“Marc was the assistant choreographer of “Jesus Christ Super Star”…. He loves dance. Not only are his choreographies and his vision incredible, but he’s also a beautiful person. He fought cancer last year and [I believe] he was able to do it because he loves life. That kind of drive… absolutely inspires me.” – Mary Antonini
This was the first introduction I had to the performer and choreographer Marc Kimelman. We hadn’t met in person, but I found it hard NOT to want to get a hold of him after hearing about his talent and accomplishments as an artist, as well as his courage, passion and strength for living. The more I read up on Marc and learned about him, the more curious and excited I was to hear details about his story, from the artist himself. I really appreciated the way Marc responded with such openness, trust and enthusiasm when asked if he would have time to share his thoughts. But what stood out to me the most was that Marc was absolutely correct in describing himself as being ‘as real as possible’, because that’s what I felt throughout the entire interview- that on the other end of that skype call was a genuine, positive spirit, an individual who shares his experiences with a creativity and depth that is truly inspiring.
Besides your obvious talent as a performer and choreographer, I think it’s really inspiring for other young guys to see a guy like you dancing from a very young age. Was it ever an issue for you growing up that you were a boy and liked to dance?
You know, it probably was an issue in terms of maybe people treated me differently, but I really didn’t have any time to think about that because it wasn’t really a choice. It was just ‘I’m going to dance’, and that’s kind of just the way it’s going to be (laughs). I put on shows for my family ever since I was four or five years old. And my dad actually put me into dance because he knew someone at a studio. I tried it and fell in love with it. It definitely got a bit more trying once I got to junior high. But once people actually SAW what I did, people’s views changed. And it became ‘cooler’ (laughs) to dance.
Do you feel that the stigma around boys dancing still exists?
Yes, I think that there still exists a negative stigma towards boys dancing. But there is something about the way the world has changed with the recent popularity of So You Think You Can Dance, and lots of dance-based movies, and shows like All the Right Moves. I think these really open people’s minds towards males dancing and they also prove that it can be a masculine thing as well. Besides, people who have the passion for dance, or anything else, shouldn’t let anything stop them from getting to class. I’m really happy to have started at a young age. And it’s exciting to see how strong and confident the up- and- coming male dancers are.
I think dancing is an amazing art and talent on its own, but I think that choreography also takes a whole other mindset. Are there places you go to, or people or experiences that you look to. for new ideas?
Well, I look to a few different places. Physically, I still love taking class. And I think that’s really important for me because it forces me to move in different ways. When I was sick, I couldn’t dance at all, for at least five months. So I took up Tai Chi because that was something that I could do. It was really low impact, it had me moving, and it became quite meditative for me, and I still do it a couple of times a week, just on my own. And so just seeking out new disciplines, new classes, and new teachers keeps the ideas fresh. And there’s usually something in there that inspires an idea or a thought, or just a different way of moving that I wouldn’t have thought of if I had just been by myself working in a studio.
In terms of creating full pieces, I usually start and end with the text. I’ll look at lyrics for whatever song I’m choreographing. That’s always something that really brings it home for me. And I will write out a piece word for word about what I want it to say. That way, if I ever get lost, or experience a kind of ‘choreographer’s block’, I’ll always go back to the text and remind myself what it is that I’m truly trying to say
In your bio you talked about how it’s important for you not to get pigeon holed as a dancer. In particular, you said people should not just stick to their strengths, but should also work on ‘strengthening their weaknesses’. I really admire that, because I think that for people in any discipline, that’s a really tough thing to do.
Yeah, I think so. But for me it makes things fun. I like to be challenged. I like to really test myself. The ‘me’ I was a decade ago was really different in that regard. I was maybe a bit more fearful to take jobs that I didn’t feel overly qualified for.
Are there any examples that really stand out to you of times when you took on something that you may not have felt as confident in, but that you went for anyway?
Yeah, I guess something that rings a bell is that last summer, I choreographed an off Broadway show called Play It Cool. And it took place in the 1950’s in an underground jazz club. I didn’t really know the era too well. I knew music from that time, but obviously, I didn’t live then, so it was not something that was innate for me. So I spent lots of time talking to the producers and directors, and they gave me books, articles and DVD’s of that era, and it was awesome. I kind of felt like I put myself into school for about a month and I just really engrossed myself in that time period. It was something that I guess, having a versatile background, allowed me to be open to.
So I watched and I read so much on that time period, and then after a month of doing that, I decided to stop. And then I got into a studio a few weeks later, and just having all the information in my recent memory, I started choreographing the show, inspired by the things that I had read and learned. When I watched it after, I could tell it was me choreographing it, but it was really a different way of moving from what I was used to. It was certainly a challenge to do it correctly so that people didn’t think that a contemporary guy had choreographed the show, but that someone who truly understood the time period did. And I was really happy with it and what I learned from being open to doing it.
Often, the biographies I come across on various websites and in books are in third person. But I liked that yours on your website is in first person. It felt like it was you speaking, and that made me feel more of an immediate connection to you and what you were sharing.
I agree. Often, in shows, I’ll put in a bio that’s in first person. And then I’ll read the program and they’ll have changed it. I think connecting is one of the most important things in the arts. People want to feel that connectedness between what’s happening on stage and what’s going on in the audience. So I just try to be,.. well, I don’t TRY to be,.. I guess I just AM… as real as possible. And those are the performers I like to work with- people that are just real. Have your flaws and own them. And don’t try to be perfect. Those personal things about you are what make you interesting. And when people try to hide those personal things, they don’t realize that they become a cookie cutter dancer beside the next person. So I try to be as real as I can. I am true to myself for myself but also with the hopes of people responding in a similar manner.
It’s really special when you see that in people- when they ARE real. And it’s so clear when that person is in a room. They immediately stand out. I think a lot of people are trained so technically proficient that they sometimes lose sight of putting THEMSELVES into what they do. And so they come across maybe a bit one- dimensional.
Something else you said in the bio was that you hope that your work inspires people to be open, artful and grateful. And I love that word ‘artful’. What does that word mean to you?
I don’t know what that means (laughs). Well, no, I guess I just mean that I like people who
create themselves, you know?
I want to definitely open people’s eyes to seeing things differently, to being more tolerant, and to being more expressive themselves. There are so many pieces that have inspired me to go home and just write, and just remind myself what I felt when I watched them. And then maybe a month later, I’ll look back to what I’ve written. And from there, I’ll create a piece. So I guess art inspires art. And I want to continue that with what I do and to inspire others to do the same, to be ‘artful’ (laughs).
You are obviously a very positive person- I can hear it in the things you say, and in what others have said about you, and in the meaning you put behind your art. How much of that positivity do you think contributed to how you dealt with finding out you had cancer and how quickly you bounced back from it? I heard that you were back on your feet a lot faster than the doctors expected.
I think when you are told something like that – that you have cancer- as positive as you are, it’s a shock. It’s definitely not what I had planned that week (laughs), you know what I mean? I had recently moved to New York and things were going really well, and I put together these choreography showcases that were being positively responded to. So finding out I had cancer- it was incredibly saddening. But once I got past that, and that state of just fear and shock, I got back to myself. And yes, my usual self is a pretty happy person; I’ve always looked on the brighter side of life. I’m a true believer that you should live the life you want, and I want to be happy. So you find what makes you happy and you stick to that. And definitely, when I was sick, I did as much as I could in terms of focusing on the good. I remember actually talking to my friend about this.
About how to remain positive?
Well, he asked me what chemo FEELS like. When they’re pumping this poison into your body, it doesn’t really feel like much. But I remember that every time I had a new bag of chemo, and it started going through my veins, I would envision this poison healing me. And I would just relax into It and I would allow myself to see this thing that was being pumped through my body as something that was taking away all of my cancer. And I was able to truly focus.
Were there particular things in your life that helped you focus in that way?
I give a lot of credit to Tai Chi because I think it really allowed me to focus. It’s such a beautiful art form. It allows you to slow down and be a bit more patient. And I think someone like me, who’s got lots of energy with always a million things on the go, and then having to deal with this disease that wasn’t going away tomorrow, patience was definitely a hard lesson for me. But I was able to just relax into it, think positively and dream about being cured. I was also a cooperative patient most of the time. I had the utmost respect and trust in my doctor and I had wonderful treatment back home in Toronto.
So my medical experience was incredibly important. But the way I leapt into it was important as well. I remember the night before my first treatment, I made this mix of my favorite slow songs (laughs), because music runs my life, and because I knew I’d be hooked up to chemo for eight hours. And I just needed to be able to relax. But at the last minute, at midnight or so before the morning of my first treatment, I decided, No, I’m going to go in as a fighter! And I made a TOTALLY different mix, and my brother and sister-in-law bought me a bunch of t-shirts. One of them was a Rocky t-shirt. And so from my first treatment and every one after that, I would wear my Rocky t-shirt and I would be blaring this mix of fighter music, including a song called “Ali in the Jungle” – it’s the song that really makes me want to LIVE, and push myself beyond my threshold and just really fight. And luckily, I went in with a strong dancer’s body. That’s definitely important- being a healthy individual. But keeping the right head on your shoulders with whatever you need to do to be there is… well, it’s beyond words how important that is.
Absolutely. I agree. And if you don’t mind me asking, how did you find out that you had cancer?
In hindsight, I was having stomach aches I guess a week before things got really bad. And I just wasn’t feeling like myself and food wasn’t going down easy. And something was up. But I was kind of just waiting for it to pass like any other stomach bug. And then literally, overnight, one morning I woke up and my stomach was hard as a rock. And I went to work. I just had a couple of hours of rehearsal that day for a workshop I was choreographing. And I thought I was going to pass out on the subway. And after, I went home and fell asleep for over two hours. My energy was drained. It was a scary day and by the end of it, you could see this tumor in my abdomen. It was really weird. I could just see it. And I made a doctor’s appointment for the next day and things went from there.
And how long ago was that?
Summer of 2010. And my last treatment was October 20th of that year.
I feel great. My energy is sometimes lacking or maybe I just feel that it is because I was told that it would be, and I’m more aware of it now.
But I feel good, I take class. I definitely got back to myself as quickly as possible. But sometimes, when I talk about it… even like today… it feels like I’m listening to someone else’s story. I don’t even realize that that was ME. It was such a chapter in my life that I feel like I’m so lucky to have survived and I’ve really moved on from it.
In the video about your fundraiser project “I Move Forward”, you talked about how dance is what motivates you to live and helps drive your life. How do you feel about dance now, since it’s been a couple of years since your diagnosis and treatments?
Dance- there are so many strengths to it beyond the superficial that people don’t know about. I think that dance is such an internal thing. I think it feeds the soul in such a way that it stems from this passion but also from our experiences. And the things that we’ve gone through, the things that we have on our minds, are pushed out and energized into the world through a movement. Sometimes I watch people perform, and you can tell they’ve really BEEN somewhere. And I don’t know where that somewhere is, and I don’t always NEED to know where that somewhere is. But you connect to those people because you can see how much their dancing is driven by something really deep and rich and powerful. So I think that my movement has definitely changed. I’m not sure yet how. Maybe it’s too soon to know exactly how. But I know that with my new perception on life, my perception on my art definitely IS affected in many ways. So it’s just that added experience, added challenges that helped create who I am as a person AND as an artist.
I believe that diseases can come about because our bodies are trying to make us see something we didn’t see before, or make us change something in our life that we didn’t realize needed changing. Do you feel that going through what you went through with the diagnosis and treatment has changed you in a broader sense, or taught you something that you didn’t see before?
Yeah, it’s interesting, because that’s a big question. And I don’t know if I’ve totally figured it out yet. I guess as a choreographer, I have sometimes struggled with how I am benefiting the world (laughs). I really try to create meaningful pieces when given the opportunity to. And “I Move Forward” is easily the most important thing I’ve ever been a part of. And my having gotten sick led us to raising close to forty thousand dollars for artists with cancer. I would have never been able to do that, or I would have been able to, but I don’t know if I would have been motivated to, if I had not gone through what I did. I HOPE that I would have.
And it’s really nice to show people that I have my life again, I am a strong person again,
and I look like myself again (laughs). People can see that you can deal with these challenges and still be the same person inside. It doesn’t have to take over your entire life. So yeah, it has definitely changed me. I’m so proud of “I Move Forward”, I’m so proud of what I’ve been able to accomplish. And I think when forced to face these challenges, you’re given the opportunity to really just go deeper inside yourself than perhaps you ever have. And so I was given the opportunity to see what I was really made of, and given the opportunity to see what my family and friends were made of, and I think that’s incredibly valuable. And at this young age of thirty two, I’m able to go on with a bit more gratefulness for every morning I wake up.
To view one of Marc’s choreographies entitled “Flames”, click here
Marc’s Choreography Reel:
For more information about Marc Kimelman, visit his website at http://marckimelman.com/