Olivia Tang-Mifsud
Edited by: 
Anna Prelack

Q: How did you begin dancing?

My mom put me in a silly dance class in pre-school. We just ran around.  My mom took me to a production of “The Nutcracker” at a local studio and I started dancing there. I never stopped dancing and when I was younger I didn't always love it. I wanted to get better by the time I went to highschool, so I had to decide whether to pursue it or not. I figured I would try it while I was young and if it didn't work out I could go back to school. My mom was always very supportive and I was lucky to get into San Francisco Ballet School and after that Joffrey in Chicago. This is my fourth season with Joffrey.

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

I think it has always given me a sense of discipline that I have carried throughout school and everything that I do. For me you have to give it 100% or there is no point to it.  You cannot put in half the effort.  As I have gotten older as an artist, I have to find a deeper meaning in everything and I apply that to normal life as well.  As a dancer it is very human and I think I have gravitated towards things that unite humanity.

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

For sure. It’s funny, dance has always been an escape but also something that has been one of the hardest things personally.  It has given me an escape but also been torturous sometimes. Whenever I was having trouble at home (we didn't have a perfect family dynamic, especially my parents) that always gave me an outlet.  It is nice because when you are dancing you have to be fully present or nothing will work.  So in that sense it is meditative, calming and an escape from everything else.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?

I love to travel, that has always been a passion.  To see from someone else's perspective and have those experiences change your mind.  Also, I am always inspired by film.  I love anything with a good soundtrack.  Good movie music.  I have a whole playlist on my phone for specifically movie music.  Apart from anything that is quirky or different, I am a big fan of Tim Burton, one of my favorite directors.  A lot of his films have music by Danny Elfman.  I go for quirky, different, unique movies like that.

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

One of the hardest things is the period of time when you graduate ballet school and you try to make the transition to a professional company.  I am sure you have heard that over and over.  It is so competitive and the way directors hire people can be based on anything from how you dance to your height, your hair color, or timing. That was very stressful because you work your whole life towards something and a lot of the times ballet dancers don't make it.  A lot of pressure is put on you at a young, impressionable age.  You just need to be persistent and have thick skin.  When you first join a company it is a whole different ball that came with a whole new set of struggles. That transition from student to professional was very hard. I had to go through it and it is much better now.

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

I think a lot of choreographers have come into joffrey inspired by something not completly related to social injustice, but inspired by it.  That is one way of telling a story.  I think hiring different kinds of dancers as well, in terms of race and sexual orientation.  I think it has grown a lot from what it used to be and there is always room for more diversity.

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

It has been so crazy.  As ballet dancers we are used to having our season and then at the end our layoff.  Everything is planned out.  For me, after we finish our last show I like to give myself a break and then plan when I need to start training for next season.  Now our season has been cut short.  The hardest thing is not knowing when we will be back.  We are in this limbo and as a dancer I am used to a schedule.  Luckily I have a space here where I can try and move around and keep in shape.  The lack of a schedule is the hardest part.

Q: Can you talk about how you felt with the Initial cancellations of things?

When it started to get pretty bad in California we were on tour in Berkley. Sanfrancisco Ballet cancelled the rest of their shows and we were close by.  We were not sure if we would be performing at all after the first performance we had.  We got back to Chicago and started rehearsing for our last program “Don Quixote.”  We didn’t know the performances in Berkley would be the last we would dance in for the season.  Chicago wasn’t as bad with the virus at the time, we didn’t think we would be shut down and then a week goes by and the mayor shuts everything down.  Initially it was a week, then it extended and went longer than anything anyone anticipated and people started going home.

Q: What did the Joffery Company do?

They were very supportive. They (administration) were in meetings 24/7 the last week we were at work and in constant contact with other ballet companies.  In a day they came up with a whole new season schedule and fast forward two days later everything was shut down.  The only information they could give us was how long they could pay us until eventually we have to file for unemployment.  That was hard because usually we finish at the end of may, so during the year we can kind of plan out financially how to save for the summer for layoff, but because we have an entire month cut off it will be hard I think.  Hopefully we can come back earlier to finish the season.  For the most part they have been delivering strips of markley for people at home who don't have a good surface to do barre.  They have done everything they can for us.

Q: What are you doing currently? How is the company looking?

This week they announced they would have company class for whoever wants to take it a few times a week.  Other than that I have been tuning into World Wide Ballet Class.  It is a new account started by two people that work at Sanfrancisco Ballet and they have started live streaming ballet class everyday.  They give a zoom number and are up to over 3,000 followers now and have guest teachers from all over to teach everyday.  I have been doing that too which is pretty cool.

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

Personally, I’ve gotten to practice piano a lot more.  My apartment in Chicago is very small so I don’t have a grand piano like we do here.  Reading is my other thing I love to do. I am happy I have more time to do that.  I don't know why but all my favorite books are all autobiographical or biographical. I like to learn about interesting people.  Right now I am reading “On earth we are brathly gorgeous” by Ocean Vuong, and that is an autobiography.  They also tend to be about immigrants.  I find that very interesting.

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 feel like I can see financially it will be rough but I see it being super positive. I think we take for granted everyday we come to the studio and it's hard work but I think ideally people would be super positive which we try to be most of the time just like with any work people can be negative and complain.  I think that will no longer be the case at least for a long time after this.  I think hopefully audiences will be hungry to see something beautiful or inspiring or artistic.  I think the world is missing that right now.

Transcription courtesy of