Spectacular control and effortless extensions separate longtime Merce Cunningham Dance Company member Holley Farmer from the crowd. A late bloomer, it wasn’t until age 16 that Farmer began taking ballet classes with Hae Shik Kim at the Fig Garden Dance Studio in Fresno, CA. She was a natural. After dancing with the Theatre Ballet of Canada and in Toronto’s production of The Phantom of the Opera, Farmer returned to California to perform with the Oakland Ballet. She was unexpectedly diagnosed with a stress fracture in her fifth lumbar vertebra, but she used her recovery time to complete a B.F.A. at the Cornish College of the Arts, then an M.F.A at the University of Washington. It was at the latter that Farmer first met Merce Cunningham, who was in residence there. In 1996, she was asked to become an understudy with MCDC, and in 1997 she joined the main company. Farmer’s body of work with the troupe earned her a New York Dance and Performance Award (a “Bessie”) in 2004. After a rewarding career with MCDC, Farmer recently began working with another dance trendsetter: Twyla Tharp. —Marisa Graniela
Holley Farmer with Koji Mizuta and Silas Riener in Merce Cunningham's Nearly Ninety (Anna Finke)
Don’t accept that apprenticeship at the bakery. I know it seems like a good idea—a job that maybe, one day, will get you to France. But trust me, you’ll get to see France without that apprenticeship. You’ll get to dance at the Paris Opéra—twice!
Keep hope for your dance career alive. Right now, as the oldest and biggest in your dance class, you feel totally awkward. Even the 10-year-olds write you off. (Well, you did show up to your last recital already wearing your tutu. Promise me you’ll put it in a garment bag next time!)
But soon, something important is going to happen: Your teacher is going to give you the keys to the studio. And there, alone, you’ll work out why you can’t do lame ducks and why you love jetés. You’ll fall on your butt and lose track of time. You’ll discover that your greatest gift is your love of movement.
So here’s what to do if you want to eat croissants in Paris, not make them:
1) Nurture your talent. Surround yourself with people who remind you why you love to dance.
2) Figure out your body’s strengths and weaknesses. Work on that core!
3) Start writing letters and filling out scholarship applications now. Opportunities don’t grow on trees.
4) Study other arts and cultures. The world needs dancers with a point of view—so find one!