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BWW Interview: KAYLA ROWSER, A Dancer's Life

Kayla Rowser - photo by MA2LA

As the reputation of Nashville Ballet has grown over the years, so too have the company's dancers' resumes and notoriety. Case in point: NB principal Kayla Rowser has graced magazine covers, been the subject of numerous media reports and stories, and she has become, without question, one of the best-known proponents of dance in a city where music has long reigned supreme.

Rowser is among a new generation of dancers who are now claiming their rightful place among the glittering royalty of dance around the world and how lucky are her Nashville audiences that she has chosen Music City as her home? When onstage, she's the very picture of ethereal grace and beauty. Offstage, it's clear she's just as beautiful and graceful, but there's a winsome charm about her, an engaging wit and ready smile, that sets her apart from the rest. Frankly, she's one of our favorites.

Without a doubt, when her name is associated with a Nashville Ballet premiere interest is piqued: Kayla Rowser's is a star on the rise, making her the perfect focus of today's A Dancer's Life.

It's the perfect opportunity for her admirers - whether they find themselves in the audience or, perhaps, sharing a stage with her - to get to know Rowser better, to find out what motivates her, what challenges her personally and professionally and, to be quite honest, what makes her performances all the more compelling.

Read on, gentle readers, and you'll understand why Kayla Rowser is one of our very favorite people, one of those who ensures creativity and imagination will continue to fuel our city's evolution...

Kayla Rowser, with Chris Stuart, in Nashville Ballet's Swan Lake
- photo by Karyn Photography

What was your first introduction to dance as an art form? My mom enrolled me in dance classes when I was 4 because I was always wiggling around the house!

What was your first real job as a dancer? Well, technically I was paid to be a dancer in a Power for Living commercial when I was in fifth grade. I missed school, danced around all day and left with a check with my name on it. I was over the moon! When I graduated high school, I joined Charleston Ballet Theater for a season prior to moving to Nashville in 2007.

When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in dance? My mom took me to see Alvin Ailey when I was really young. I remember being in awe of how the dancers moved and it was the very first time I had seen dancers of all different shades who looked like me. Even before I could truly process that, it impacted my view of what I could do with my dancing. And beyond all of this, the dancers were simply exquisite and inspiring.

Who is your dancing idol? I think there can be danger in idols. Sometimes once we place the term on an individual, we strive to be exactly like them in a way that negates our own magic and beauty within us. But there are dancers I've watched who have done particular roles as part of my preparation process, and the inspiration I find from those who are years ahead of me in their careers is so incredible. Watching a Marianela Nunez variation will never cease to excite and challenge me. She is beyond incredible. I'm also really inspired by Alina Cojocaru and Natalie Osipova. Growing up I saw Lauren Anderson of Houston Ballet on the cover of Dance Magazine in tan tights and a pink tutu and I was so excited and became a follower of her career. I hope I get to meet her one day!

Kayla Rowser in Nashville Ballet's Emergence
2013 - photo courtesy Nashville Ballet

Why do you pursue your art in Nashville? What are the best parts of working here? Nashville is such an amazing city and so very supportive of the arts. I'm so lucky to be involved with Nashville Ballet and the unbelievably driven, encouraging and all around talented artists each and every day. I am constantly being stretched to push harder, reach further and be the best I can by the beautiful and inspiring people all around me.

What is your dream role as a dancer? If you could dance any role, what would it be and why? One of my top dream roles is Odette/Odile in Swan Lake. It was a role I'd wanted to dance growing up, but I wasn't sure if I would have the chance to dance it. It was a dream come true in October 2014 when I made my debut in the role here with Nashville Ballet! This is also a role I hope to revisit again. I'd love to dance Kitri in Don Quixote as well. This would be quite a challenge for me as an artist and unlike any role I've danced before in terms of physical dynamic.

What is the biggest spot on your resume? What role/works is your most favorite. Definitely Odette/Odile in Swan Lake and getting the opportunity to dance my first Kylian piece Petit Mort!

What's the biggest misconception people have about dancers? We all hate each other and don't want each other to succeed, or we as female ballet dancers are weak and frail. If people saw what we endured for this career, they wouldn't equate ballet with being weak and gentle. Making what we do look effortless is by no means an easy task. We have more determination and will power than many people might believe. We've been invested in our careers before we even knew what they could possibly be.

Who would play you in the film version of your life story? Oh! Hmmm...Well I'm currently obsessed with all things Scandal, so maybe Kerry Washington?! She's a huge arts advocate.

What's your favorite work created for dancers to perform? One of the most mind-blowing and amazing works I've seen live was an Ohad Narahin piece called Minus 16.

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. Only three? Lauren Anderson - She's been on my list since I was young! Raven Wilkinson - She truly helped pave the way for those after her. I met her last year and I could have talked to her for hours! Igor Stravinksy - Dancing to his compositions is amazing! George Balanchine and Wayne McGregor - Both very different spectrums of choreography! I could keep going, but I've already broken the rule of three.

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 let someone tell you your dream is silly or too big. If someone is dismissive of your goals, it's because they don't understand them. Don't let that get you down. Always keep your eyes on big picture and remember that even baby steps up the ladder of progress add up over time...even if you don't notice them right away. Don't rush your story.

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