Interview: Quincy Ellis
Edited by: 
Alana Galloway

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I went to school at Emerson College in Boston for acting. I didn’t go to school for dance. I got into movement work in college and it came quickly to me because I was a gymnast and figure skater as a kid. I was immediately drawn to movement-based work. Approaching my acting work through a movement lens allowed me to tap into things easier. Out of college, a friend started a small dance company in Brooklyn, and I had just moved from Boston to New York City. I worked with her for seven years in the company. Her work was inspired by Pina Bausch. It was more repetitive and pedestrian movement in comparison to a contemporary dance company. We produced our own work in the city. I have always been someone who is much more interested in working collaboratively and producing work as opposed to going to auditions. We built things from the ground up. About 6 years ago, I saw a call on Dance New York’s website for male dancers for Pilobolus. I knew of the company but I didn’t know it very well. I emailed one of my good friends I had been dancing with and asked if I should go to this. I am hesitant to go to dance auditions because I don't have real dance training. Most of the things I auditioned for previous to this was for acting work. I had done different shows in the city and worked on film projects, but not dance one. So anyway, I auditioned for Pilobolus but didn't get a job. I made it to the final callback and three years later I auditioned again and got a job. Now, I have been working with them for a little over 3 years now.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance? Or what is something that inspires you to do your craft?

I love editing video and audio, and I do some little things for the company. I got into that because I would cut my own music together for skating programs. I’ve also always appreciated the film industry. My mom was surprised I went to school for acting. She thought I would go for directing. I have always enjoyed film, even as a kid. Hobby-wise, teaching is a big thing for me. I feel like I learn a lot from teaching students and I find it so inspiring to watch kids experiment with things. They often take what you give them and make it their own. How kids approach things is a lovely reminder of how to stay creative and excited. For the company, now I run the Instagram account. We get messages from people around the world from people that interact with the company. It’s nice to see this as a performer. It’s a reminder that what people see us do has been inspiring for them and they also send us videos and things that have inspired them. Just getting to interact with people is so nice. I also watch a lot of TED talks that have nothing to do with dance or performance, that’s a big hobby of mine.

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

Money. Let’s be real. It is always very challenging as an artist to balance your income and time if you are not independently wealthy or have family that can support you. I have worked at the same restaurant for the last 12 years in New York City. It is a challenge to do your creative work when you have to spend time doing something else in order to pay the bills. I think that that also can lead to other things like remaining motivated. Energy is hard when you dedicate 8 hours a day to something that isn't art. It can be really challenging, keeping the creative energy while doing another job. Before I had my job with Pilobolus and I had fewer performance jobs, I would always make sure I had one teaching job to make sure I stayed creative. Also collaboration - all the work I do is very collaborative and that is something that Pilobolus is known for. All the pieces are created with the dancers. Professionally that can be very challenging. It takes discipline to get through a collaborative process. Our artistic directors can still edit things we may have liked, you have to be willing to mourn it and move on. Also checking your own ego to work with others during a process, there can be lots of arguments. As a performer, maintaining friendships is hard. Before I was travelling so much for work, performance jobs are usually one off things. I am fortunate that I’m with a company where people stay for a few years so we get to know one another. Before Pilobolus I would be with one group of people for a month and then it would be over. You are thrown into an intimate experience with people and then you go back to your friends you haven't seen in 3-4 weeks because you were with others. It can be challenging to maintain those relationships you hold dear.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Yes. With dance, it is one of the only live performance forms where you take one moment or emotion and make it a 20-minute piece. I can take how I am feeling for two seconds and stretch it way longer--that’s the beauty of a dance piece. It’s really easy with that modality to get lost in letting it live for too long. That’s the general challenge with dance. The fear I always have with attacking a social challenge in a dance piece is that danger is very real when you work on something that has to do with social change. It is very possible but you don't want to get stuck in it for too long or in one moment of that. I think there are beautiful dance pieces that attack those kinds of issues and I think the most powerful ones are done in a very subtle way. They make people think without even realizing it. It’s a powerful tool for dance in general.

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)

We were out in Colorado for two weeks when this all started to hit the fan. Our show in Denver was cancelled three hours before the show was supposed to take place. The rest of the entire spring tour is cancelled so I am out of performance work. Because my survival job is at a restaurant, I am out of work in general. The company has tried to stay motivated. For me, I have moved back to Maine to be with my family. The thought of being stuck in NYC with no way to get to them was scary, so I came here [Maine]. We, as a company, have been working remotely to keep each other motivated by playing at home. We have a Google Drive that we post videos to and our artistic directors will give us notes on those videos and ask us for more things. I have been helping promote a digital dance movement by a friend, Jacob Jonas. I also see different companies putting out prompts and then people send in video responses, which is really inspiring. Performance is gone but I still feel busy. I’m obviously not making much money but it’s keeping me motivated and I enjoy it. I have to file for unemployment for the first time in my life. I always had a survival job to go back to if I was out of performance work. Moving home is very interesting. I am glad to be home. But also when you are going to be 35 in September and you’re living with your mom, it’s interesting. I haven't lived here in a long time. I will also say I have been in contact with people more than I have been in years because there is time to do it. I don't have to be anywhere so I can pick up the phone and give people a call.

Q: What were your Initial reactions to the US shutdown? What did that look like for you?

When we first got to Colorado it was kind of looming. It (COVID-19) was in the States, we knew it was here. We had two of the collaborators for the company, Béla Fleck and Abigail (Abby) Washburn (they are both musicians - Béla is one of the best banjo players in the world, he has won many Grammys.) I was texting with Abby because we would be driving though where she lives and we would love to stop by and hangout. She said her gigs were getting cancelled but that hadn’t happened to us yet. We had work from other artists that things were being postponed and stuff. Towards the end of the two weeks when we got back to Denver, things were escalating. We were keeping track of the different states with outbreaks. We were really surprised the show in Denver was cancelled. It was rough for the crew, our four man crew set up the whole show that they had been working on since 6AM. All of the dancers were about to get to the space to do a warm-up when we got the call. We were going to have a meeting with the artistic director and company manager to talk about the coming months. We knew it was likely that the rest of our tour would be cancelled or postponed. From there, questions were about how we will get home. Two of our dancers decided to drive from Denver to the East Coast to avoid the airport. I have a good childhood friend who lives in Denver and he came to the theater to come visit and he said I wish I video taped the conversation of how the company will be dealing with this. It was so interesting. We are a small company so we are all very close. I think it is scary for the crew as well to be out of work. After that happened our tour stops were postponed. We are fortunate that most of the theaters rebooked for next season so our work is literally postponed which is not the case for a lot of other companies. Some things just get cancelled. I have a lot of friends who do different performing arts work and everyone is struggling right now.

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 have personally found it is a nice time to work on how we can be more sustainable. The fact we can slow down has allowed me to really look at the habits that I have and the habits of those around me. With all the reports coming out about the environment being more healthy, the observation on what that is and what we do with the planet is very clear. It allows me the time to look and see what I use in the kitchen and be like, “Why am I using plastic wrap?” That is something I have noticed for myself.

On a larger scale I think it has opened people’s eyes to how many people struggle on a day to day basis. There are people others do not pay attention to and now the economy is having a hard time, it is very clear that there are a lot of people struggling day to day and they really need help now that their work is gone. I would like to think people will make time to make changes in their personal life because that is how change happens - on a grand scale. I worry that the polarization of this country will make it hard politically for any real change on a grand scale.

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’ve seen all of those little things on Facebook that are like, when you are out of work you turn to entertainment to get through it--you’re watching Netflix and all these things. Especially living in the States, financially it is really challenging to run a company. We don't get governmental aid; we’re not a European dance company. I would love to see the general public realize the performing arts are something that matter. I would also hope that a lot of performing arts entities capitalize on the fact that the performing arts provide something that is important to culture and human connection. I would love to see the performing arts community be more demanding and say we are a necessity. I think in the US, entertainment is a way to get out of your own world, which is totally necessary for the entertainment business in general. I would also hope that art as a way of allowing an audience to think about something and leave a space changed will be more prevalent in the entertainment world. Also that performing artists take more stock in their worth. Dancers are the most underpaid. It shocks me that I break my body everyday and I make dirt change compared to someone who sits at a desk and types on Wall Street. I understand why but it is challenging that we have to fight tooth and nail for money and there is no way for us to have healthcare coverage when what we do for a job demands healthcare. I would like to think that the community realizes it's hard work.

Transcription courtesy of