We interviewed PNB Dancer Genevieve Waldorf about how she balances dancing for PNB with working on her undergraduate degree at Harvard University (she’s majoring in Applied Mathematics with a Focus in Government and minoring in Computer Science), her upbringing in Los Angeles, how she’s spent her time during the pandemic, and more!
Can you talk a little bit about your home life, family, and how you started dancing?
Yes, I grew up in Los Angeles and I went to the same small dance studio in Encino, California my whole life before I came to PNB. My parents were computer science majors so that’s where I get the STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics] background from. Los Angeles is definitely what I consider my home and my foundation. I have a really large family that live there so whenever I can I try to go back to LA.
Growing up, my parents always emphasized the importance of education. I was taught that doing well in school could provide me with the opportunity to carve my own path and create my own future. Because of this, school has always been an essential part of my life and something I truly enjoy.
Can you talk a little bit about how you balance dancing professionally and working towards your undergraduate degree at Harvard? How did you make the decision to do both?
It was a really hard decision to make at the end of my senior year of high school. The thing about Harvard is if you finish one semester, they will let you take a leave of absence indefinitely. That was a very appealing option to me: I always wanted to go to college eventually so this gave me the opportunity. It was kind of a difficult path that I chose to do: flip-flopping from one to another but in the end I think it was the best decision for me. Now I have the opportunity to stay at Harvard because I was able to do that. Now every summer in between seasons I go back and do summer school in Boston.
During my freshman year of college I was seeing what all my friends in the PD program were doing and thought, “Oh am I making a mistake?” I did lose a lot of my dancing because I was in school for a whole year. And then I had a kind of difficult time adjusting to coming to Seattle from Boston. I didn’t really have any friends here yet and I had gotten so used to all my friends at college and that kind of lifestyle of studying and academics: that was a big shift.
I completed my freshman year at Harvard in 2016. I then moved to Seattle and joined PNB, my dream job! I go back to Harvard every summer to work towards finishing my undergraduate degree. I am now a senior at Harvard with a predicted graduation date of May 2023. Whether it was being a part of the Harvard Ballet Company while at school or going back to study each summer I always try to make room for both dance and education in my life.
What have been your favorite roles to dance?
I did a duet with James Moore in [Alexander Ekman’s] Cacti in 2019. It was my first non-classical work I did with PNB. I really like non-classical dance and it was my first opportunity to do that here. Cacti is a funny, comedic piece, I got to dance with a partner who has a lot of experience, and it was really great. I also liked the teamwork in Cacti with all of the dancers around you. I liked that sense of cohesiveness and community while dancing and I got to do a featured part which was one of my favorites.
The last Nutcracker we did [in 2019], I danced the Dew Drop role. That was one of my first featured classical roles that I’ve gotten to do. I didn’t grow up doing Nutcracker so PNB’s is the first Nutcracker that I’ve done. Getting to see all the principles do this role and getting to learn from them was a really cool experience. And [Dew Drop] is a lot of jumping and turning in those are kind of the things I like to do. I feel like a lot of people have done Nutcracker for many years of their lives so they can get tired of doing it but coming to PNB it was my very first time so I was excited to do it and it’s still fresh. I’ve only done maybe three or four years of Nutcrackers so it’s still really exciting and I really like doing it. We’ll see how long that lasts.
How has the pandemic changed how you balance school, dancing, and your life outside those things?
This pandemic opened a unique opportunity for me as Harvard offered online courses for credit for the first time. I was able to be a full time student and professional dancer simultaneously. Because live performances stopped, the workload at PNB was less strenuous. This enabled me to take a full course load for both Fall 2020 and Spring 2021. I was able to take undergraduate, graduate, and research courses this season which was a wonderful opportunity. I have also been able to integrate some of my artistry into my studies through film and technomusicology courses. Coming back to complete a full semester of school for the first time since 2016 was quite intimidating. At moments I questioned if it has been too long for me to return to school. Could I even remember all the prerequisite topics from many years ago? Would I be able to juggle rehearsals and school? Working in Seattle (PDT) and doing school in Boston (EDT) proved to be another challenge. I had to select courses that ended before my rehearsal time (11 am). This had me waking up for 5am, 6am, and 7am lectures. I would finish up 1 to 2 lectures in the morning, go to rehearsal, and squeeze in sections and office hours in between. At times it was overwhelming, but I continued to remind myself of the wonderful opportunity I was given. I was able to continue my dream of dancing with PNB while getting rapidly close to accomplishing my goal of earning an undergraduate degree at Harvard.
Where do you see the connection between your dancing and your academic education?
In some ways I view them as two separate entities. I like it that way because I’m someone who can get really intense about one thing and I like having a break. Now that I’m dancing with PNB and also doing school, I can have a break from studying and I can dance. It makes me enjoy dancing so much more because it is my break to relax and use a different part of my mind and move my body. So, I do see them as separate sometimes and in some ways. But there’s definitely a connection between them.
I took a film class as an elective this semester and I made a dance film with some of my PNB colleagues. I got to combine school and dance in that and there are different ways that artistry melds with my degree. I’m also working on research with one of my professors that incorporates dance and school. It’s political methodology, statistics, and math with survey data from questions that I sent out to PNB dancers. I enjoy combining these two elements in my life and there are ways that they meld with each other and influence one another which is also a cool thing to look into for me.
Do you have any favorite pandemic-friendly spots in Seattle?
The thing I like about Seattle is you can drive for 40 minutes and you can be in the complete wilderness. That’s really different from LA. Really any open spaces, going on hikes, going to beaches, and parks, stuff like that. I was also super busy doing school for most of the pandemic so I stayed inside a lot of the time.
What are you currently reading/watching/listening to?
I’m trying not to watch too much of the news. I did that a lot beginning in a pandemic and that was kind of overwhelming. Last Week Tonight is one of the shows that I like that has the news but there’s a little bit of comedic flair to it.
My family is here in Seattle with me and we’ve been watching this mystery show every night. It’s a Canadian show called Murdoch Mysteries and it’s on Hulu. We’re almost done watching the series now. It’s pretty good and we’ve gotten into it as something fun to do every day. I’m also a really big Dodgers fan so now that baseball season is back I’ve been watching that.
Do you have any closing thoughts?
My path with school and dance is kind of strange. But everyone’s path looks a bit different whether it be completing four years of college before joining a ballet company, vice versa, or anything in between. Just do not be afraid of carving your own unique path to fulfill your dreams.
Featured photo: Genevieve Waldorf as Dew Drop in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, photo © Lindsay Thomas.
Photos: Genevieve Waldorf and James Yoichi Moore in Alexander Ekman’s Cacti, photos © Angela Sterling. PNB dancers with Genevieve Waldorf as Dew Drop in George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker, photo © Lindsay Thomas.