Interview: Michael Greenberg
Edited by: 
Alana Galloway

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I grew up in New York. I started dancing when I was six. I started with tap and kind of only did tap for a while. Then I had a friend at my elementary school who was taking class at The Ailey School and so I went to take class with him. Then, from age six to eighteen, I did the Junior Division at the Ailey School. I started training there, and then I went to Laguardia High School for four years. From there I did a BFA at NYU Tisch, then the freelance scene for two years and started making my own work. I have my own collective called N E 1 4 Dance. We would do festivals and perform in different places, it was just another way to be creative while being a freelancer. I was dancing in four or five different companies and working a pilates front desk job. I was a supernumerary (“super”) at the Metropolitan Opera -- it's like an extra who walks across the stage in shows. I would wear a shield or swords and walk across the stage, or if there were Operas where it needed to look like they had an army I was called in. My family moved to New Zealand, but I have been in New York since I was six.

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

What hasn’t dance taught me? I think it teaches you a lot. For me I found I like to pursue a dance world where I can think and be active and creative in it. I am not someone who likes to fit into the mold and fill the lines and just be a dancer. I want to be someone who is a maker and someone who can actually think actively about problem solving and creating. It has taught me different ways of being creative and different ways of approaching the world. It has definitely made me a more personable person. I think I’m not afraid of people because of dance. It has also taught me how to enjoy being a leader and a host. It has really shaped me into the person that I am now because I’ve devoted a lot of time to it and learned a lot from it.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre professional and professional career?

I think I am super lucky to come from a household that accepts me being an artist; a lot of people don't have that support. I have been lucky to pursue what I do and not worry too much about money. At the same time you would hope one day you can make enough money to sustain yourself on your own just through your art, not having to have side hustles. I think that is something I want to do. For me it has been cool to taste different worlds. I got to be on a national tour and there is more money there than concert dance. I can differentiate between when I want to do the same thing everyday or do five different projects at the same time and be creatively fulfilled but not make as much money as touring. I think it’s cool that I get to go between doing both, but I think a big challenge for me was mentally staying really interested in what I was doing at the time. I find that I am someone that needs to be fully interested to continue to invest in what I do.

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

Any art form can be and is. I think that what is cool about dance is that it is a human body and you don't get much more literal and expressive than seeing someone else of the human race perform for you or dance for you or be in front of you on a stage. For me, dance is the epitome of an art form. It can express so much in terms of getting across a message because you are actually seeing that message on stage and it is a message relayed through people and seeing people is how others connect. I think it is an easy way for audiences to connect and see something that is human in front of them and that is how we relate with others. It is easy to say you can make a dance about anything, but it is true you can really make dances about difficult topics and that is the most important thing -- to create things we want people to see and things we want our voices to be heard about. I think the platform of dance is a really moving way to do that.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist? (community, financially, initial reactions, company shift, online class, emotions, initial cancellation reaction)

The most obvious answer is it has removed me from my most recent job. I was on tour with Fiddler on the Roof since July. We went out for our six month tour and we made it until March. After two weeks in Boston and then a week in Detroit, which was cut short, they sent us all home. It was very abrupt. There were rumours of cases when we were in Arizona about a month before everything got cancelled. There was one case there when we were in Arizona but no one was really worried. Then Boston prohibited us from interacting with fans outside the stage door. We couldn't sign autographs and they were deep cleaning the props. From Boston we went to Detroit and that's when it started getting really bad. Each day we were seeing new information about things closing. Then Thursday, we didn't know we were having our last show, but we did a show for half a crowd in Detroit and on Friday we got an email that the rest of our weekend was cancelled. Then Saturday, they sent us another email that said we were cancelled for next week in Kansas City and they didn’t know what other cancelations might come up so they were sending everyone home. That is where we have been from there. After being home for a week or so we had a company meeting and they told us they had to cancel the remainder of the tour. So COVID-19 has left me on a job hiatus at the moment because that is the end of my contract for the first year and we are waiting for the contracts for the next year which are supposed to come out in August but I don't know if I will be a part of that.

Q: Can you talk about the initial cancellation of the tour? How did you feel?

The whole outlook on a tour like this is you are hopeful when something bad happens, you think maybe we will be back on soon and this will only take a few months. This tour was supposed to go until May 18th so we were hopeful it would blow over. We initially thought we’d miss a couple weeks, a couple months maybe. We thought we would at least finish the last couple of shows. I guess when the news hit that reality was in front of us, that we wouldn’t get to finish this tour, it was pretty devastating. For me it sucks to leave on such a note, you want to have closure over a tour like this. You want to go out knowing you did your best last show. To perform our last show and not know that it was our last really was hard that we ended like that. We were hopeful going into the layoff that they would figure something out and we could go back but, as you can tell with the state of the U.S. right now, that didn't feel realistic to the producers so they cancelled the rest of the year. Everyone was left pretty devastated because we left with no closure. We left on a very sad note on Thursday night in Detroit.

Q: Have you stayed in touch with company members during the pandemic?

This is tough for us because at the beginning of this the communication was key. We didn't get much information at first. We were supposed to actually go to Kansas City directly after the week in Detroit even though they cancelled the shows. We were supposed to stay there for the week with no shows and see what our next location was but they ended up changing their minds and said they were just sending us home instead to be safe. There was a lot of waiting to see what would happen. I think that was happening with a lot of shows on tour at the time too. No one knew if we would be flying or busing the next day. The producers and company management didn't even know what the protocols would be or what to do. Ever since we got back to NYC we had one big company meeting with some of the producers and all company members where they explained everything to us: the decision to cancel the show for the rest of the year, and the reasoning behind. We haven't gotten anything after that meeting though, so it’s kind of been up to us to stick together. The dancers in the cast of Fiddler on the Roof all have a group chat and we keep track of each other. Sometimes we have Zoom meetings where we talk about how we feel and what is coming up next year and the possibility of joining Fiddler on the Roof again. It is nice to stay connected with them. These are your family that you’ve been with for the past six months. It is hard to just leave everyone.

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

For me, with being in an intense show and doing eight shows a week for a very long time, I have really enjoyed the rest aspect of this. It is not the most productive thing but it is nice to actually sit back and let my body heal for a little while. A national tour is not an easy thing to do and not easy on your body, especially when you’re doing so many shows a week. I think what has been nice about the layoff is the fact that I can let my body rest and relax a little bit. I play tons of video games. I talk to my friends and family, I host a Zoom game-night every Sunday night with my friends in NYC. I cook a lot and eat a lot of great food. I go up to my roof often just to get some fresh air because we can't really go outside. It is nice to have a roof in the city. I used to work a front desk at a pilates shop and they’ve been really kind. After filing for unemployment they offered me a part time position remotely to manage the front desk and manage their schedule and to contribute to their pilates Zoom sessions. It’s just a lot of games and friends and food.

Q: Have you been able to file for unemployment in New York?

Unfortunately I don't even know if I fully filed for unemployment, it’s complicated. NYC has been overloaded with the amount of people filing for unemployment. So what happened was we got back from the tour and we got an email that said “file for unemployment in your state of employment (New York)”. Well when you’re on a tour performing in different states, technically your state of employment is the company’s state of employment which was Maryland, so there was a lot of confusion with that. I ended up trying to file with New York. There’s no chance on the phone. The first step is online but you would go on the website, the website crashes. You restart your browser, you start to type things in, you get to step one, it would crash again. So I realized it’s a race, you have to do it as a race. You have to know what you’re going to write, you have to copy and paste as fast as you can. I would make it to step five and then it would crash or say “sorry, your time ran out.” So I would restart from step one. I would make it to step nine, then it would crash. Then I tried it one day and it went through and I clicked “ok” and then it said “congrats, you filed a claim, now call the unemployment office.” So that’s part one and then you have to call the unemployment office to submit your claim and get your benefits. But the issue with that was that I would call and it would say “this number is not accessible for you” and say “error,” like it wasn’t even a valid number. It has been completely overloaded and I haven't been able to get through so I don’t think I will get my benefits anytime soon. People say you should call at 7:30 in the morning but it's just a mess right now. I know people who have called like 68 times for unemployment and not gotten through. It is pretty sad.

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?

Despite the crises we are in, it [the pandemic] is bringing people together that normally wouldn't be together. I just had my Passover seder last night. My parents live in New Zealand now so I haven’t had a Passover seder with them in a couple of years because of the distance. My family got their friends together from all over the world that they haven’t seen in a long time and we all had a Zoom seder. We’ve all kind of been forced to acclimate this technological age so we can actually function and do our jobs and connect with people. I think it has forced many more elderly people to learn how to use this technology to be able to connect with people. I am talking to a lot more friends on Zoom and people I wouldn’t normally talk to every day because our lives are so crazy. It is nice to slow down and actually get to have conversations with people. That aspect of things has been positive. Going forward we have learned new skills and know it is possible to have a seder with people from seven different countries at the same time and I think it will be something we do more often even once this is over. I don't go out and get groceries anymore. I did the first few times but I have asthma and my family is worried about me going places so we have been trying to do Whole Foods delivery. You stay up until 12am and hope there is a slot for them to deliver and sometimes you get lucky and you can get it ordered for a random day the next week. But other times you have to wait a week to even put the order in. I hate middle man grocery runs where someone else shops for you and picks out your fresh produce. That has been annoying because you never know what you’re going to get. Sometimes they don't even know if things are in stock at the store. I also have a gym in my building and it doesn't seem that bad to have one person in at a time, so if you had a google sign up or something like that and had everyone wipe it down after they used it, I feel like that would be a way to use something that is there for you instead of locking it down. I don't know.

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.)

I think the performing arts continue to be malleable, even during this. People have gotten creative. Yes, we can’t have live class, but we can do class online. We can now watch all these choreographers and their pieces through our phones. The performing arts will continue to be what's happening now mixed with what happened before this crisis. I think ideally we add cool creativity through online access into a world of real life access. I think the problem with the online aspect is it is not sustainable for the economy of dance. It is not making people much money at all. It is a tough balance because these are free things or donation based. Ideally if money was not a thing in this world we could have both. But I think in terms of connectivity you have these videos sending improvisational dance moves around the world and making a video of someone in China and someone in NYC doing the same phrase or you can take a class from someone in California that you would have never taken or considered doing. I don't know how stable that will be money-wise after the crisis is over.

Transcription courtesy of