Melissa Rumsey

2021 Ambassador Melissa Rumsey

Emily Running (00:02):

Hello. My name is Emily Running. I am the Vision and Operations Director at Dance Wire, as well as the Founder. Today is November 4th, 2021, and I am here with Melissa Rumsey, who is a 2021 Dance Ambassador. We are here to talk about your life and career as a dance artist as part of our Artist Stories series. So welcome.

Melissa Rumsey (00:26):

Thank you for having me.

Emily Running (00:27):

To get started, tell me, what are your current titles?

Melissa Rumsey (00:34):

I think primarily what I’m doing right now is I am a choreographer and dance educator for different competition dance programs in the area. But I also am still dancing, and I am a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist, and I work primarily with dancers with injury prevention, injury rehab, post coming out of PT when they’re working on getting back into dancing and regaining that strength. I really work with them on finding different ways of working, different ways of strengthening so that they can get back to dancing. So that’s a lot of things.

Emily Running (01:18):

It is, and I’m gonna add one more to that because I know that you’re affiliated with The Bridge Dance Project. Tell me your title within that.

Melissa Rumsey (01:26):

I am the certified personal trainer for Bridge Dance Project. Thank you for reminding me. So what Bridge is doing is working on building a bridge through the commercial and competitive dance world to dance medicine specialists. What we’re really finding is that the competitive dance world and the commercial dance world has a really unique set of requirements for dancers these days, and that they really need outside strengthening programs, outside PT programs that are dance specific to get them able to do all the stuff that’s being asked of them. So we are working to connect commercial dancers, competitive dancers to local dance medicine practitioners. So, we just had our first event, beginning of October, which was really cool. So, hopefully we’ll keep doing that. It’s exciting.

Emily Running (02:21):

Awesome. Give me a brief overview of how you got started in dance.

Melissa Rumsey (02:27):

I started super late. I did not dance at all. I started when I was 18, I had just graduated high school and my father had just committed suicide. And I was like, you know, I didn’t want to go to college. I had planned to go to college, and I just stopped doing everything. And this is really funny because I think everybody hates this show now, but So You Think You Can Dance was something that I watched so much during that time.

Emily Running (02:55):

I don’t think everybody hates it.

Melissa Rumsey (02:58):

I mean, I feel like I’ve stopped saying that part of the story because I’m like, ooh, people don’t like that show anymore, but I loved it, and I still love it. But I was like, this is making me super happy to watch this. And I just felt this ache when I watched people dance. And I just was like, I mean, we’re not doing anything else. Let’s try that. And so randomly…

Emily Running (03:22):

So, you had not danced at all before or had any introduction to it? Where did you start?

Melissa Rumsey (03:32):

Randomly. I called different dance studios and was like, I’ve never danced before I’m 18, 19. I did just a bunch of adult drop-in programs or classes, and they were so hard because there was no beginning stuff. It was all people that had danced before. And so, I just sort of got thrown in the deep end and just kept doing it. I loved it. I didn’t ever think about doing it as anything. I just was really enjoying it and at a time that I was trying to heal myself. Randomly, somebody was just like, do you want to do this? And I was like, oh, it never occurred to me. And so I got into a couple more serious training programs through a couple of dance companies in Colorado. I got so lucky that I was training with younger kids and everything like that, but I got really lucky that I was doing all these programs and people that really were like, I feel like this is something that you could do, you know, you did start late, but I feel like if this is something that that’s making you happy and you’ve gained a lot of ground in the couple years that you’ve been doing this.

Emily Running (04:49):

Can you pinpoint more specifically what it was once you started dancing that made it so happy for you? Kind of an odd question, but I’m just trying to get at, it looked great when you were seeing it, and then you did it, and what drew you in?

Melissa Rumsey (05:16):

No, that’s a great question. I have always loved being active, but there was something about being able to express myself without speaking. That was just it.

Emily Running (05:35):

Right!? You know. I love it because we just crave not speaking. Dancers. There’s just this brilliance with not having to use words and think of those.

Melissa Rumsey (05:48):

Yeah. And I just remember that I just was like, I mean, I was just a mess during that time in my life. And that was my lifeline. I would go to class and I would come out and I’d be like, oh my God. Like, that’s what people feel when they’re happy, because I just felt like I hadn’t been that way in so long. It’s so simple, but also so complex that it was like such a thing for me. I remember I was going to therapy, I was doing all these things, but I just remember dance was like, it. I just was like, I feel so much better after doing this, and I just spent an hour verbally talking to my therapist and then I go to dance class and I’m like, uh, I feel better. Yeah. Not to discount therapy, everybody should go to therapy.

Emily Running (06:45):

Yes. Agreed.

Melissa Rumsey (06:46):

Yeah, it was great.

Emily Running (06:49):

But maybe also dance therapy. Maybe everybody should go to dance therapy too.

Melissa Rumsey (06:53):

I mean, oh my gosh, that was not even a thing when I was first starting out, or maybe it was and I just didn’t have access to it, but oh my gosh. I can’t even imagine how beneficial that would’ve been. If just a regular dance class was that healing, oh, dance therapy. Yeah.

Emily Running (07:11):

I’ve been really interested in that, actually during the pandemic in particular. We’re forced to make so many decisions right now, and think through everything, and learn so much. And maybe not even pandemic specific, it’s also just in life, you have to research things and know technology and understand. I mean, there’s so much that our brains are asked to do right now. 

And yet, so when I am trying to heal or decompress, I just want to feel, I don’t want to have to think my way through what is going on with me, how did I communicate that, is that irrational. You know, I don’t want to actually go through the thought process again. It really is that contrast of, okay, your brain doesn’t need to be front and center. Your body can be front and center, and it can actually do so much work that your brain can’t even do. Because we’re so self-conscious, or try to be rational, or I don’t know what it is, but your body can provide a lot that your brain can’t. So let’s value that a little bit more.

Melissa Rumsey (08:32):

I know, I love that.

Emily Running (08:35):

Awesome. Well, you’ve already been talking about what dance means or is to you in your life, anything to add to that?

Melissa Rumsey (08:44):

It has definitely evolved. I think one thing that I would love to get back to is just that initial reason why I started and I think it’s so hard when you’re trying to do it as a career and you’re trying to, you know, a lot of that love just gets pushed off to the side. I would really love to get back to that initial like that I just felt like I had to do it. And it’s still there for sure, I still love it. I mean, doing MOMENTUM was the first time I’d performed in a very long time. I was like, oh my God, this is great. I do feel like I need to get back to that feeling a little bit more.

Emily Running (09:30):

Right. I think that once you add technique and skill and things to it, then you just start judging that element of what it is, and it’s not the same. And if only we could take away some of that judgment, that we’re all so hard on ourselves. 

So, what challenges have you faced as a dance artist?

Melissa Rumsey (09:58):

I think I have always sort of had this sort of, I gotta play catchup mentality because I did start so late. I try to get rid of that, but just that whole, I’m not in the same league as these people because I haven’t been doing it for as long, you know?

Emily Running (10:21):

But it’s funny, who decided when the appropriate time to start dance is? Like who is this person, this entity, well, there is a cultural pressure or a social pressure to feel like you need to start at age three, but I don’t know.

Melissa Rumsey (10:38):

I think back, would I have stuck with it if I had started at a different point? Because it wouldn’t have meant the same to me. You know, that’s true, so, I don’t know. I have struggled with that my entire dance career. Just I guess imposter syndrome almost, I’m just here because like these people like me, they don’t, you know, they don’t really think I’m a great dancer. They just kind of like me as a person. And they’re trying to give me a chance. Because I think a lot of it was I was given these incredible opportunities when I wasn’t ready by people that were like, you will be ready. They saw that I would work really hard and that I would keep pushing myself to get there, even if I wasn’t there right then. I feel like I’m still kind of in that, like I’m not ready yet, but I’ll be ready soon.

Emily Running (11:31):

But, isn’t it true that the most invested dancer is the most fun to watch? Not the most technical dancer.

Melissa Rumsey (11:39):

Yes. Yes.

Emily Running (11:40):

I mean that’s what it’s about. It’s about emotion and feeling and, things that are yeah. It’s about something else.

Melissa Rumsey (11:53):

That’s so true. And I have a lot of conversations with my students about that, but it’s still, it’s something that I just can’t shake, unfortunately.

Emily Running (12:04):

What people, resources and opportunities, it sounds like a lot of people along the way. So it’s really been people that come in and reinforce and help guide you.

Melissa Rumsey (12:19):

I would never have even thought about doing it. I was getting ready to go back to college. I think I was thinking about environmental sciences, journalism, something like that. A lot of people back in Colorado, Jenny Schiff, Jayne Persch, Megan Lowitt, all these people that just kind of saw something in me that didn’t even occur to me. And so, I do owe a lot to a lot of people that just kind of were like, no, just try it, just see what happens. I’m still so grateful to those people.

Emily Running (13:01):

Where are you in your career right now?

Melissa Rumsey (13:08):

I had paused when I moved to Portland because I was really injured and that’s when I got into the injuries prevention and rehab stuff, which was great. I spent a year getting all my certifications and working with a bunch of different people. And then when I moved here, I spent a year implementing it on myself. I feel like right now, I know we’re in a weird time pandemic-wise, but I feel like right now I’m ready to come back. I feel like my body is much stronger. I think I am definitely at a new chapter where I’m ready to start dancing heavily again. But I also, I love everything else that I’m doing as well. It was such, again, a random fork in the road that turned out really cool and into something that I’m super excited about. I still love teaching and choreographing and I love being able to bring this stuff to the competitive dance world. So yeah, I’m kind of at an interesting place.

Emily Running (14:24):

I want to ask, the health knowledge that you have now, having been injured and recovered then actually found kind of a new passion as well for passing that type of knowledge on, did you have any of that training or, was your injury preventable with much of the knowledge that you now possess? Did you have any of that built into your training over time?

Melissa Rumsey (15:07):

I didn’t at all. My injury was absolutely preventable. It was just chronic overuse and under activation of a bunch of other muscles. So, it was absolutely preventable. So that is kind of my thing, because I didn’t have any of that training. After I got injured, I sought it out. But when I was first starting, and I all also, I mean, I didn’t start slow. Like I just was like, boom. And so, I think that a lot of it does have to do with that. I was looking at dancers that were the same age as me that had been dancing for a really long time. And I was like, okay, how do I do this? And I didn’t know how to do it. I just did it, kind of, you know. I think that is definitely something that I feel like, let’s get this into the cultural idea of the studio, that this all has to take place within the dance studio for these kiddos.

Emily Running (16:08):

And do the studios and the competitive team culture, are they receptive?

Melissa Rumsey (16:16):

They haven’t been, it’s been an uphill battle, and some are more receptive than others, for sure. I’ve gotten very lucky. The two places that I work right now, Westside Dance Academy and ENCORE Performing Arts Center I’ve sort of slipped it in every once in a while. And then they started seeing the benefits, and then they gave me a lot more specific classes to implement that into, and like adding it into the tech classes, which made my tech classes a little bit longer, but they were all super receptive to that, or giving me an outside class that specifically does this stuff.

Emily Running (17:01):

What do you think was the resistance? What was the root, or is, for studios or teams that resisted? Is it that they don’t want to take time away from training?

Melissa Rumsey (17:14):

Yes. It’s just too much for these kids, they’re in six to seven competitive classes or competitive pieces that they’re in rehearsal for. And then they’ve got ballet classes, they’ve got tap classes, they’ve got all these technique classes. When I first was thinking about it, I was like, it needs to be outside of tech class. And then I was like, okay, no, that’s not gonna work because we can’t add another class, or these kids are going be going till 10:30 at night. And so, that’s when I was like, let’s put it in the tech class, let’s put it in the warmup, let’s put it… And so I’ve kind of come up with this way of doing technique that really implements strengthening into it. And that has been much more well received when I put it in that way. But if I was to say, let’s do a strengthening class outside, or like, let’s go to the gym or anything like that, they’ll be like, nope. And also dancers don’t want to be strong. They want to be skinny and they want to be flexible, you know?

Emily Running (18:16):

Right, which, ohh….

Melissa Rumsey (18:19):

I know. I mean, I was that for a very long time.

Emily Running (18:23):

Isn’t strong the new pretty?

Melissa Rumsey (18:25):

Not in the dance world. Apparently.

Emily Running (18:28):

I thought that was a few years ago, strong became the new pretty.

Melissa Rumsey (18:32):

That would be great.

Emily Running (18:34):

I want to ask you to describe the current dance scene in Portland. What do you love about it, what leaves room for improvement?

Melissa Rumsey (19:02):

It’s so funny because I’ve gotten asked this question a lot, which I think is such a great indication that the dance scene is willing to change. I mean, I’ve lived here for, I think three years now, and I feel like I’ve gotten asked this question quite a bit.

Emily Running (19:19):

By who? Or what context?

Melissa Rumsey (19:23):

I’ve applied for a lot of things to present work and I feel like every time they’re like tell us about the Portland dance scene and how you feel it’s going. Which is great. I think to learn, wanting to adapt is great. One thing that I have struggled with is being somebody that teaches every night. I can’t find classes to take because my evenings are full, seven days a week. Ballet is in the mornings at a lot of places, which is great, but I would love to have access to more diverse classes throughout the day. I spent, not a ton of time in New York, but I did like a six month thing there. It’s just so nice, I mean, I know it’s a bigger city and everything, but you’re like, I got two hours break, let’s see what class I can go take. That is something I would love to see. And I know it’s hard to do right now and the pandemic, and everybody is struggling and burnt out, but I would be there if there is a class in the middle of the day for sure. I also feel like more diverse styles of contemporary would be really cool. We’ve talked about this quite a bit. I feel like I have a much different style than what is represented around here, I guess more of a commercial contemporary. I would love to see just a more diverse class offering in terms of contemporary, would be great. I love the little festivals that are like UNION PDX, like Momentum. I’ve never been a part of that many, like in Colorado, there’s kind of like one big collaboration every year of a bunch of different dance artists. But I feel like there’s much more here, these smaller festivals that pop up that you can apply to present work at, or be a dancer for. I love that, I think that’s a really cool aspect.

Emily Running (21:51):

And there have been various, I’m trying to think, if you’ve been here for three years and the pandemic shut so many things down. Over the course of time, that has been the case though. I think that is the case.

Melissa Rumsey (22:07):

Oh, and I love the audition thing that Dance Wire does. Because that was my first, I was here for a couple of months, and then I went to that, and it was just such a great way to meet people. I don’t even think I really did it as an audition. I did it more, it was just like a bunch of master classes, which was really cool. So that was the most I danced here, and like a full day of dancing, which was just a lot of fun.

Emily Running (22:33):

I know it’s, it’s really intense. We’re going to re envision it. Because we have to with the pandemic, and we really want to hold it again next year, and we’re just trying to figure out how can we do this. Because before it was 90 dancers in a room sweating all day, breathing hard, the good stuff, the best. And yet, pandemic wise, we’re gonna figure out how do we do something that is valuable and beneficial, but maybe doesn’t have 90 dancers in a room.

Melissa Rumsey (23:09):

Whatever iteration it is I will be there.

Emily Running (23:11):

Well, we will see we’re going be seeking some advice or some ideas on how to go about it, especially from people who have attended. How hard is it balancing your administrative work with your own artistic pursuits? Do you have a lot of administrative work that you do within the various roles that you have?

Melissa Rumsey (23:37):

Yes. I think for me, the hardest part is I have to plan everything, planning choreography, planning personal training stuff with clients, planning class material, planning. So there is a ton of work outside. I have found myself being like, oh, I can’t take class today. I have to plan for the week. You know? So that is something I definitely struggle with. I want to be one of those teachers that can just arrive and spew out greatness. But, I write it all down and videotape myself doing choreography in my tiny kitchen and stuff like that. I do a ton of planning outside of everything. So that is a struggle for sure. I did, after we had our conversation, I was tracking the amount of hours that’s work outside of work. And I was like, oh my God, this has got to change.

Emily Running (24:32):

Right? Once you start tracking it, it can be very alarming.

Melissa Rumsey (24:36):

It’s so alarming. I know. Going to that Halloween party on Saturday was the first thing I’d done, and I was like, I gotta go home. I’m so tired.

Emily Running (24:47):

Definitely, it can be tricky because the paid hours are the hours that you account for, and then there’s all these unpaid hours that you don’t actually account for. But when you do account for those, and then you start seeing what you’re getting paid for what time you’re spending, what time you’re putting in you, you reorganize. A lot of things start reorganizing. In the brain. How’s this happening? How am I making this work? 

I think the last question is just, can you paint a really idealistic picture of the dance scene in Portland in say 10 years? What would it look like? What would be happening? Who would be here? How many people would be, I don’t know, whatever visuals you can bring us.

Melissa Rumsey (25:53):

I would love these smaller companies to be thriving and not asking dancers to do this unpaid or struggling to find rehearsal space that they can afford. I would love to see that happening. And again, I’ll go back to the classes. I’d love to see a more diverse contemporary offering.

Emily Running (26:24):

Or just more classes throughout the day and the week that are professional level. That has been something that dancers have been asking for for a long time. And yet, when people offer classes, a lot of the time nobody comes. And you know, how hard it is to build it up. I don’t know. I’m not sure what the barrier is, we’re trying to figure out what the barrier is. What’s going on there.

Melissa Rumsey (26:51):

I don’t know either, because I’ve attended classes during the day that have tons of people in them and then I’ve attended classes with four, you know?

Emily Running (27:01):

Right. And there doesn’t seem to be necessarily a rhyme or reason for that.

Melissa Rumsey (27:06):

I’m guessing that those evening classes are more well attended, which is why there’s a lot more of them. I don’t know. That would be my thought is just to have more companies representing different aspects of the dance world, and then more classes for a 10 year Portland dance scene plan.

Emily Running (27:35):

Awesome. Well, anything else that you want to share that I didn’t ask about? Or thoughts or ideas or anything else?

Melissa Rumsey (27:46):

I don’t think so. That was really well thought out, and I think I got it all out.

Emily Running (27:51):

We ask everybody the same questions. So we learn, but it’s about you as an individual, so it’s all different answers, same questions, very different answers. And, hopefully we all learn something from that, especially with the whole collection of answers that we have. Yes, everybody listen back to all of our Artist Stories series and learn about all the other artists in town. Thank you.