I met Katherine Richardson during her short stay in my hometown of Columbus, GA. She had just returned to land after being away at sea as a cruise ship performer. We worked at the same fitness studio together where she taught various yoga and lyra classes and I taught pole. She greatly influenced a lot of my current teaching style (which I am forever thankful for), and quickly became a great friend. After she left Columbus, she prepared to start her next contract overseas in China, where she performed various dance and aerial acts for 6 months. She recently returned back home, and is now in New Haven, CT. We finally got a chance to catch up and talk about her time there, and a little more about her background and experience.
1): Tell me a little bit about your dance background, and how you later got introduced to aerial work.
I started dancing around a fairly young age in Towson Maryland at what was known as Towson University’s Children’s Dance Division. All the way up through high school, I was exposed to all different disciplines of dance; Ballet, Tap, Jazz, Modern, Contemporary, African, etc. My training started to expand as I got old enough to go away during the summer to various intensives at North Carolina School of the Arts, SUNY Purchase Doug Varone & Dancers, and UARTS where I ended up going to college. I graduated from UArts with a BFA in Modern Dance Performance. The school was very much a conservatory and truly shaped me as an artist. Upon graduating, I moved to New York City where I started off my career. New York is where you build your backbone, where you find your voice…and if you cannot find your voice amongst the masses of other artists you slip into the background. I had the pleasure of performing with several different companies as well as heading my own during my four years there. I found it necessary to leave after the market in NYC seemed to be overflowing with dancers and choreographers, so I decided to take a step back from being a small fish in a vast sea to a small fish in big pond. In 2012 I moved to Las Vegas where I landed a dream job with Blue Man Group at the Monte Carlo. During my time working the shows at night, I would fill my days up with different classes, one of them being silks at a local studio. Vegas is known for Cirque and aerial, so it was a natural progression to kind of just fall into that subculture along with everyone else. After a year of training in silks and lyra I found myself auditioning for Royal Caribbean International as an aerialist and landed my first professional aerial job cruising the seas.
(2) What's your favorite apparatus to work on and why?
This actually changes and I will split this into two answers. I was in love with silks, but it became much easier as I moved around (especially out of Vegas) to train on lyra. So currently Lyra is my favorite to train and explore on. It’s an interesting apparatus as you have to find a way to work with it and overcome any physical challenges that my arise when training a new skill. I love the fast spinning that can occur and the exploration of finding new ways to transition from one skill to the next. Now, as far as my favorite apparatus to work on to date I would say the sway pole. This apparatus has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years. The company that invented it, Strange Fruit, is the company I work for on this apparatus. It was last seen in Madonna’s World Tour and Mad Max the movie. What I love is just how visually stunning this apparatus is, especially in large groups. There is more to working this apparatus than just its manipulation; you have to emote and act. The pole is an extension of the spine where the person stands on top of it. It’s beauty is in that it is one of the most challenging apparatuses to master, but utterly stunning to watch when done well. It just appears effortless.
(3) You just got back from a 6 month contract performing overseas in China. What's it like to perform on cruise ships? What has been your favorite contract to date?
Cruise ships are an entirely different animal from working on land. The weather and behavior of the ship is unpredictable, which presents many challenges when performing. What has been incredible about working on ships is getting the opportunity to work the kind of shows that you would only see on Broadway or in Cirque. Ninety foot drops, bungee routines, harness work, aerial duos, specialty apparatuses…these are all things that are not terribly common when working on land if you are a freelancer. So it has really been a gift to be able to train and perform the routines that I have done on ships. Something that is a little odd and takes getting used to is the immediate feedback that you get from passengers after a show or during rehearsals. We rehearse for the aerial shows in daylight when people are out and about and they get to see us go at it without the lights or costumes. It is always funny to be walking back to the dressing room with your gear and have a passenger stop and comment on what they just saw. All of my contracts have been very different. With that being said, if I had to choose my favorite it would be the Grandeur of the Seas. It’s where I performed my most difficult aerial shows, where I ported out of my hometown, and where I met and worked with some of the most incredible people…including my wife.
(4) When you're performing during a cruise ship contract, what's your training regimen like?
When you are hired as a dancer and aerialist on the ship, you are required to work out a minimum of five hours a week. This is already on top of your show schedule, as well as conditioning once a week. Dancers do not have to participate in conditioning. I have a tendency to focus more on aerobic exercise and endurance. The job of training on the ship is maintenance. It is not to go one way or the other on the scale, it is to ensure that you make it through your contract safely and without injury. So, elliptical work along with circuit training is what I mainly focus on. I also like to focus on exercises that utilize my own body weight since I am responsible for lifting it!
(5) How easy is it transitioning back to life on land once you've returned from the seas? What will you be doing now that you've returned?
So, this question is a can of worms and will vary from person to person working on ships. For me, I don’t find the transition particularly difficult. I started my career working on ships in my late 20’s, so I already had a really good foundation and network of teaching and performing to return to. I’ve already been home for two months now and I have been teaching aerial classes in New Haven, CT since I’ve been back, as well as studying for my ACE Group Fitness Certification Exam*. I also have a few gigs lined up with Strange Fruit (the sway pole company). So working as well as focusing on staying in shape for my next cruise contract are at the forefront of my mind. I also continue to focus on expanding my own skill set to help with the transition and ultimate career transition past full-time performing and working on ships.
(6) What's your advice for anyone wanting to pursue professional dance or aerial work?
There is no right way to go about becoming a professional dancer/ aerialist. Yes, some of it is skill, but a lot of it is passion and perseverance. Always be gracious and kind in your interactions; you never know when that person could end up being your colleague, boss, business contact, etc. Getting complacent is also something that we all fall victim to. We sometimes stop training, pushing ourselves, and exploring movement. When this happens, we fall behind. We are no longer relevant in our own art form and we have no one to blame but ourselves. Keep that hunger, that yearning to learn more... to be more. Don’t let others' opinions affect your decisions about your career. More likely than not, they have not a clue of the industry that you are pursuing. It takes guts, fearless commitment, and unwavering will to make it. There are plenty of people that are not successful, but talent wise should have all the opportunity in the world… so don’t fall back on your talents to get you through. Your ability to communicate, charm, and collaborate will be far more useful in the long run. Lastly, failure and disappointment is inevitable. How we choose to react and what we do with that new found knowledge from “failing” can be your foundation or demise for your own success.
*Since this interview, Katherine has successfully passed the exam to become an ACE Certified Group Fitness Instructor.
Kayra Velez is both a Brand Ambassador and the social media manager for Artista. A few of her other many other titles include Mighty Grip Junior Athlete, pole instructor and performer, and avid volunteer at various pole events. She currently resides in Columbus, Georgia.