BY ANGELINA PERINO
“You are not there to be seen. You are there to serve.” —UNKOWN
Professional dance is one of the most raw, challenging, and beautifully sacrificial paths one can embark on. It will ask you to reach beyond what you believed to be your greatest limitations and dig deeper within than you ever thought was possible. It will break you down only to build you back up into a greater physical, spiritual and mental version of yourself — if you allow it. It will teach you the depth of what it means to serve something greater than yourself, and this service is what Alonzo King LINES Ballet dancer Michael Montgomery embodies so gracefully.
I sat down with Michael in the cozy and eclectic LINES Ballet company dressing room in the heart of San Francisco to talk openly about rejection, being real with yourself, and what it means to have integrity in your art.
Angelina Perino: Where are you from originally?
Michael Montgomery: I was born and raised in Long Beach, California. My family still lives all within like, a seven block radius in North Long Beach.
AP: What brought you San Francisco?
MM: LINES Ballet did. I came here initially to be a part of the BFA program in 2008 that’s affiliated with Dominican University and my junior year Alonzo asked me to join the company. The rest is history.
AP: Do you feel you were called to be a dancer?
MM: I do. After a lot of trial and error of many different things. It took me a long time to realize I couldn’t catch or throw a ball to save my life. But you know, my mom was super supportive of me — anything I wanted to do she stood behind me. I sang for a little bit, and when my voice changed, I was not really into it anymore. I didn’t like to hear myself. So, I just tried dance as kind of a last resort. I instantly fell in love with it. It felt like home right away and I never expected it do, which is the calling. It was already within.
AP: Do you feel pursuing the path of professional dance comes with a lot of sacrifice?
MM: That’s a good question. It does come with intense sacrifice, but the rewards definitely outweigh the sacrifice. You’re in it to just endlessly give, which is the sacrificial part of our art. It’s not really about what we get in return, it’s about what we can offer, which is our fullest self. I feel grateful for it.
AP: What has been your greatest struggle?
MM: I mean, let’s get real — I am very insecure. Exterior may show otherwise, but I’m in my head a lot. It’s not always the best conversations that I’m having with myself. I’m defeating myself a lot. Even currently I’ve been struggling with that and just trying to break that down, because, it’s definitely a habit that I’ve grown accustomed to, and I don’t want it in my life anymore.
AP: When you feel yourself in your head, what do you to to pull yourself back into the present?
MM: Reminding myself where I am in that moment; reminding myself that I am loved; reminding myself that these things pass and that shit is never as intense as it seems to be when you’re thinking about it; stepping back and out of the situation and just being like, “okay, you know what? There’s so much other shit in this world that’s corrupt and chaotic that I can handle my small problems.”
AP: Remembering how insignificant you are in the best way possible — it gives you immediate perspective.
MM: Yeah! Completely. Completely.
AP: What do you do to reground yourself when you feel off your center?
MM: I’ve started this new method of taking ten deep breaths and then addressing whatever is pulling me off. A lot of times, I feel like we get pulled off and we instantly react — instantaneously react without any logic or any compassion or method to our madness. We just react, instead of really taking a second to let it actually exist and then figuring out what we’re going to do about it. But, that’s new for me. In the past I wasn’t so great with the way I would handle being pulled off. I used to rely on making other people the source of my problems, and I feel very ashamed of that, but I’m growing. That is an old me, I’m grateful to say.
AP: How do you find the balance between pushing yourself and letting go of control?
MM: I don’t! I just push myself. If it’s really hard choreography, I don’t relax until it’s mastered. I feel like I want to put in the work right away and be as efficient as possible so that I can relax for the longer majority of the work.
AP: I think when we allow ourselves to surrender and let go, we align with our true creative selves and the work almost feels effortless. How would you describe the feeling of being in the flow?
MM: It’s an out-of-body experience and so deep in [at the same time] that you just forget about yourself, your doubts, your fears, your problems, your successes, your pride, and your ego — all of it is just stripped away. You become everything and nothing all at once. It’s that divine balance — everything is so important, but nothing matters. Then, you are in your flow.
AP: Have you ever left the stage and felt disappointed or let down by your performance — perhaps that you could have given more?
MM: Oh, for sure! Yeah, for sure.
AP: How do you move past it?
MM: [I] try to be kind to myself. Usually, I just sleep it off. Sleep is the magic tool for me. It’s hard to move on from it, especially when you’re performing and you’re exhausted. It’s really just one entrance and you leave disappointed, but you realize you have to go back on so [you] leave it at the side of the stage. Then, once the show is over, you can pick up all of your emotional baggage and sift through it. But it is a practice – letting stuff like that go.
AP: What scares you?
MM: A lot! Superficially, spiders, [but] on a deeper level, that my contributions in life and the relationships that I make, have, and honor will be forgotten. I don’t know if the feeling of being forgotten or not mattering is my biggest fear, or the fear that this is the ‘ego.’ One thing that I really don’t want in my life is ego; so, I’m constantly [aware] of the choices that I make and the things that I do, and where they are actually coming from.
AP: Would you say, then, that you strive to live your life in your most authentic self?
MM: I try! It’s so hard. I fall short all the time.
AP: What would you maybe say to a younger dancer trying to navigate the professional world and facing that extremely tough rejection and harsh criticism?
MM: We are all born with our own light. The minute that you allow someone else to not only infiltrate your soul, your spirit, your being, but to actually take your light from you, you’ve lost. Baby, you’ve lost, and you have a lot of catching up to do now. That’s the only thing you need in this world — spirit, light, love, and humanity — that’s what makes the world go ‘round and that’s what makes people happy. At the end of the day, if you don’t have that and hold it down, then you’ll never make it anywhere. The rejection comes secondary to your light, and if your light shines bright, you aren’t really being rejected — you’re just being offered a different calling.
AP: Also, to try to be in a space where you can understand that it just wasn’t for you. It’s never personal.
MM: Right! It’s nothing against you, it’s not an attack to you, and everything that you’ve worked for and everything that you are working toward and want — all of that is still tangible. The timing might not be good. But, more importantly, learn to love yourself. Once you have mastered that, can’t nobody touch you.
AP: It has nothing to do with who you are…
MM: …at all.
AP: Do you sometimes doubt yourself?
MM: Yeah! I do. I’m trying to less and less, which makes me do it more and more. But yeah, I doubt my intentions sometimes and have to really get real and investigate why I’m doing this or why I feel this way in response to this situation. And again, it goes back to that ego thing I keep bringing up, because I want to be real. I want to be humble.
AP: Where do you find inspiration?
MM: For me, music. I really have a deep connection to music. I love jazz — my favorite instrument is the saxophone. My artistic goal — I can’t believe I’m saying this — is to move the way the saxophone sounds. I plan to have a very long career because I’m not going to stop until I master that. The way the saxophone sounds is the way that I want people to visually see me moving. I want them to feel that — that silk and that brute force that comes and hits you with love, all love… what an experience that could be, if I master that.
AP: Alonzo King — what would you say is the most valuable piece of wisdom he’s given you?
MM: The most, among so much! Let me just go through the rolodex of intelligence that guy leaks out of every pore!
There was a one day that I was dancing on stage — it was at our home season a few years back — he came up to me after the show and he said “do you know what you did?” I said, “no, what did I do?” He said, “you did IT. You did it. You just did it. Do you know how miraculous that is?” I said, “Uh, no I don’t know,” and he said, “I saw you and I saw all of the past lifetimes that you’ve been here, in a single moment, because you got out of your way. You did it,” and walked away. To be told something like that from somebody that I look up to so much and who has dedicated his life to the arts — like, wow.
AP: What does he represent to you?
MM: Freedom. The law. To me, he represents Truth and exercising not only your physical self, but your spiritual self, as well. His work doesn’t just change you as a dancer, it changes you as a human being. To be a part of something so much bigger than you — that doesn’t happen everywhere. It’s not doing, its becoming a ‘tendu.’ You are here to present your spirit that already has existed forever. So, to me, he represents home.
AP: What advice would you offer to your younger self?
MM: Get real sooner [rather] than later, and to love. Just really love — for yourself, not for what you can get from others if you love hard. Give the maximum amount of yourself, right away. I feel like I didn’t realize that until I got here.
INTERVIEW & PHOTOS BY ANGELINA PERINO
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