BWW Interviews: Dance Theatre of Tennessee's AMANDA WHITES, This Dancer's Life

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Amanda Whites is a vital member of Dance Theatre of Tennessee's company and, like all the other company dancers, she's hard at work on the season-opening tribute to ballet mistress Elaine Thomas on the occasion of her 75th birthday. Yet, somehow, she found time to consider our questions and to give some thoughtful answers to our regular queries in our continued attempt to get inside the minds of all the talented dancers in the Nashville area.

Enjoy yourself as you get to know Amanda Whites better, it will make you appreciate her artistry even more...

What was your first introduction to dance as an art form? The first live performance I saw was a youth company's performance of The Nutcracker when I was three. I'm not sure I consciously realized it was an art, but I did realize what those girls did was miles away from anything I had ever seen. I immediately wanted to be one of them. 

What was your first real job as a dancer? Well, when my parents came to an observation class the first year I was dancing they noticed that I didn't smile like the other little girls. They asked me why and I replied that I was at work and had to be serious! So I guess in a way I always treated it as a job. But the first time I got paid I was a senior in high school. It was a showcase for former dancers who lived in central Kentucky and I was featured as a "rising star."

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in dance? I've danced practically since birth. I don't know where I was introduced to the concept of a ballerina, but as soon as I knew that was an option that's what I decided I would be. The first time I seriously considered dancing professionally was probably when I was applying to colleges and realized that no other career would make me as happy as dancing did. 

Who is your dancing idol? This is definitely the hardest question! There are so many beautiful dancers in the world, it would be impossible for me to just choose one. What I really love is seeing a live performance and picking one girl from the corps to focus on for a dance or an act. It's incredibly inspiring to see someone dance to their fullest potential and show true joy when they're not necessarily the focal point of the audience. That's beauty, that's dedication, that's ballet. 

Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here? I pursue my art in Nashville because I found a wonderful home at DTT! I not only love the repertory, I love the mission we all share to bring art to the people. I think Nashville is the perfect place for a company like DTT- once you see a live dance performance, there's nothing that compares to it. Nashville already embraces live music, so live dance is the logical next step. 

What is your dream role as a dancer? If you could dance any role, what would it be and why? If I could dance any role it would be Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. It's such an iconic role- who doesn't associate a ballerina with a swan?

What is the biggest spot on your resume? What role/works is your most favorite? I like to think that all my performances have taught me something and have made a difference in my life, but of course I enjoyed some more than others! I loved doing Nuts last season- it was a comedic love triangle that was really technically demanding. My part was almost all partnering, which was a big change for me - I'm so tall it's hard to find a partner to match!

What's the biggest misconception people have about dancers? I think the biggest misconception people have about dancers is that we aren't very smart. Many dancers go to college and have successful, "normal" careers after dancing professionally. Our minds are sharp because we have a ridiculous number of things to think about every day - there's a checklist for your body placement, plus learning combinations quickly in class, plus learning new choreography on top of the hours you know already, plus applying corrections and changes, plus trying to listen to your body to avoid injury. Oh, and you have to look pleasant and act your part while going through all of that as well. 

Who would play you in the film version of your life story? I think it would have to be Kat Dennings (Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist, Two Broke Girls). We look weirdly alike. 

Whats your favorite work created for dancers to perform? I love Balanchine's Prodigal Son. I saw it for the first time in Saratoga at an outdoor venue and got a really strange sunburn from The Shadows of the theater and the setting sun. Clearly I didn't move through the entire ballet! It's that captivating. 

If you could have dinner with any three figures (living or dead, real or fictional) who are a part of the world of dance, who would you choose and why? The three figures would have to be Balanchine because he revolutionized the way dancers move, Natalia Makarova because not only is she technically gorgeous, her artistry is just breathtaking, and my teacher and mentor Clark Reid from Louisville Ballet and Ballet West. Clark passed away five years ago and I would love to have one more chance for him to guide me. Also, the look on his face when Balanchine walked in would be priceless!

Imagine a young person seeing you onstage or seeing a production in which you played a major role coming up to you and asking you for advice in pursuing their own dream...what would you say? Never, ever give up! It may not always be easy, or be fun, or even seem possible but why would you waste your life doing something you didn't love?

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Jeffrey Ellis Jeffrey Ellis is a Nashville-based writer, editor and critic, who's been covering the performing arts in Tennessee for more than 25 years. He is the recipient of the Tennessee Theatre Association's Distinguished Service Award for his coverage of theatre in the Volunteer State and was the founding editor/publisher of Stages, the Tennessee Onstage Monthly. He is a past fellow of the National Critics Institute at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre Center and is the founder/executive producer of The First Night Honors, held during Labor Day Weekend, which honor oustanding theater artists in Tennessee in recognition of their lifetime achievements and includes The First Night Star Awards and the Most Promising Actors. Midwinter's First Night, held the first Sunday in January after New Year's Day, honors outstanding productions and performances throughout the state. Further, Ellis directed the Nashville premiere of La Cage Aux Folles, The Last Night of Ballyhoo and An American Daughter, as well as award-winning productions of Damn Yankees, Company, Gypsy and The Rocky Horror Show, with Ellis honored by The Tennessean as best director of a musical for both Company and Rocky Horror.


 
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