Today we’d like to introduce you to Emily Haussler.
Hi Emily, we’re thrilled to have a chance to learn your story today. So, before we get into specifics, maybe you can briefly walk us through how you got to where you are today?
RESILIENCE Dance Company began as a quick scribbling of ideas in a notebook while I was dancing for a professional ballet company. I was frustrated with certain aspects of the dance world – that dancers were frequently overqualified and underpaid for their work, mistreated and undervalued, and that production needs always seemed to trump human needs. Not only had I experienced many of these frustrations personally, I knew countless friends with similar stories.
So I wrote up a quick sketch of a new project – “RESILIENCE Dance Collective”, at the time. I chose the name Resilience to specifically honor the emotional, mental, and physical resilience of dancers. Some of my central ideas included paying dancers first, adapting to alternative production styles, providing adequate physical and mental health resources to help ease the strain of a dance career, and working collaboratively to ensure all human voices were heard in a creative process. I didn’t care whether I made dance in a proscenium theater or a park, or whether I raised $500 or $50,000 – I just knew I wanted to create a space in which artists came first, and good art followed.
At the same time that I was working my way through these ideas, I was also self-producing my own full-length dance concert (while also dancing full-time). This project, entitled “fine lines between” was essentially a post-graduation challenge for my best friend and me. We just wanted to see if we could do it. Setting out to create my own dance production as a person, not a company, was an incredible learning experience. Because there’s no real guidebook, I just started doing things – inquiring about rehearsal space, recruiting dancers, googling the best fundraising platforms for artists. Then came booking photographers, renting videography equipment, learning about music rights and costuming, not to mention connecting with lighting designers, building a tech crew, setting up ticketing, marketing, and confirming a theater space. But because I had no guidebook, I was empowered to create new models at every turn. I was able to test run some of the ideas I’d been playing around with “Resilience”. What did it mean to give each dancer a real voice, bodily autonomy, and creative liberty? How could I highlight my dancers as humans first? What could I negotiate or let go of in terms of production, to make sure my dancers actually got paid? How could I support my dancers with adequate resources to do their jobs?
“fine lines between” premiered April 19, 2019 at The Looby Theater in Nashville, TN. We sold 93 tickets for an hour-long show. The production involved 14 collaborators – 6 Dancers, 3 Choreographers, 1 Lighting Designer, and a 4-person tech crew – and all gave resoundingly positive feedback on the process, noting that they had never been a part of something quite like this. Everyone kept asking the same thing – what was I going to do next?
So I took a step back and thought: If I accomplished that much positive change in my little dance community as a person, what good could I accomplish with a real platform, like a professional company?
Thus, RESILIENCE Dance Company was born. I moved back to St. Louis and got to work.
We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
First off, I’ll just note that in the two and half years my company has existed, we only had four months without COVID. So building a company that already works to challenge traditional structures, during a pandemic, has inevitably been difficult. The pandemic prevented us from doing the type of outreach work we’d like to do in classrooms and businesses. It also forced us to cap our audiences for performances, reducing our potential reach, and affected our funding sources. Not to mention that dancing through a Zoom screen presents a number of challenges.
The irony begs to be noticed though, because of our name – Resilience. Of course, we’ve been forced to grow under difficult conditions – that’s what we were built to do. So of course, we adapted, innovated, and fought our way through, pivoting to virtual programming, running classes remotely, and sharing much needed resources for artists to survive. However, despite the challenges that we, and many other arts organizations faced, we never missed a payroll. All our dancers, choreographers, teachers, and collaborators continued to get their regular, full paychecks, despite funding cuts. That accomplishment is part of what sets us apart, and part of what kept me going despite the difficulties.
Outside of the pandemic and its challenges, I’ve been heartened by the support our organization has received. We are not alone in calling for change in the dance world – there are several individuals and organizations fighting for better working conditions. They too want an end to toxic norms, like weighing dancers or paying in “exposure”. Hearing from and connecting with these activists is incredible and energizes my work. They remind me that we’re not just making art, we’re driving systemic change.
Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
First and foremost, I’m the Founder and Director of RESILIENCE Dance Company. Since founding the company in 2019, I’ve choreographed two full-length dances, directed two dance film projects, and produced several professional and community events. My favorite production was “Making Room” – a full-length dance built from vignettes showing different perspectives on care. It premiered in May 2021 and was the first work that I felt really embodied the essence of my artistic voice – which typically focuses on finding visceral human connections through empathy, vulnerability, and honesty. It also reflected my collaborative choreographic process and featured input from the full company.
I don’t claim to have a highly unique way of moving or a hyper-original dance style – I pull from what I know, which includes modern, ballet, improvisation, contemporary, and occasionally some jazz. What sets RDC’s work apart comes from the space we build and the processes we undertake. By holding space where dancers truly feel heard, valued, and supported, we can create and perform works that bring out the dancers’ humanity and prompt immediate connections. Our performances are undeniably engaging – they pull you in. In fact, when you attend an RDC performance, the first thing you’ll feel is the intimate and visceral nature of our works. Here the dancers deserve all the credit – their commitment and presence create a transcendent experience that even I struggle to put into words.
Finally, I am proud of RDC’s holistic commitment to our mission of putting artists first. It would have been easy to stop at just increasing pay or hiring a mental health therapist. Instead, every single decision traces back to how we can put artists first. For instance, what does it look like to hold a fair and open audition? How will we handle rejections and feedback in a way that’s honest but empowering? How are problems within the company dealt with fairly and ethically? What opportunities are needed in our community, and how can we make them accessible? This requires careful reflection at every turn and the questions are sometimes incredibly difficult to navigate. However, our unwavering commitment ultimately strengthens the company and sets us apart. We don’t just talk the talk – we truly live our mission.
If we knew you growing up, how would we have described you?
I’ve always been an over-achiever, a multi-tasker, and a perfectionist – sometimes to my detriment. When the library held reading competitions, I was the 10-year-old checking out 20 books at a time so that I could win one rubber duck and bragging rights. In middle school, I walked down school hallways with my nose buried in Harry Potter, thrilled with my ability to simultaneously read and successfully navigate a crowded hallway. In high school, I pretty much took every AP class I was allowed and filled my free time with 25 hours of dance a week and NaNoWriMo’s 50,000 word writing challenge.
I enjoyed reading, creative writing, dance, hiking, baking, and science. I was somewhat introverted, and had a couple very close friends, who were my confidants and support system. In college, when I had to work harder to maintain these friendships, I noticed that I might be lacking balance in life. I started trying to challenge my perfectionist and over-achiever tendencies, recognizing that work isn’t everything. I became a peer-counselor and found joy in community work. I spent quality time with amazing people and learned to set boundaries.
Now, my innate desire to succeed helps drive my work forward and keeps me motivated. My perfectionist tendencies help ensure that no detail is overlooked, though my boundary setting abilities help me delegate when it gets to be too much. I know that people and community work are of the utmost value, and I find enormous fulfillment in carrying out RDC’s mission. I’m still a work in progress, like all people, but I feel reassured by a daily, mindful attempt at balance.
- $5 Open Company Classes
- $10 – $15 Performance Tickets
- Website: www.resiliencedancecompany.com
- Instagram: resiliencedancecompanystl
- Facebook: resiliencedancecompanystl
- Donate Link: https://www.paypal.com/donate/?hosted_button_id=SPGBDLXTVFWQQ
Sam Fink – Lumosco Photography