A Dancer's Journey: An Interview with Emily Schoen

We couldn't be more excited to welcome Brookfield native Emily Schoen back to the Wilson Center—where she will perform as a member of KEIGWIN + COMPANY. Emily attended the the University of Arizona, where she was graduated with honors in Dance and Nutritional Sciences. Dance Magazine chose Emily as one of their “Top 25 to Watch” in 2011. Emily is now a New York City transplant where she teaches, choreographs, and presents work. She is a current member of KEIGWIN + COMPANY and is also the Artistic Director/Choreographer of Schoen Movement Company.

KEIGWIN + COMPANY will be performing on our Beyond the Classroom series (for schools) on Friday, February 20, and will work with students from Trowbridge School of Discovery and Technology, Milwaukee High School for the Arts, Brookfield Central High School, and Milwaukee Ballet II throughout the week as part of our arts education community outreach programs.


WC: How did you first get started in dance?

ES: At age 4, I was taking gymnastics. The classes weren’t going well, apparently, because they were during my nap time, so my mom found out about a local dance studio – Accent on Dance – from the other moms at the gym and she switched me over. It was a perfect fit, and I stayed there until I graduated high school.

WC: When you were a child, who was your biggest dance inspiration? Who is your inspiration now, and how do they inspire you?

ES: I didn’t know a lot about dance icons or dance history when I was growing up, so my biggest inspirations were the older girls at the studio. The first professional dance company I saw was Parsons Dance at the Sharon Lynne Wilson Center for the Arts when I was 15. That was hugely inspiring to me. I recall sitting in the audience thinking, “I can do this.” It may have been that moment that I decided to pursue dance as a career.

I have many current dance inspirations. I admire the work of Hofesh Shechter in London and Crystal Pite of “Kidd Pivot” for their inventiveness of movement vocabulary and relevancy to the current dance scene. I admire Doug Varone for the passionate all-encompassing way he approaches dance making, and I love Larry Keigwin for the lightheartedness he brings to his work and life.

WC: Can you share one of your favorite memories of working with young dancers, either as a teacher or as part of KEIGWIN + COMPANY's education programs?

ES: I love teaching. My favorite memory of doing so was when I co-taught a class with Larry Keigwin for three weeks at the Bates Dance Festival. Larry was still recovering from an Achilles’ tendon rupture, so he brought me along to help out with the class. I loved seeing a consistent group of students for a longer period of time — watching them learn, adapt, and come out of their shells. By the end of the festival, I felt like Larry and I really knew all of the students and they really knew us. The teacher-student divide dissipated as we all grew comfortable working together.

WC: What achievement in your career are you most proud of?

ES: Last year, I received a surprise invitation to present my own work at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival. To do so, I launched a major fundraising campaign and had to run all aspects of a company – business planning, rehearsing, directing, tour coordinating – for the first time. When the performance came, I recall watching my dancers/friends on stage and feeling so full of pride and joy. I thought, “this is the coolest thing I’ve ever done.”

As a dancer, my favorite moment was performing with KEIGWIN + COMPANY at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. The show was a new partnership between the National Symphony Orchestra and current American choreographers. We performed on stage with a 120-piece orchestra behind us. The power and vitality of that number of live musicians was unforgettable. I can still feel it.

What advice would you give to students (and maybe even to adults!) about pursuing their dreams?

I would say that you have no choice but to pursue your happiness. What is a life without joy? Once you remove that choice from the equation, then it’s just logistics: one step at a time, one project after another. Don’t paralyze yourself with the idea of the future.

(WC = Wilson Center, ES = Emily Schoen)