Carrie Rae Cunningham is the featured dancer on 10 Questions With… today–
1. How did you become involved with dance?
I was a late-comer to dance. I had always loved to dance and perform, even from a young age, but couldn’t attend dance classes as a child. I took my first Modern dance class at uni at age 18 and instantly knew that I wanted to be a dancer/choreographer and work in the dance sector. I double majored in dance and English, danced/choreo’d for several dance companies and theatres, then eventually became active in arts management and administration as well as writing about dance. I completed my Masters at Auckland University in New Zealand in 2004.
2. What are you currently doing in the field?
I am Assistant Director for Tempo Dance Festival in New Zealand, as well as being an independent choreographer, producer, dance writer, arts administrator and arts advocate. (You have to multi-task in this business.)
3. Would you share a special moment from your career with readers?
I remember my first paid gig as a professional dancer. After two months of rehearsals and a 6-day season with a modern dance company in Memphis, Tennessee, I received a check for $200. I was so excited I photocopied the check before I deposited it. I think I still have it somewhere.
4. What is the best advice you have received from a teacher or mentor?
To go with your gut instincts; they are usually right.
5. What has been your greatest challenge?
As a late starter to dance training, I was always in class with other students who had been doing ballet (and other dance forms) since age 4. It was incredibly intimidating at first and there were several occasions that I thought, “WHAT am I doing here??!! WHY am I doing this??!!” I spent many years (and many, many hours in the studio) playing catch-up. After a lot of blood, sweat and tears I eventually felt like I was technically and mentally strong enough to hold my own as a performer and choreographer, and to feel comfortable with the idea that I was a dance artist even though my pathway there wasn’t very typical.
6. Do you have any advice for dancers that want to go on to a professional career?
Take risks! Push yourself to do things out of your comfort zone and try new things. And work hard. Really hard.
7. What is it like to help direct a dance festival?
BUSY! Tempo is an annual event so there is hardly any down time. We are always working towards the next festival, even if we are in the middle of putting one on. It’s incredibly exciting, though, and I love going to shows throughout the year to see what artists are doing (and taking note for future festivals). It’s been really rewarding for me to see some of the artists and dancers come through several festivals and go from strength to strength. I’m eternally inspired by the dance community in New Zealand!
8. What has been the most surprising thing you have learned about dance in your career?
I was quite taken aback to learn, upon moving to New Zealand, that the national rugby team here (called the All Blacks) begin each game of rugby with a haka, which is an indigenous style of dance from the native Maori culture. I’m not exactly a huge rugby fan (unlike the rest of New Zealand who are rugby mad) but I love watching the haka before games. Even as part of a sporting event, I’m always moved by the power of it. I’ve often joked that the All Blacks are the country’s highest paid dance company.
9. What do you enjoy most about your life in dance?
Seeing what my fellow artists are creating. I get incredibly inspired when I watch dance, I especially love taking people who have never seen contemporary (Modern) dance along with me to shows and talking to them afterwards about what they thought. Their reactions and interpretations really fascinate me.
10. What’s next for you?
Hmm, I’d like to get back into choreographing one of these days. I have three young children and work part-time so finding the time to do that is pretty tricky. It will happen when the time is right, though. For now I’ll just keep spreading the good word – of dance, that is.
BIO: Carrie Rae Cunningham – Carrie Rae has been working with Tempo, New Zealand’s Festival of Dance since 2008, most recently as Assistant Director (2010-11). Originally from Memphis, TN, Carrie Rae graduated from the University of Memphis in 1999 with a BA in Creative Writing and a minor in Dance Studies. She has worked as a teaching artist and dance educator (trained in the Lincoln Centre’s Aesthetic Education programme) in the US public school system, as well as an administrator, producer and choreographer for a number of arts organisations, including serving as the Artistic Director of the Crittenden Arts Council in West Memphis, Arkansas for 3 years. She has also choreographed, performed and toured with Project: Motion contemporary dance company, based in Memphis TN, as well as choreographing and performing for Memphis’ top theatre company, Playhouse on the Square. In 2003, she came to New Zealand to attend the University of Auckland where she earned her Masters degree in Dance Studies in 2004, working with numerous local choreographers and performing in several dance productions. As well as helping to curate and produce the Tempo festival season, Carrie Rae writes for www.dancestuff.co.nz, a local dance blog about New Zealand dance. She has also worked with several top New Zealand dance companies in developing successful feedback policies for them using the Critical Response Process (created by American choreographer Liz Lerman).