Fana Tesfagiorgis was born and raised in Madison
where she got her start in ballet at Ballet Madison
and Madison Ballet.
Alvin Ailey Dancer Fana Tesfagiorgis to
Perform in Madison
then before you know it, it is every day either after school or incorporated into your weekend a lot. You have rehearsals and performances. It’s
very time consuming, but you don’t notice it when you are young because you just love to go. The bell would ring at the end of school and
before I would think, ‘Yeah, I can go home,’ I would think, ‘Yeah, I can go to ballet.’”
And then in eighth grade, Tesfagiorgis had to make a weighty decision. It may not have seemed weighty to her, but this decision would change
her life’s trajectory. In essence, she made a career decision as an early teen.
“My mom came and asked me, ‘Do you really want to do this because there are opportunities to study professionally or at a professional level
while you are in high school,’” Tesfagiorgis said. “I said, ‘Yes, this is what I want to do forever. This is for me.’ So that’s when we started
looking at art high schools. And we found Interlochen Arts Academy in Northern Michigan.”
Interlochen, where Tesfagiorgis met her mentor Earl Mosely, is a premier high school for the arts located far from the maddening crowd. Its
forests and lakes — and not much else — allow serious arts students to totally focus on their art.
“Interlochen is definitely an isolated experience, which allows, I think, you to dive deeper into the art because of that. There aren’t the
distractions that you would encounter in other cities. And a lot of the community is your peers. What I loved most about it is you are surrounded
by other artists. I love being around dancers. But I also love other art as well. And I think they always inform each other and they are all
interconnected in some way. So to be performing on stage and then have your friends in the orchestra playing a Tchaikovsky that you are
dancing to was always a really beautiful experience. People my own age were able to perform a high level of music. That gives me inspiration
to do that well with my dancing. We were inspired by one another’s focus and artistry and dedication. It was inspiring to see how everyone
was dedicated to the art form itself. That was always a great oasis in which to do that.”
During the summers, Tesfagiorgis took advantage of summer intensives to further perfect her art and to make connections in the dance world
including the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. When it came to college, Tesfagiorgis enrolled at the Ailey-Fordham BFA Program where
she spent half of her time at Fordem University and half of her time at Alvin Ailey. And upon graduation, she was admitted to Ailey II, Alvin Ailey’
s junior dance company.
“It was a wonderful experience, like a transition into dance as a profession,” Tesfagiorgis said. “You’re performing all of the time. You’re
travelling and seeing the world. It’s a very strenuous, challenging schedule. And the level of the work is always excellent. They introduce a lot
of emerging choreographers into the world as well. It’s like there is a sense of collaboration involved while you are still getting a lot of
feedback on your growth as an artist. I was lucky to have Sylvia Waters as my director who was such a wonderful nurturer and very intuitive
and could see a lot of potential in each of the dancers she worked with. It was wonderful to have her guidance.”
Tesfagiorgis emphasized that her body is her instrument and therefore, it is at the forefront of any decisions that she makes and it is something
that she must maintain 24/7.
“It is your instrument and the tool that you use for the stage,” Tesfagiorgis observed. “But you are also in it all the time, so you have to maintain
and make decisions based upon what is best for your body. I just have a form of posturing that suits me perfectly that I am also certified to
teach as well. It’s called Gyrotonic. It’s a blend of different workout techniques. It’s very unique in that it is circular. It works on a lot of
coordination. It lengthens and strengthens your muscles at the same time. I really appreciate the way that informs my dancing. It totally
demands a level of mental toughness. You have to have a focus. It’s a resilience.”
And while dancing is a passion of Tesfagiorgis’, it is also her job as a member of the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, one that she must
devote many waking hours to.
“When we are in a rehearsal period, we start with class, like a ballet warm-up, around 10:30 a.m., with small breaks,” Tesfagiorgis said. “And
then we begin rehearsal at 12 p.m. and we finish at 7 p.m. with a one-hour break for lunch from 3-4 p.m. And then outside of that, every day
changes how you work out or release the muscles after rehearsal. Sometimes, I will go do Gyrotonics in the morning. And sometimes, it’s
better for me to just sleep-in in the morning and let my muscles recover a little bit more from sleep. It depends on the day, but our normal
workout is from 12-7 p.m., Monday through Friday. When we are in performance mode, the schedule shifts so that we have between 2-4 hours
of rehearsal in the afternoon and then the performance in the evening. Typically, in rehearsal period, we get two days off, Saturday and Sunday.
When we are in performance mode, usually we have Mondays off. Sometimes, there is an additional time for travelling if we are on tour. But
usually, about 1-2 days off per week.”
Tesfagiorgis loves performing with Ailey because of the dance world that it exposes her to.
“I think Alvin Ailey is an eclectic that speaks for so many people and speaks to so many people,” Tesfagiorgis said. “You have a range of
techniques. Any techniques that you can think of, we are performing in. Any type of music that you can imagine, we dance to it or someone is
creating a ballet to it as we speak. What I love about Ailey is that you get to do everything in one place. We definitely have African, Latin, Asian
and other influences in our art form. You get to explore all of these different styles and ways of moving and also bring the history of the legacy
of where the company came from. We perform Revelations almost every performance because it is an iconic work and we have to maintain it
and take care of it.”
On June 19th, Tesfagiorgis will be coming back home and performing as a professional dancer for the first time. She is excited to perform in
front of friends, family, dance enthusiasts and community members. She will be performing a solo piece entitled Overjoyed, a piece
choreographed by her mentor Earl Mosley and set to the Stevie Wonder song Overjoyed. She will hold a Q&A session afterwards followed by a
Just as she was, Tesfagiorgis would encourage aspiring artists to follow their dream.
“Just pursue it, just have fun learning as much as you can and never stop learning,” Tesfagiorgis emphasized. “Often times, we get to a point
where we can go, ‘I get it now’ or ‘I can do that.’ There are always several things that you can learn in everything that you do. Keep pursing that
and it will stay exciting for you forever. You have to follow what you dream of doing.”
Dance is her dream come true.
By Jonathan Gramling
While the epicenter of the world of dance, New York City, may seem like a thousand miles
away, Fana Tesfagiorgis found her way there through a lot of hard work, encouragement
Tesfagiorgis, who will be returning home to Madison to perform at the Fredric March
Playhouse Theater on June 19th, found out at an early age that she had a gift, a passion for
“When I was very little, I was apparently dancing around the house a lot,” Tesfagiorgis said
with a laugh during a phone interview. “And my mom, an artist herself, said, ‘We need to
do something with that energy.’ So they put me in ballet classes. I started with Ballet
Madison and Charmaine Ristowat. I was about four-years-old. I was a baby. I don’t
remember those first birthdays, but I’ve seen a lot of pictures.”
Tesfagiorgis went to elementary and middle school just like any other regular student in
Madison. But when that final bell rang, Tesfagiorgis turned into a devoted ballet dancer.
“It was time consuming,” Tesfagiorgis said. “When you are younger, it starts out maybe
once per week on the weekends and you go to the ballet class. And then the more mature
you get, the more often you go. And then it was twice per week, three times per week and