or do work for a non-profit in marketing and website design (I work for them part time).  Towards the end of the day I try to go on a run or do a small muscle group workout. When I am feeling creative, I try to create something and film it, saving it for when the world begins again.

I know a lot of people have taken this time to rest, which is great, but it is really important that I try to keep a workout routine because of my autoimmune diseases.  If I don't stay active my systems flare up. That is why I personally workout. I do think there is a lot of performative culture about posting workouts online and I have made a conscious effort to not do that because I feel it becomes a competition.  It's increasingly hard for me to engage in Zoom classes.

Q: What other interests have you delved deeper into during this time?

I am really interested in psychology and child development. I have this book called “The Body Keeps The Score” and how the body and the mind are affected by trauma.  I like to research these topics, but until now, I didn’t have a lot of time. When I am home, I hang out with my dog a lot. I have also spent time making websites, which has actually been surprisingly busy at this time. It seems the individuals have the time to get me the information and I have time to put it together.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic? Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?

I am a part of a few Facebook groups in Atlanta and I have seen the community of artists come together and people delivering food to one another.  I have seen people checking in on one another, offering resources, for example, I sent my baby ballet class to a few friends who teach in preschools and they sent it out to their families.  It has been a sharing of resources which has been great.  Atlanta is the 49th state in public art funding, which is tough. But I've seen more donations raised for artists than ever before.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

In my perfect world the arts would have more funding.  I have seen a meme that said, “When this is all over, remember what kept you entertained!”  I also dream of more people filling the seats.  We talk about this in Atlanta a lot.  It's the same people at a lot of different shows.  I want to see a new audience going to dance shows and wanting to experience dance.  I also wish for a gentler love for humanity after this.  I would love to come out of this with an understanding that capitalism does not work as it is right now, and we come out of this with a deeper self understanding, and we move to having programs that help everyone afford basic things. I just do believe healthcare, food, and shelter are rights, and could be attainable if our government cared. I want them to care. I want to see a shift in changing the system, I don't know how that will happen, but that is what needs to happen.

Transcription courtesy of