Two young American dancers, Mikaela Kelly and Jordan Pelliteri (a former DS Cover Model Search finalist!), recently landed their dream jobs with the prestigious second company NDT 2, of Nederlands Dans Theater. So they packed up and headed abroad, ditching NYC subway trains for bicycles in The Hague, Netherlands.
Dancing abroad becomes about so much more than just working (although these girls work 13-hour days most of the time). It's also about traveling, being homesick, dealing with unexpected cultural differences, and potential language barriers. So, what's it really like to dance in Europe? We caught up with the pair to find out.
For many dancers, the idea of leaving home for their career isn't all that intimidating. From a young age, it's common to travel for competitions or spend extended periods of time away attending summer intensives and pre-professional programs. "I'm grateful to my dance training for teaching me how to be independent and open to change," Kelly says, who just graduated from her four-year BFA program at The Juilliard School in NYC.
But both Kelly and Pelliteri are super-close with their families and said that the initial goodbyes were tough. "I did get quite emotional leaving home as I knew I was going to be all the way across an ocean," Pelliteri says, even though she already lived out of the country in Vancouver while finishing her two-year graduate program at Arts Umbrella Dance.
Otherwise, preparing for the overseas move was rather simple for the girls. Especially for Kelly who has dual citizenship in the U.S. and in Estonia, so she conveniently already had a European passport. Homesickness still lingers sometimes, though, as Kelly and Pelliteri navigate life overseas. But their work with NDT 2 helps by keeping them extremely busy. "My mind is constantly revolving around NDT and what I need to do to prepare for the next day," Pelliteri says.
Daily Life in The Hague
Life in The Hague for NDT 2 dancers pretty much revolves around the company. After all, it's the reason they traveled so far—and it comes as no surprise that these two dancers are incredibly invested in their work.
Starting every morning with a 9:30 am ballet class, Kelly and Pelliteri rehearse until at least 5:30 pm. They're currently working on programs for their Dutch tour which premiered a few weeks ago. "We'll be touring all over the Netherlands with our program called Significant Moments," Pelliteri says. "This program includes a new work by Alexander Ekman, a new work by Phillip Chbeeb, and a master work called Signing Off by Sol León and Paul Lightfoot."
Kelly and Pelliteri live in NDT-owned apartments where many of their fellow company members also reside. "It's a lovely building about a twelve-minute bike ride from the studios," Kelly says. "Many of us in the company love brunch, so we often invite each other over to our apartments and cook and eat together!"
Traveling, Food, and Downtime
In addition to the (very important) brunch get-togethers—because who doesn't love brunch with dance friends?!—Kelly and Pelliteri have realized the importance of embracing their new surroundings, as well as making sure they're getting enough rest.
"I can easily hop on a train for a few hours and be in another country seeing places I've always dreamed of going to and meeting people who live entirely different lives than me," Kelly says. "When we only have one day off I often bike to the beach which is fifteen minutes away and I read or play cards or just walk along the water for hours."
But while in the thick of premiere rehearsals, it's best to get some good ol' R and R, doing the "normal" things that help the dancers relax. After an exhausting week, Pelliteri likes to stay in and watch Netflix. "I also like to go to a café and enjoy some nice coffee and food," she says.
Speaking of food, the Netherlands offers diverse cuisine that both Kelly and Pelliteri are enjoying. NDT even has their own canteen where the dancers are taken care of while in classes or rehearsals. "The food options are great," Pelliteri says. "We're so lucky because we live next to two great grocery stores." Kelly adds that there are fantastic biologische (organic) options, bakeries, cafes, and fresh fruit stands, and amazing restaurants all over the city with every kind of food. "And often English menus!" she says.
So far Kelly and Pelliteri say the transition to life abroad was remarkably smooth—with only a few minor challenges. According to the dancers, most Dutch people speak English and at NDT, all rehearsals and classes are conducted in English, as well. So, there aren't many language issues, besides the occasional language barrier on the street. But getting used to a more laid back atmosphere did prove to be an adjustment.
For Kelly, growing up in NYC, she was used to convenient stores like CVS and Duane Reade and 24-hour food spots. "It took me a little while to get accustomed to the fact that you can't go to a diner for pancakes at 1 am here," she says, laughing. "In NYC when I need things like makeup, toothpaste, candy, cleaning supplies, Advil, bobby pins and ice cream, I can pick up everything I need in one go." Places like that don't exist in the Netherlands and Kelly quickly learned that she'd need to visit at least five stores to get everything on her list. Pelliteri faced similar struggles in the drug store. "They have the Dutch equivalent of everything, so I have to ask a lot of questions," she says.
Dancing with NDT 2
While Nederlands Dans Theater is stationed in The Hague, the cultural experience doesn't stop there for NDT 2 dancers. It's a worldwide experience, even within the studio walls. "Most American dance companies have a few dancers from other countries and backgrounds, but they tend to consist primarily of dancers from the U.S.," Kelly explains. "NDT is incredibly rich in nationalities and cultures, and is so unique because of how it embraces and utilizes everyone's different training and backgrounds."
Pelliteri says that working with NDT is a challenge because of the rigorous and intense daily schedule. "I'm loving the work, and the ability to be in a studio full of such wonderful, warm, and inspiring co-workers," she says. "But it's challenging every day because you're pushing yourself physically and mentally. That's what I love most about dance in general, though."
Once the company goes on tour, the girls will get to see the world on an even greater scale—stopping in Paris, Berlin, Ukraine, Mexico, Serbia, Israel, New York, Boston, Maryland, and all across Europe. NDT 2 dancers sign three-year contracts with the company and both Kelly and Pelliteri hope to be invited to join NDT 1 in the future. "Whatever ends up happening I know I will forever be grateful for these upcoming three years here with NDT 2," Pelliteri says.