After eight months of rehearsing and planning, it's hard to believe that Relay Dance Collective's premiere show "Music + Motion" is only three weeks away! We hope you'll join us on August 24-25 for what is sure to be a unique, entertaining and thought-provoking show, and, in the mean time, invite you to learn more about some of the artists whose work and dancing will be featured. To start off, meet Tess Wendel, a co-founder of Relay Dance Collective who has overcome some immense challenges with resilience, strength and determination to get ready to be in this performance. Learn more about the show and get your tickets here.
Q. How did you get the nickname, "Toose?"
A. I think it had something to do with "Toose" sounding like Tess, but mostly it rhymed with "loose" because (my friends from dance) thought I had "a loose attitude." "Toose with the Loose 'tude." Which has somehow carried on 'till today.
Q. How would you describe yourself as a dance artist?
A. Still growing in a big way. I'm definitely a modern-dance girl at heart and enjoy being on the ground. Definitely more introverted naturally because although, I like to dance for an audience, I really enjoy just dancing more for myself and the physical and emotional release that comes with movement and the music.
Q. What dancers and or companies most inspire you?
A. I could probably watch Ohad Nahrins' Echad me Yodea over and over again, seriously the movement is repetitive but he just has this amazing build up and the choreography. It still gives me the chills. I love that power that comes when you choreograph with large.
Q. What did the Danceworks! (The performing youth company where the Relay co-founders met) experience provide you with during your high school years?
A. Danceworks gave me a lot of structure to my schedule which really helped me with time management and forced me to get my homework done earlier since I can be a bit of a procrastinator without a deadline. It gave me a chance to be part of a tight knit group of girls and great exposure to the larger dance community in Seattle and nationally.
Q. How did you grow as a dancer during your time at Skidmore College?
A. I became more confident and learned that it was OK to not be a "traditional" ballerina or modern dancer. On a more general note, college taught me that you get out what you put in. I didn't always have the time and energy I wanted to put into dance because of my chemistry major, but the few chances I got, I went all out and got the biggest bang for my buck.
Q. Tell me about your brain surgery in the fall. How has that impacted you?
A. I had major head surgery in October to remove a tumor called an acoustic neuroma (a benign tumor that grows on your balance and hearing nerve in the little hole between your ear and the rest of your brain). The surgery resulted in facial paralysis, loss of hearing in my left ear and removal of the balance nerve on my left side all of which are still impacting me today and probably will for the foreseeable future. I am lucky because I have had a 5-star support system the whole way starting with my parents, Sherri at Pacific Balance and Travis Booth, personal trainer extrodinaire, the wonderful staff and members of The Mountaineers along with some great friends and the lovely dancers of RDC. Having a big surgery like this or, I imagine, any other large health issue reminds you of what is really important and can cause a major shift in priorities. In my case, my priorities became more clearly outlined which meant becoming active again was a top priority along with maintaining the amazing relationships that had helped get me through the procedure to begin with.
Q. Why did you want to create RDC?
A. Robert Heinlein has this great quote where he talks about how humans should be able to do all these different kinds of things. On a personal level, I believe strongly in learning as much as I can about different areas. This is not simply to become a more interesting person but rather to be able to give back to my community in different ways. I also wanted to show people that it's OK to have more than one interest or specialty. I believe that diverse interests don't dilute the art, rather, they can enhance it.
"A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects."
Creating RDC offered a place where I could build up my balance and stay moving while getting to tap into a bit of a creative side that I wasn't sure existed anymore. It has also offered opportunities to hone my organizational and development skills which can be used for putting together any sort of group or community event in the future as needed.
Q. How has relay played into your recovery?
A. Rehearsal for relay dance is where I have been able to push my body to do new movements which has been key for creating new neurological connections that I have lost. Having a show and rehearsals on the books also gave me a defined goal to work toward. I have had two goals since surgery: the first was to be able to climb Mt. Baker, and the second was to have a great show in August. With one down and the other almost ready to go, I'm feeling pretty happy about the last few months.
Q. What are your goals as a dancer for the future?
A. Mostly to keep trying new things and just stay connected with the great community we are building here in the Pacific Northwest.
Q. Tell me a bit about your life outside of dance.
A. I work full time for The Mountaineers, which is a nonprofit dedicated to getting people outside and exploring and promoting conservation and stewardship at the same time. Except for the small group of paid staff (which includes me and about 15 others) it is entirely volunteer run and has been for over 100 years. The amount of time and energy that people have put into the courses and activities at the organization is phenomenal and is inspiring to be around. I am enrolled in their basic alpine climbing class which has been great for connecting further with the Seattle outdoors community, learning new skills and helping with rehabilitation.