Five questions for Nellie Rainwater
Name: Nellie Rainwater
Title/Occupation: Choreographer, Dancer, Teacher
URL (s): www.rainwaterdances.org
1. Where did you grow up and how did you end up where you are now?
I grew up in Rhode Island. I sort of made a circuitous route to New York after going to college in Minnesota, and then living in Korea, and Washington, D.C. for a few years. When I finished undergrad, I did not expect to be dancing in my professional life, but once I found out that life was pretty unbearable without dance, I decided I needed to weave dance back into my life and make it all work somehow. I ended up dancing for a few modern dance companies in DC, and I moved to NYC for grad school at Tisch School of the Arts/NYU in 2008. In May, I finished my M.F.A. in Dance and started Rainwater Dances.
2. Which performance, song, play, movie, painting or other work of art had the biggest influence on you and why?
It’s hard to choose one thing! Well, I double-majored in Dance and English in college, and one of my favorite books from then and now is Bad Behavior by Mary Gaitskill. I first read it in a creative writing class, and I think one of the things about it that really stuck a chord with me was the rawness of the characters and the brutal honesty of her stories. I am also fascinated by gender roles, and I love how she explores those dynamics without compromising what is true. She does a wonderful job of balancing really complex characters and situations with such sweet, simple and direct language. I love those paradoxes. The biggest lesson I get from reading her work is to follow my instincts, even the weird ones — even when it’s easier to resist and do something safe. I try to go to those quirky places, because that specificity and detail is what makes the work original. I’m still learning and digging, but I think that being true to the peculiarity of my own voice actually allows people to connect with the art I create on a deeper level. I hope so anyway!
3. What skill, talent or attribute do you most wish you had and why?
I am a huge introvert, but I love performing, which I know is a bit ironic. Also, in terms of choreography, most of the time I try really hard to let my work stand for itself. I feel as though each dance piece should be like a poem that exists in a space beyond words. I like a certain amount of ambivalence in my dances and for that reason I don’t always enjoy talking about my work, and I’m really not very good at it! I can be very bumbling and roundabout when trying to describe a dance, even when the piece comes from an idea that I have put a great deal of thought into. I’m so focused on expression through movement that it can be difficult for me to translate dance into conversation. So for that reason, I have often wished for the ability to be at ease as a public speaker. It would be so much easier if I could just articulate myself in an intelligible way without shyness getting in the way. It’s something I’m working on.
4. What do you do to make a living? Describe a normal day.
Right now I make a living through teaching yoga and doing arts administrative work. A typical day includes giving myself a yoga class in the morning, working in the office, and rehearsing with my dancers or teaching a yoga class in the evening. After being in school for two years, I forgot how hard it is to work in an office for extended periods of time. Movement is so important for all our bodies and minds! Especially for dancers though, it is so easy for us to get depressed if we’re not dancing. You just have to keep moving no matter what.
5. Have you ever had to make a choice between work and art? What did you choose, why, and what was the outcome?
When I was living in D.C., I had just started an administrative job when I got a dance gig with Meisha Bosma, a choreographer who was doing a show with a live symphony orchestra. I felt really badly because I think it was literally during my first week of work that I had to ask my manager at the office if I could drastically reduce my hours. Ultimately, though, I knew I had to choose the art. And the office ended up being understandable and flexible, which I was also very grateful for.