When I reached out to my high school community, Mary-Evelyn was one of the first to respond and express her interest. We did not know each other very well back then. In fact, I'm not sure if we had spoken more than a couple of words in passing. But, we find ourselves sitting across from one another in Octane, one of my favorite local coffee shops in Atlanta. The crisp winter chill fades away as we sit in the center of the café where the sunlight is directly reaching for us through the windows. Prior to each interview, I mentally prepare for situations in which the individual has a difficult time opening up. I accept that some are more naturally willing to share than others and that is perfectly fine.
In her interview, Mary-Evelyn admits that she became emotionally hardened for a while after the passing of her mother. She admits that she can be guarded. But, the woman sitting in front of me seems anything but that. Her eyes are kind and her is smile soft. She is candid and willing to share her story and share of herself. She is strong. After I left the interview, I thought to myself these are the kind of moments that make Millennial Nomaad so special to me. Much like the profession of dance she is pursuing, Mary-Evelyn is a combination of both discipline and free spirit. And when you listen to her talk about dance, you see her come alive. Thank you to Mary-Evelyn for keeping it real with Millennial Nomaad and for speaking from your heart.
Occupation: MFA Candidate, Teaching Assistant
The key to happiness is: Dancing to the beat of your own drum
My kryptonite is: Queso
In three words, I would describe myself as: Dreamer, Realist, Lover of all things sweet and southern. I definitely broke the three word rule there
I dream of: A world that values the arts, the rigor behind it and the power that it holds
Success to me means: To be rich in love, to live a life that is true to myself and my purpose
Define curiosity: To be curious is to explore, to ask questions and to have an open mind
To be brilliant is to be: Yourself
To be a Millennial Nomaad means: Navigating through life to the best of your abilities. It means to be attentive to your desires and to fulfill your life through them.
MN: Dance has always been a huge part of your life. Were you hesitant to turn a passion of yours into a career by studying dance in graduate school? Why? How did you ultimately decide to seriously pursue it a profession and how has your relationship with dance changed as a result?
MH: I remember the day my professor, Natalie King, asked if I had started looking at graduate schools. My response to her was “no not yet…”, but at that point I had not even entertained the idea. In my head, that answer was a hard no. I didn’t know where I was headed, but I never saw myself in school past undergraduate. Before she asked me that question, I thought my chance to have a career in dance was over. It’s a difficult route to pursue. Competition is stiff, it’s hard on the body, and there’s not an abundance of job opportunities like there are in other fields. Amelia Pelton, the director of dance at Georgia College, and Natalie introduced me to a world of possibilities in dance and are ultimately the ones who helped me to realize my potential. They really gave me confidence in taking that step and the tools to do so. I gained a lot of confidence in my abilities to be on my own that year, my junior year in college, and I looked at graduate programs for the first time while I was studying abroad in Italy. I quickly realized that pursuing a life without dance was not going to fulfill me in the ways I was searching for. My love for dance is the most consistent thing I’ve ever had in life. That will never change. Pursuing dance as a career has made it more work than it once was. It is no longer just something I do for fun. It’s how I survive. Making that choice definitely came with struggles and I still sometimes question my path, but then I teach a really great class or I have a great rehearsal experience, and I leave feeling giddy. I feel powerful and whole when I dance. That is a feeling I don’t think any other career could ever give me.
MN: So much of dance involves an emotional connection. After dancing for so many years, what has this form of art taught you about both the limitations and expansive capabilities of the mind, heart and body? What is your favorite song to dance to and why?
MH: Your mind and body have infinite capabilities. I feel like I am fortunate to really know myself inside and out because of the mind-body connection we constantly investigate as dancers. I’ll dance to any song, but it’s also nice to move in silence. When I dance in silence the only influence I have is myself. Dancing has taught me so much about my tendencies and capabilities. I love to push myself physically.
MN: You mentioned that people sometimes do not understand how dance can be observed from an intellectual viewpoint. Based on your courses and experience, what is something you can share about dance that may surprise the average person? What do you wish more people understood about the profession and the subject matter itself?
MH: *Shakes head*…. If I had a dollar for every time someone questioned the prestige and rigor of what I do I would be rich. When I tell people I’m in graduate school, they often start out impressed. When I tell people what I’m in graduate school for, a lot of people get thrown off. So many of them don’t know you can get a graduate degree in dance. You can get a doctorate in dance studies. People ask me all the time if my parents are supportive of my choice, or if I can support myself as a dancer and the answer is YES. I’m very fortunate to have been raised to chase after my dreams, and that those dreams don’t have to be centered on finding the best job that’s going to make me the most money.
I want people to know that my program is no less academic than any other graduate degree. We read, write, and present research just like any other degree. For my thesis, I have to write a paper discussing my research process and findings, and orally defend it to a committee – just like any other graduate degree. I also have to choreograph a minimum of 20 minutes of work. Choreographing a piece involves a lot of research. What makes my degree unique is that in addition to text, much of my research is embodied. Many people also don’t know that I’m a graduate student and a Teaching Assistant. I teach at the university, so on top of my own coursework, I have the unique opportunity to organize and facilitate my own courses. So many people assume I want to open my own dance studio. If that were the case, I’d be opening my own dance studio. You don’t need an MFA for that. I’m going to graduate school to get an education and to be a well-rounded, strong, quality dancer, choreographer and instructor.
MN: When we were discussing vulnerability, you mentioned the passing of your mother a couple years ago and how this actually pushed you to really pursue what you want from life. I find that to be so beautiful and brave. How have you used that pain as a source of motivation to live life to its fullest in your personal and professional life? What does a meaningful life look like to you?
MH: I was 19 when my mother passed away after a very long, exhausting battle with Breast Cancer. My mom was 48, and when she passed it was a huge wake up call for me not to wait to live. I never imagined I would lose my mother so young and I had to look the phrase “life is short” right in the eyes. I was a mama’s girl growing up and when I lost her I felt like I matured overnight. I needed to be strong for my dad, my brother and my Mimi and so that’s what I did. I got tough. Some would probably say I got mean. It really hardened me. I was angry at life and felt like I had lost control of what was happening around me so I took control of myself and my life and I started LIVING. I traveled places, I made bold decisions and I got very honest with myself. I decided I would rather chase after what I love and take a chance than sit and wait for good things to happen to me. I lost my faith for a while and then found it again through the book, “Captivating”. Losing her was a catalyst for so much change in my life. The majority of those changes really hurt, but I have become so independent because of them. I’ve learned a lot about what I need in relationships, what I need for myself, and what is important to me.
MN: Fear can both propel people forward or hold them back in life. Using adjectives and imagery, how would you personify/describe fear? How has a moment of fear served as a catalyst for growth and ultimately inspiration towards reaching your potential?
MH: Fear is a real barrier. Fear is like a wave that constantly works against you. Sometimes it’ll sneak up on you and other times it’s like watching at a tsunami about to engulf a piece of land, but you’re the land. My initial reaction to fear is always to give in and let it win. When I’m faced with a challenge I have a terrible habit of thinking of all the reasons why I can’t do something or why it won’t work. On the other hand, I’m usually pretty good at recognizing those insecurities and putting myself back in place. If you can look at fear as a challenge to overcome or a battle to win, the outcome can be quite satisfying. My family plays a huge role in helping me overcome fear. My dad is always the first person to bring me back to earth when I start spiraling into a world of anxiety. He constantly reminds me of my capabilities and encourages me to pursue those things I see as challenges. I was afraid to go to graduate school. I had never lived by myself and I didn’t really know anyone. I doubted whether or not I would be happy and be able to thrive on my own. I leapt out of my comfort zone when I moved and it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself.
MN: Love. Sometimes it can be difficult to express what feeling we are exactly searching for. How would you define being “in love”? How is your perception of love changed over time? How is your view of love similar to or different than your friends or our generation as a whole?
MH: I had the tragic privilege of watching my parents say goodbye to each other. I call it that because while it was easily the most devastating thing I’ve ever witnessed, but it was also the strongest vision of love I’ve ever seen. When I imagine love, I think of my parents. I think of two people who gave themselves entirely to one another. I think of two people who built a life together and who lived for one another. My parents were kind to each other, respectful of each other and had a lot of fun together. I grew up with a lot of comfort in my home. I think a lot of people in our generation think of love as a state of being. Love is a feeling, and I don’t think being in love means to always feel love. Love is selfless. It’s messy and grey and ever-changing. The older I get, the more I realize how important it is to me to have a strong, committed, selfless love. It’s important to me to build that same feeling of comfort that I witnessed in my parents and that I had growing up in my relationship.
MN: There is a proverb that goes as follows: “The Japanese say you have three faces. The first face, you show to the world. The second face, you show to your close friends, and your family. The third face, you never show anyone. It is the truest reflection of who you are.” Who is the real Mary-Evelyn today and how has she changed from the person she was in high school? How do you wish to be seen?
MH: The real Mary-Evelyn is a beautiful mess. Some days she is on top of the world, confident as hell and thriving. Other days, she feels broken, lost in a world of grief, and lonely. She’s always concerned with making other people happy and has to remind herself that her happiness is important too. She’s fierce. She’s honest. She stays true to herself and her beliefs. She can be stubborn. She’s indecisive. She’s goofy. She loves to be outside with the sun on her face, surrounded by good people with good food and drinks. She’s active mentally and physically – always thinking, doing and dreaming. She values good relationships. She thinks the world of her family and thanks God for those beautiful people every day. She starts every day with a cup of coffee and ends it with a something sweet. She is grateful to be alive and for the privilege of education. She’s grateful for good friends and her sweet boyfriend, Cody. She finds happiness in the simplest of ways like riding with the windows down and listening to the Red Hot Chili Peppers. She knows herself inside and out, and she’s proud to be the woman she is.