The AXIS Apprentice Shadow

Written by AXIS Dance Company's Apprentice Tanja Erhart sharing her recent experiences on Tour: An Artistic Picture of Tanja

May I introduce myself: My name is Tanja Erhart, I came flying overseas from a little country in Europe called Austria. I have one leg, two crutches and I love, love, love to dance. That’s why I’m here in Oakland, California. I’m here to dance with and learn from the world famous physically integrated AXIS Dance Company. Sometimes I like to call myself the apprentice shadow of AXIS, because I follow them wherever they go… into the dance studio, on stage and on tour all over North America. Amazing, I know!

We’ve been to Wyoming, at the University of Wyoming; California, at Sonoma State University, Miner’s Foundry in Nevada City, UCLA in Los Angeles and Pacific Motion Dance Studio in Santa Cruz. We’ve also been to Washington State - in Seattle at the University of Washington. Now you may be curious and ask yourself what it looks like when AXIS is on tour? So here and now you’ll get some secret glances behind the scenes from the exclusive apprenticeshadow’s perspective. So may I invite you on a little tour with AXIS Dance Company to Seattle and the University of Washington.

Tour Picture Collage 2

Tuesday morning 10/1/13 - BART station Rockridge in Oakland CA. I’m on my way to San Francisco Airport. Sitting and observing how the train gets more and more crowded from all the people ready to start a new workday. A man is standing next to me, looking at me, waiting a moment, then asking me: “Are you from AXIS?” Me answering with a wondering smile on my face: “Ahm yeah, I am?!” So he told me he is Juliana’s Dad, Juliana is an AXIS dancer, and that he has seen me dancing with the company at the silent auction last Saturday, where we’ve shown some excerpts of Alex Ketley’s new (film) dance project. Oh universe, you are simply awesome. Thanks for that nice companionship on my way to the airport! Arriving there, I meet Joel, we check in, we wait for the other dancers to arrive. Meanwhile coffee time and finally we – Juliana, Sonsherée, Emily, Joel, Sebastian, me and Pat, AXIS’ stage manager - are all ready for boarding. 1 ½ hour flight to Seattle and another ½ hour shuttle-drive later we arrive at the hotel. Checking in with Sonsherée (my beloved roommate on tour, who is the best coffeemaker in the morning while I’m having a refreshing shower :). In the evening it’s Creative Community Workshop time for Sebastian, Joel and me, with 30 other people who enjoy dancing. Oh I love attending those workshops, because although I already know the exercises, every time I’m exploring myself and my  body’s language a bit more … How many diverse ballet plies can I do, how deep can I get in a physical and e-motional conversation and how can I surprise myself?

Tour Picture Collage

The following 4 days were scheduled with 3 more Masterclasses and 4 performances at Meany Hall, which is an amazingly beautiful theater with a huge stage and 1,200 audience seats. Jurg Koch, dance professor at the University, made all those things possible and let AXIS dancers feel like “celebrities” (Apprentice Tanja Erhart included ;). Jurg grew up in Switzerland, so we had a lot of fun talking in swiss-austrian-german too. Thank you Jurg!

One particular thing I love about being on tour with AXIS is: Meeting people from the (inclusive) dance world. Sometimes deep conversations about disability and dance evolve, which the scientist in me very much appreciates. Questions like whether we talk about disabled dancers or dancers with disabilities, what is inclusive dance and why dancing at all?

There are tons of other things I love about being on tour with AXIS, like hanging out with those awesome guys and get to know them a little closer, being silly in waiting times and talking seriously when criticism about AXIS’ work comes up.

Being so close with the dancers for days and getting glances behind the scenes is better than any education I could have imagined… it’s learning by doing! Attending AXIS workshops, preparing PR Material for the audience, watching the performances and collecting programs for the AXIS archive, sometimes performing, sometimes videotaping, simply being there, learning, listening, watching, entertaining, caring, hugging, laughing, loving and waiting.

“What if, not waiting?” is a quote of AXIS’ piece “what if would you?” choreographed by Victoria Marks. Always when I hear this quote, it makes me think of time and the concept or power of time differently. The fact that waiting is a big part of a dancer’s life - whether during tech/light rehearsals, whether waiting in the creative piece-making-process until it’s your turn again, whether waiting before you enter the stage to perform - makes it a space to appreciate small things in the moment. The moment of doing nothing, the moment to breath, the moment of concentrating, the moment of going over the choreography (in your head) again, the moment to give somebody a hug, the moment to keep your body warm, the moment to observe, the moment to watch, the moment to refresh, the moment to check the blood sugar level.

Sonsheree and Tanja

Since I was diagnosed with diabetes type 1 in May 2012, I experience myself in my body differently. Since I’ve been with AXIS since May 2013, I had the chance to figure out how a life as a professional dancer diagnosed with diabetes looks like, especially on tour... What is this interconnection between blood sugar level, stage excitement and a bunch of adrenalin about, what do I have to

take care of?  How do I keep my body well while on tour, concerning digestion, blood sugar and body-mind-soul? How do I keep my body warm for hours during tech/light rehearsals? How important is it to warm-up (in general and especially for not being hurt and keeping yourself safe)?

Exploring and experiencing all of those things while being on tour with AXIS is such a treasure on my way of being a professional dancer.

I say: “Boom AXIS und vielen Dank fuer die Blumen!”

Last, but not least I'd like to show you some of my First-Time-Highlights from the Seattle touring:

Son enjoying soup on tour  Eating my first Thai-Pho-Soup with Sonsherée. Delicious, pure energy!!







Biking in SeattleA very spontaneous Tandem ride with Brian, the best way to explore Seattle!







A view in the theater

Performing at Meany Hall in front of more than 1.000 children, screaming, cheering and applauding for AXIS Dance Company. Oh yeah, I like their energy and curiousness! No better place than the Q&A after the performances, to reach so many children at once and talk with them about disability and dance (differently) out of my own experiences!


AXIS is diverse!

Visiting “Beacon Food Forest” in Seattle, where fruits, vegetables, nuts, sunflower seeds and much more grow on basis of permaculture, where people can get all of those as much as they want and for free, I found this painting on a wall, which reflects why and what I, as an apprentice, love about AXIS Dance Company: I love the dancer’s diversity, I love the diverse ways of teaching and dancing from each of you, I love the diverse experiences I was lucky to make together with you in the last 5 months! Thanks Emily, Joel, Juliana, Sebastian and Sonshereesh, Judy, Annika, Christy and Laurie for having me and sharing all the ups and downs - the various beauties a professional dancer’s life includes. Now the crush is over and the love to dance begins!


Tanja's Apprenticeship is sponsored by a dance scholarship of the Austrian Federal Ministry for Education, the Arts and Culture - BMUKK (Bundesministerium fuer Unterricht, Kunst und Kultur)