Jul 5, 2018 – Artist Features
Five Things You Should Know About Jennifer Mack
by Kate Drakulic, Photos by Bobby Rogers
With a background in ballet, Jennifer Mack is not your average classically trained artist. A dancer, teacher, and choreographer – just a few titles among many other roles – Mack finds inspiration in others through her collaborations with local composers, musicians, and performers. She has danced with Continental Ballet, the Minnesota Opera, and the St. Paul Ballet, her choreography has been performed across Europe and the U.S., including in Ireland, Hungary, and New York City, and she continues to perform and choreograph in the Twin Cities today. Here are five things you must know about Jennifer Mack.
She used to get (very) nervous before she went on stage
When Mack was a young girl, she heard the song “Für Elise” in a film and became determined to learn how to play it, sparking a lifelong interest in music and the performing arts. “I begged and begged to take piano lessons … but whenever I would play music I would get the shakes uncontrollably and get so nervous that I could barely play,” she says. The stage fright lingered as she pursued dance lessons, and before every performance the sick-to-her-stomach feeling would take its toll. How did she combat it? Collaboration. “For some reason when I’m moving with a group of people it’s just never been an issue,” she says. “There’s just something connective about it.”
She began teaching dance when she was only student in high school
Mack’s dance instructors were interested in teaching their students not only how to dance, but how to teach. “Teaching is one of those things that I fell into, and it correlates really well with dancing and choreographing,” she says. During her undergraduate studies in Theatre Arts and Dance Performance at UW Stevens Point, she became more invested and devoted to her teaching practice and came to a few realizations – one being the importance of dance history, and the other being the understanding of different methods of learning. “You have to know where a dance came from and why. The more you understand about your body and how to make it do things, the easier it is,” she says. “What I really became fascinated with was all of the different ways to learn. I realized I’m a kinesthetic and an audio learner, and those are very different approaches that weren’t often utilized.” Mack has taught at a variety of institutions and currently teaches at DanceWorks Performing Arts Center in Lakeville, MN and Ashley Ballet Arts Academy (ABAA) in Golden Valley, MN.
She jokes that the reason she became a dancer was because she wanted to become a musician … and a medic
Mack recalls always feeling supported and encouraged by her family growing up, but never considered dancing as a possible profession. Her interest in movement and the human body led to career-exploration in medicine, but she found herself longing for the creative and problem-solving attributes that dance and music had provided her throughout her formative years. Mack passionately returned to dance with a determined pursuit. Her interest in music has resulted in her work being extremely collaborative in nature. Mack often works with musicians and composers to create live music in performances. “I push musicians and composers a little bit out of their comfort box,” she says. “Likewise, I make my movers and dancers play, or sing, or talk, and we may not keep it or use it in the work, but it’s to really foster a new understanding.”
When she’s not dancing, you can bet she’s still on the move
With a passion for kinesthetics and the body, it’s no wonder that Mack is rarely idle. Dancing set aside, Mack can be found engaged in a number of physical activities including camping, canoeing, hiking, or biking Minneapolis trails to “let off some steam.” “I love the outdoors. It’s why I came back to Minnesota and stay in Minnesota,” she says. Mack takes a trip to the Boundary Waters with her five-year-old daughter and fiancé each year, and like many, she enjoys a break from the cities every once in a while. “I’m a very extroverted introvert,” she says. “I need my down time, so nature is important to be able to escape and get away.” She finds that connecting with her family, the Earth, and the community are driving forces behind who she is and what she does. “There’s a lot of people out there and they see and think very differently,” she says. “I’m fascinated with how people think and how different people experience life.”
Both her collaborative approach and artistic practices are open-ended
Mack has a number of considerations that her practices are influenced by, including the accessibility and approachability of dance. She enjoys working in collaborations because of this. “I come in with a focus, an idea, a theme, or a topic matter, and then I use exercises with my movers and collaborators to pick their brains about how they relate and their ideas. We start from there,” she says. Striving to find the middle grounds in collaboration, beauty, and creativity, Mack prefers a circular approach rather than a hierarchical one. She ideates, communicates, and works to develop the piece with her collaborators. Together, they pick and choose what works and what doesn’t. “I think it’s really a search for getting others to realize they’re not alone and that they have a unique thing to contribute,” she says. “It’s always a search and a quest to make that happen.” Her most recent piece in collaboration with local musician Alex Kauffman was recently performed in the second annual independent choreographer’s showcase 16 Feet. She will be showing additional work at the Dances at the Lake Festival this weekend (July 6-7, 2018)