Dance as an art form is all about grace, connection, and finesse. But to those who chase their passion for dancing on the professional stage, achieving success in the industry means going through a grueling process of auditions. Lexi Evans sits down with Susanne Puerschel to look back on her dancing career full of rejections, loneliness, and abandonment, making her realize what it really takes to be a dance instructor herself as well as the importance of reaching out to others. Lexi also discusses how these challenges contributed to her growth and the foundation of Virtual Ballet Intensive, which accommodates aspiring dancers in the middle of a pandemic.
Watch the episode here:
Listen to the podcast here:
Lexi Evans On Dealing With Loneliness When Chasing Your Passion For Dancing
Lexi, thank you for being on the show. I am grateful for you.
Thank you for having me.
What would I like to start this episode with is to ask you how you started dancing and why? Where did the drive, the need, and the want come from?
My mom took me to see my neighbor dance in The Nutcracker when I was two years old, and I would not stop talking about it. My mom thought that I wouldn’t even sit through the whole thing, but I was entranced and I would be dancing after that all the time and asking my mom, “When am I going to get to be on the stage? When am I going to get to dance?” I bugged her so much that she finally signed me up the following fall. I was still two, but they let me sign up. I just turned three after we started. I needed to dance. I wanted it. It was always from me. My parents would have been fine if I gave it up. They tried to make me sometimes.
Do you remember what that why was? What drew you in so much? I remember that two-year-old girl, I was that girl too, “I don’t care, just put me in. I’m too young. Who cares? I want to dance. This is what I’m going to do. You all need to listen because I’m not going to put my foot down.” That’s what it was.
I have memories from when I was that young, but I can’t remember that specific moment or when I started, but I do remember when I was older, maybe around ten, my mom driving me to ballet and saying, “Do you want to skip and we could go to the mall or do something else?” Me being like, “No, I have to go.” I was dedicated. She was also like, “Do you like taking a class? Is it about the performance or do you like taking classes?” I said, “No, I love taking classes. I love performing. I love all of it.” I was also dedicated to it. There was no option to not go one day.Every separation needs closure so that you can discover how to make yourself better. Click To Tweet
Nothing felt like a sacrifice. You can’t go to a birthday party, “That’s all right. I’ll go take the class again.”
I’ve got to dance. I had no desire whatsoever to go to the prom. I was happy to go to our gala instead.
I usually start the show out with, how did you start? Where did you start? Why did you start? Let’s talk about your path and your career a bit. When did you decide to become a professional? Was that something always in your heart that you knew you wanted to do? What did your path look like until you started Virtual Ballet Intensive?
I always wanted to be a dancer. I didn’t know what that meant when I was young. I knew I loved dancing. I love to dance. When I learned what companies were, I knew that was for me. After I went to my first summer intensive, I loved it so much. I figured that was what it would be like to be in a company. I always wanted that. Things changed a lot around the time I graduated, but I had this idea in my mind that if you didn’t get a job by the time you were eighteen, that you would never get a job. You’re a terrible dancer or something like that. I was determined. I needed to get a job by the time I was eighteen.
That did not happen, but I did have a great teacher who helped me. She took me under her wing. I was sixteen. I knew that I had outgrown the school that I was in where that teacher was. I had already been the Sugar Plum and it was time. She had great teachers that have helped her. She danced for San Francisco Ballet before dancing the New York City Ballet. They had helped her make those changes from San Francisco to New York City Ballet. She trusted them so much, the director and the director of the school at Oregon Ballet Theater. She helped me make a video and audition for their summer intensive. Maybe I was on scholarship, I can’t remember. I went for the summer and it kicked my butt.
I thought I was at the top and all of a sudden, it’s starting all over again, but they did ask me to join the school that following fall. They offered me a scholarship. I had this conversation with my parents, convincing them to let me stay and live with a host family and finish my senior year of high school there. I did and it was great and hard. I remember crying through many classes because it was hard. I had to prove myself all over again and work my way up because I was never a favorite even in my home studio. It took me a long time to be one of the people they noticed and saw and gave parts to. It was like that all over again.
The year after, they offered me the professional division. It’s like a trainee. The following year, I did that. I had danced with the company, a few times The Nutcracker, we toured. I did Sleeping Beauty with them. The following year in the professional division, it was more work with the company. We would start in the morning at 9:30 and take company class and then stand in the back learning all day. At night, 5:30, we have our school class and have to do it all again. It was difficult, but I did an amazing rep and I learned so much there. I loved my teachers. Tamara and Christopher were amazing teachers and they demanded a lot out of you.
I loved that and appreciated it so much. I pushed myself harder than I ever thought I could have, but I thought I was going to die. I was desperate to get a job after that because they offered me an apprentice the following year and I knew it would be the same and I couldn’t survive it. I did the audition and the cattle calls. It’s difficult and it was right after the 2008 crisis. They were cutting contracts and companies are closing. It’s like now. I happened to get an offer from the Israel Ballet where I had never heard of it until I auditioned, but they offered me a job and they wanted me to start immediately in May, which I couldn’t do, but I told them I could start in August 2009 and they agreed, and I accepted.
In August, I flew to Israel for the first time and moved there. I danced there for three years. It was also great and I valued my time there. I was a snob when I was young, the same way I thought I should have a job when I was eighteen. I thought I should be in a company with nicer costumes, performing in nicer theaters, and paid better. I wanted all this stuff that I thought was more normal. I was afraid if I stayed there, I would get stuck. I was at the point that I would have to commit, I would either have to become a citizen and commit to living there or leave. I had a lot of pressure from my family to leave too. They were not thrilled with me being far away. I came back and then I had to go through auditions all over again. I came back in July because that was when our contract ended.
It wasn’t the time to audition. It was hard. I was like waiting tables. Luckily, I have family in New York City, so I slept on couches and auditioned for four months in New York. I miraculously got a job after calling every single day with The Sarasota Ballet. I went there. It was scary. Quitting was never an option, but I didn’t know what I would do. By the skin of my teeth, I got something. I moved to Sarasota and I danced there for a few years. I danced some nice ballets, but the whole time there was pretty much a struggle of the same way I fought to get in. I felt like I was always fighting for my life there. I eventually was fired after two seasons.
Did you say you were let go?
Yes. It was horrible and I had to do it all over again. I kept finding myself auditioning again and again. That time, it got my confidence because it was the first time. It wasn’t my decision. You face rejection auditioning, but it’s different to have a job. Usually, everywhere I went, I would earn respect the longer I was there. They would like me more because I did work hard and I didn’t audition well, but after time people would see me. To me, it was a huge shock because normally the longer I was in a place, the more they would like me. It seems like the opposite. They never liked me. It was hard and I was depressed, and I had a hard time. I did dance with Suzanne Farrell Ballet, which is more of pickup company. I did do that for a season. I ended up moving to Boulder because I had auditioned here, and I fell in love with the place. Even though there was no job, I moved here and I eventually somehow snuck my way into the company. I danced there for a few years. I retired in June of 2018.
What I love is that you are never afraid of like, “This is not working anymore. I’m going to go somewhere else. They let me go,” which I would like to ask some follow-up questions because I don’t understand. You never let anything get in your way. That’s beautiful and that’s how dancers are shaped though. I feel regardless of what you throw in a way is like, “No.” That’s why dancers make such great entrepreneurs because you keep on problem-solving and you step over all of these different stones that you pivot in every direction as possible and, “This doesn’t work, I’m going to go this way,” which is entrepreneurship or a character trait of an entrepreneur. When you said that, yes you did an audition but after a while, people would start seeing you and understanding who you were and would appreciate you for that. Why do you think that didn’t work in Sarasota?Never be in a state of waiting for everything to go your way. Get up and do something. Click To Tweet
This haunted me. I’ve gone over it many times in my head. I have a few ideas. First of all, I don’t think it was ever the greatest fit for me, but because I was determined and I called every day, they finally said, “Okay,” but it wasn’t like, “We love you and we want you.” My teacher said, “Go where they like you. Don’t try to force yourself somewhere else.” It was my only option at that point, so I forced it. I think that’s one big reason. I wasn’t the right body type for that company. It was a short company and everyone was super thin and that wasn’t me. I always wanted high extensions. I was not flexible growing up. I worked hard and focused on extensions. That was what I wanted. They didn’t appreciate and like extensions.
I was working on myself. I’m trying to do my best, which for me is legs as high as I can. It’s a different thing. They love turners, and that wasn’t me. In general, it wasn’t the greatest fit if I had been honest with myself and I didn’t see that for myself either that like, “Maybe you should focus on your turn or do this.” I was terrified to ask what I should work on and they didn’t communicate. My first season, I was an apprentice and when they promoted me, I said, “Is there anything I can work on?” Their answer was, “Make sure your partners know what they’re doing.” I’d be partnered with apprentice boys who didn’t know what they were doing. That was my one correction. I didn’t have much to go off of, but I also didn’t maybe want to see that I needed to change, but whatever it was that blocked me, I was never a great fit.
The other part I had at the beginning of my second season there, we were doing Serenade and Who Cares. I absolutely love Balanchine. I know everyone does, but I grew up dancing it. A lot of dancers there had never done it or didn’t know what it was, had never heard of it. It was my thing. I was excited. I was put in second cast Serenade and I was devastated by that fact alone. It was my first year in the corps. I was hoping to be first cast corp. That’s what I wanted and I wasn’t. It was hard for me. A girl ended up getting injured. I went up to the directors and that girl had an understudy, but she didn’t know it. I went up to them and I said, “I’ve danced this ballet 4X. I know this part and I can do it.” That was the last time I was brave there. They put me in and I should have been happy, but every day was like shooting me down.
Now, as a teacher, if I try to think of it from their perspective, maybe they were trying to help me. I don’t know what it was, but I was always getting yelled at. Everything was always my fault. Sometimes I wasn’t even on stage or on the floor, and they would be telling me it was my fault. It was too much and I let it get to me. I shut down. After that, I shied away. I was like, “I learned my lesson. I’m not going to be bold anymore. I’m not going to be pushy and I’m not going to ask for stuff. I’m going to be happy with what I have and work quietly.” I did and I kept working in the back, but nobody saw me.
I remember asking, they were co-directors, the wife, she wasn’t the one who told me I was let go, but I went to her and I asked what happened. I said, “Was it because I was too pushy? Was it because I asked to do Serenade?” She said, “No, you got a gold star for that. That was great.” I was shocked for her to say that, she said, “It’s after that you stopped. You didn’t do anything anymore.” It was hard for me to understand because I felt like I was failing when I was doing that. For her, that was the best thing I did. You’ll never know the reasons, but she also made a comment to me that I should wear a tighter bra in that same conversation. It made me wonder if I was too curvy for that company, if I was too big for them, which I was the only one that had any shape at all, everyone else had boy bodies.
I’m sorry you have to go through this. I look at these kinds of experiences always from two angles. One is the pain that we’re getting or we’re receiving, and the other part is, what’s the lesson from this? It wasn’t a fit for you. In hindsight, it would’ve been great to have clarity and enclosure to, “It hurts to be removed from a company. The least that you can do is give me some closure or help me to become a better me, even though it might not be here. This should be your main interest. It’s not the survival of the company. It’s not the fundraising. It is your artists.” It was already in my times, you experienced this, Kathryn Morgan experienced that over again now in 2019, 2020.
This is where we could change as teachers. I’m certain that you are doing that with your students right now, that we’re learning something from these experiences. There’s the other side that people that don’t and pass on what they’ve been taught, the way they’ve been raised, the way they have experienced their career. They think, “This is the way it goes and I’m not going to change anything. I’m going to be like my teachers to my students.” This is where we’re going down somewhat of a dangerous path. Would you agree?
It was unkind and they gave me no notice. They could have warned me or told me, had a conversation or given me some indication. Maybe that will change with time, but I feel like it’s out of my hands to change how directors act, but I do feel like as a teacher and as a former dancer, I can at least share my experience so that people don’t feel alone because at the time I was ashamed, I couldn’t even tell my parents. I didn’t tell my teachers. If I would have called my teachers and told them, they would have helped me and supported me. At the time, I was embarrassed that I didn’t ask anyone for help. I felt terrible.
There were not many auditions left at that point. In the auditions I did go to, I felt bad about myself, “How was I going to dance well in an audition?” Having the awareness that this can happen to people and it doesn’t mean you’re a terrible dancer. It doesn’t mean you’ll never dance again, it doesn’t necessarily mean anything, it just happens and it’s okay. It’s okay to ask for help. Spreading can be helpful to dancers who might be in the same situation. They don’t have to feel ashamed or it’s their fault where they can’t ask for help.
I can relate to that too because I felt that speaking up about what doesn’t feel right or where you are under the table covered in shame, it’s like, “Do I have to be there? Am I that bad of a person or a dancer that I can come out anymore?” All we want is to be seen and have the opportunity to stay on stage and shine. That’s all we want. If the people in front of us are not giving that to us, we in return, automatically think it has everything to do with us. That’s small and we don’t even try. We relive that belief of us not being over and over again.
Even if you say you can make a difference in the directors and I agree, we can’t do that, but as a teacher, you can pass on to your students what you have experienced in a very kind and non-blaming everybody. This is not what we’re doing. We’re uncovering the layers here and speaking about our experiences and the truth that we’ve seen that these things happen. We may or not be able to change them, but we are able on how we react to it. We don’t have to crawl up in a bowl and be that small. We can stand up tall and say, “Maybe this is not for me. Maybe I need to go somewhere else.” You’re able to still stand tall and dance your little heart out.
If I had been honest with myself when I was there, I would have known. I should have tried to find a different job but I felt scared. I didn’t want to jeopardize my job by auditioning. If the director found out you were auditioning, you could get fired because you’re not allowed.
What kind of mindset is that too? I’m sorry. Also not blaming, but if you look at it from a corporate standpoint from you opened your own school, you have your own business. If you would be treating the people that are working with you the same way you were treated, I don’t think you would have anybody helping you.Instead of feeling not being good enough, gather more confidence to work harder. Click To Tweet
To not have job security, but also not allow them to make sure they have other options. That is how it was. I heard of people all the time getting in trouble for doing auditions. I was afraid. I had a friend who we were in a similar boat. He also felt like he never was seen there. He did the audition and he got a job somewhere that same year and he got out. I was like, “How different would my competence have been if it had been coming from me, ‘I’m going to audition and get a different job’ as opposed to ‘I’m having no job now and I’m desperate?’”
It’s when we act on that mentality of lack, that feeling of, “I’m not enough, I don’t have enough.” You attract more of that because we can’t get out of that energy. What happened?
I left out. I had never wanted to teach. I taught during the summer sometimes because we were on layoff and I would go home and teach at my old studio. Now, it’s better to have training programs and things. As a young teacher, not knowing what I’m doing, they have you teach the babies and they walk all over you. It wasn’t a good experience for me, but when I was let go of Sarasota Ballet, I needed to do something. I loved yoga. I was into yoga and I had been practicing for a few years regularly. I had a teacher there that I loved. She asked me to do her teacher training. I did and I trained in yoga. That was when I felt more like I learned how to teach because you can know so much about ballet without necessarily knowing how to teach it.
Even amazing dancers aren’t always necessarily good teachers, especially if they’re naturally talented, but they don’t know what it is to not know how to do it. That training helped me. I started teaching yoga. When I moved to Boulder, I came here with no job at all. I picked up some yoga classes and it made sense to start teaching ballet because I had all this experience. That was when I started teaching ballet. When I ended up dancing with the company, it’s a part-time company so I kept teaching. I was teaching quite a lot. It’s funny because I was adamant while I was dancing full-time that I wouldn’t have another job and I didn’t want to teach, but teaching helped my dancing a lot. It helped me realize a lot of things about my dancing.
A part of me wishes I hadn’t been stubborn about that because it helped me. It also would have been good to have some extra money, but I was exhausted all the time. I didn’t want to take anything away from my dancing. I was teaching quite a bit since I moved to Boulder. When I retired, I started teaching a lot more and loving it. When COVID hit, I had some students so devastated by their summer intensive being canceled. We started doing some Zoom private, and that was the first experience with Zoom. I was also inspired by one of my yoga studios that made a switch super-fast to Zoom. They were the first ones offering their classes. Even before they had to shut down, they were offering them for people who weren’t comfortable to come into the studio.
That was cool to see that. That inspired me to also make this switch fast. I was doing privates with some of my students. One, in particular, did well with Zoom privates. It was something about maybe having an audience like her mom watching or having focused attention, but she thrived with it. She was upset because it was her going to be her first summer away, and her intensive is moved on to Zoom and then another student of mine, the same. I love all my students, but two special ones. I was trying to think of a way like, “What could I give them something to still love about dancing?” because it’s hard to be alone in your room doing ballet.
I saw that Megan Fairchild posted on her Instagram that she was offering private lessons. I answered, I sent her a direct message. I didn’t expect her to respond. I figured she gets many, but I asked her if she would teach a class for a bunch of my students on Zoom. She said, “Yes.” I was excited that she wanted to. We set it up and I did the Zoom class and there were twenty kids. It was great. It was so much fun. From that, I was like, “I should do a virtual summer intensive with teachers that kids will be excited about that maybe they would never get to work with Megan Fairchild, wherein you can only take her class if you go to SAB.” She’s normally busy dancing and performing that she’s not teaching.
I reached out to my favorite teachers, teachers that I had worked with, or dancers that I admired, and put it together. I had no idea if anyone would come, but my amazing husband who does web marketing helped me market this like crazy because I don’t know when this all came together. It was probably mid-May 2020 or late May 2020, and the intensives were in June 2020. It was a huge success and so much fun. It wasn’t packed. There were around twelve kids but it was perfect. It was the right amount. We had so much fun.
We did variations. We did jazz and contemporary, technique and point and conditioning. We did everything. It was great. There were students that still had no place to do online classes. It’s either their studio was back in person and they weren’t comfortable, or some small towns. The schools closed or shut down or there’s nowhere to go. I had some students that wanted to continue, so I kept it up and we have a few classes a week. The kids are happy to have a class that they can go to, and a group of dancers that are in the same boat as them. That’s what we’re doing. We never know how the world is going to go with COVID, but we’ll see. Maybe we’ll have another intensive this June 2021.
I think you should.
We’ll plan it for sure. It wouldn’t be the worst thing if the world was back to normal and everyone was dancing in the studio. It would be onto the next idea, but if we are still in some capacity locked down, then it would be a lot of fun. Maybe people want to do it anyway as a supplement to their summer intensive.
I cannot truly imagine or feel what it is right now for all the dancers out there that are unable to perform. If we’re looking at the main stars, they still have the opportunity because they’re the poster child for the company, and using them for marketing and for staying relevant and known. Everybody else is the cutoff, jobless, working at Target. There are some beautiful things coming out of it. It’s that switch of a mindset where you’re like, “Now what? I can sit here and wait until everything starts back up or I can go and make some money.” That’s okay too. That’s not a dirty thing. Even though I’m an artist, I can still do that. Maybe find some joy and another door opens on the other side. Maybe a sidekick opens up for you. That’s beautiful. I do have a follow-up question. I heard you say, “I was always tired from dancing.” I know what that felt like. I know why that was, but I want to hear your side. Do you know why you were always tired? You didn’t have the space square thinking or doing anything else.
Part of it is mental. I would go to yoga after ballet and I would be tired when I went to yoga, but I always felt better after I did it. That was my only form of cross-training. That was all I did. They didn’t offer anything like a yoga membership, as cheap as it gets to do some cross-training, plus I enjoyed it. I didn’t like going to the gym. A lot of it was mental that it does take a lot out of you to be in a studio all day and learning choreography and trying to play the mental game of like, “How can I be the best or be the one they want?”Never let what other people are doing affect you. Click To Tweet
I was afraid to stuff any energy away from that, that if I did too much, if I was teaching all night, that the next day I would be more tired and I wouldn’t be able to dance as well. What I couldn’t see then, which now I appreciate, is that if you’re too focused on one thing all the time, it can smother it. If I had had something else going on, that it would have been a healthy distraction. You can rest in different ways like doing something else. Even if you’re not resting, it can be restful to change it up a little instead of all dancing all the time. Now, I can appreciate that by doing some different things. You can have more energy to do more as long as it’s not the same.
Did you know back then where your energy came from?
Me neither. I thought that my energy is going to come from some carbohydrates, and my energy is going to come from sleep. These were my two sources of energy. I would eat carbohydrates when I was low and when I went through my super skinny phases. I would sleep a lot, mainly on any given free point I had during my days or my weeks. I would never allow myself to ask a better question. It’s like, “Maybe there are different sources of energy.” If my cup is empty, how can I refill it? It is the way that diversity that I found was never allowed or encouraged to look into that we can be a great dancer. Allow yourself to be knowledgeable in every other field too. You’re not a trader or not worse or not going to be deprived of your success because you’re putting an hour a day, two hours a day to something else that also fills your soul that will fill your cup. The serving, this wanting to get from that empty state of mind, that is where the real exhaustion, the burnout really sets in.
I love dancing so much and that was always my favorite thing that I was unwilling to find anything else. I didn’t want to go to college. That wasn’t for me. I refuse to find something else I didn’t want to. I wouldn’t see it.
This is where going through all the layers of self-development and understanding ourselves back then and now, and being able to voice that to the students that you are coming in contact with is imperative. You’re shaping that new generation that is going into the theaters, into the companies. If they have a better springboard to be more and tap into their full potential, there’s nothing more beautiful. It’s not like I would even go far and say such a big gift that you can give them.
If I had had something else, it wouldn’t have been difficult like when the casting went up. I didn’t have the parts I wanted or when things weren’t going great at work. I would at least have something else that could bring me joy instead of feeling miserable about it. I had my lovely husband now, boyfriend at the time, but you can’t dump all that on another person. You needed something for yourself.
To round things out, my last question here is your younger self, your 16, 17, 18-year-old self, if you could go back right now, what would you tell her?
I would say that you don’t have to be perfect to be worthy and to have more confidence that you can work hard and keep improving, but you don’t have to feel like you’re not good enough. You don’t have to worry about what other people are doing. You have to do what you’re doing and try your best, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. I put a lot of pressure on myself to try to be the best and then feel ashamed if I wasn’t, instead of knowing that you can be a work in progress and you can still perform and get jobs and do all sorts of stuff.
You said two things. I can still relate to the chase of the perfect and what that felt all the time where we didn’t allow ourselves to be a work in progress. The actual being work in progress, I don’t think was ever something that I considered. I believe getting out of school, I had to be perfect. I have no room for learning anymore. That’s a beautiful message. Keep learning, it’s good. We’re good. We’re always learning. Lexi, thank you for your time. I appreciate it. Thank you for everything you do. Two things, tell us where we can find you and what are you coming up now? What’s Lexi doing?
Thank you for having me. You can find Virtual Ballet Intensive on Instagram, @VirtualBalletIntensive or BalletIntensive.com. On January 4th, 2021, we start our eight-week sessions of classes. The next will start at the end of February 2021. You can take little chunks of weekly classes and our intensive is to be announced soon in June 2021.
Thank you for being here. I’m grateful for you.
Thank you, Susanne.
- Lexi Evans
- Virtual Ballet Intensive
- @VirtualBalletIntensive – Instagram
About Lexi Evans
Lexi Evans (Alexis Greenberger), the founder of Virtual Ballet Intensive, grew up studying ballet at Pittsburgh Youth Ballet under Jean Gedeon from the age of 3. She finished her training with Damara Bennett at the School of Oregon Ballet Theatre and joined the Israel Ballet in 2008. Lexi spent three seasons with the Israel Ballet, before returning to the U.S. were trained with Elena Kunikova and Deborah Wingert.
She freelanced for one season before joining The Sarasota Ballet in 2012. Lexi danced with The Suzanne Farrell Ballet in the 2014/2015 season before moving to Boulder, Colorado to dance with Jayne Persch and Boulder Ballet. Her favorite roles include Lilac Fairy in Sleeping Beauty, First and Fourth Movement Demi-Soloist in George Balanchine’s Symphony in C, and Russian Girls in Balanchine’s Serenade. Lexi has been teaching ballet since 2008 and is also a 500-hour E-RYT with Yoga Alliance.
She has set repertoire and choreographed for Boulder Ballet and Boulder Ballet School, along with other dance schools in the area. Lexi retired from the stage in 2019 to focus on teaching and dance photography. She founded Virtual Ballet Intensive in May 2020.
Pointe To Rise links below:
💭SMS Pointe To Rise – +1 (310) 349-3873
Pointe To Rise – Clothing store for items that empower you to remind you of how great you are.