Navy spouse Kellie Walsh inspires us with positivity in this month’s MilspoFAN interview. Kellie shares how innovative, positive thinking helped her find new ways to continue dancing after a cross-country PCS. Many of us struggle to find our niche in a new location, but things usually end up okay (maybe a little changed from before) with some work and some adaptations.
Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
I have been dancing since I was eight years old, was bit by the performing bug and haven’t stopped since. I met my husband while attending University of New Mexico pursuing my BA in Contemporary Dance and we have been together for 5 years. It has been two years since my husband went off to Officer Candidate School and he is currently an Ordinance officer for a Destroyer and is stationed in Mayport, (Jacksonville) Florida. We have one dog together, his name is Dunder and he is wonderful company especially since we are currently in our first deployment.
How did you become a dancer?
Believe it or not, I started dancing because I originally wanted to act and do musical theatre. I would always put on shows for my mom in the living room and dance and sing for her. She eventually signed me up for a Dancing/Acting class, and once I took that, I realized I loved dancing a lot more. I started taking classes at a local studio in my hometown in Santa Fe, New Mexico and fell in love with moving.
How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a Dancer- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Being a military spouse has impacted almost every aspect of my work. At first, I felt lost on how to juggle these two very different lifestyles. Moving From New Mexico to Florida was a huge adjustment for me. Like many other military spouses, I had to move away from all my family and friends. I moved by myself and I knew absolutely no one here and had no job. I also was recovering from leg surgery which as you can imagine for a dancer is very difficult. At first, I saw it as a negative and I didn’t know where to start, who to connect with and how to figure out my dance career after graduating. Once I started taking classes and trying to connect with people, I realized that there are so many ways to be “successful” as a dancer. I got a job teaching Ballet, Modern and Jazz at a studio here in Jacksonville that I absolutely love and am rehearsing with a graduate student from Jacksonville Dance Theatre on an upcoming showcase. I also take company classes with Jacksonville Dance theatre and teach beginning ballet and tap to preschool dancers through a traveling dance studio.
I think, as a military spouse, you must work extra hard to make connections wherever you go. I now see it as a positive because I will be able to take classes from different dance artists around the nation and be able to share my knowledge with students wherever we go. Creatively, I think my movement brings a different perspective to the dance world. I hope that I can share stories with my movement that can connect with people and make them feel like they are not alone in this crazy world of being a military spouse and an artist. One thing I love about dance is that it is universal and its something that no one can take away from me. I know that no matter where the Navy sends us, dance will always be there. And if it’s not, I can cultivate it!
How do you cultivate your creativity?
This is hard question and something that I still struggle with. Coming from college where you have an open studio every day to learning how to find your own space to explore movement is difficult. I often cultivate my creativity by improvising or taking a dance class. Whenever I get stuck choreographing a combination for my students or feel in a creative rut, I put on some music and improvise in my living room. I guess I never grew out of performing shows for people, but instead of my mom, now it is my dog (Chuckles while writing this). I also go take different dance classes that push me out of my comfort zone. I am the most comfortable in Modern, so I will go take a hip-hop class or heels class, something that challenges me and forces me to move and think differently. It also helps to find creative outlets in different mediums. I have recently taken up photography and that also helps to cultivate my creativity and keeps me engaged with learning new things.
How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
When we PCS’d to Jacksonville, the first thing I did was research. I researched professional modern dance companies and adult dance classes. I started taking dance classes at any place I could get my hands on. That’s how I met people and became part of the dance scene here. Networking is so important and talking with other artists will give you even more connections and you might make a friend or two as well.
Tell us about your work with Grammy nominated singer Sylvan Esso’s Parad W/me music video. How did you connect with that opportunity and what was that process like?
I got the opportunity to dance for Sylvan Esso my senior year in college. I received an email that was sent to all the dance majors that she was coming to New Mexico to shoot a music video and anyone interested had to send in a demo reel. So, I did just that and got an email back saying they wanted to hire me for the shoot! I was so excited because it was one of my first paid dance gigs. We learned the choreography in two days then filmed the shoot in Vaugn, New Mexico. It was such a different experience than performing on stage. We had to do multiple takes and do the same routine over and over to get different shots. It was also extremely cold while we were filming. In the first scene, it was 6am and below 30 degrees and we all had on summer attire and had to pretend it was a hot summer day. The whole shoot was so memorable and everyone on set was so creative. Sylvan Esso was so kind and went out of her way to talk to each dancer and get to know us. It was surreal getting my hair and makeup done and having all the crew and cameras filming. It has always been one of my goals to dance in a music video, and it was and still is one of the coolest dance experiences I have ever had.
What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
The most practical advice I can give is to constantly have an open mind and try new things to inspire you. I used to think the only way to be involved or successful in dance was to be a part of a company when there are so many ways you can be a part of the dance community. You can take a class, watch videos, read articles, go see live shows, become a teacher, choreograph, join groups, support local art, there are countless ways to still be involved without having to physically be in a company. I would say don’t be afraid of trying a different genre of dancing and even starting a dance organization yourself! It is easy to get down about your art career and blame it on the military for not being in the situation or town you would want to be in. There will always be an excuse to not try something new, but if you keep an open mind, I think you’ll be surprised on how many people you will meet who are going through or gone through similar things you have. Luckily, I have an extremely supportive husband who encourages me to pursue my dance goals, which helps me to stay positive about my future in dance. I think it’s okay to have times when you don’t feel creative and you lose hope, but I think the most important thing is to follow what you love and the rest will come.