Tyra Els from St. Maarten has been working incredibly hard and progressing in her career as a fulltime dancer in New York City. A graduate of the famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, she has graced many stages in collaboration with a string of dance companies over the past year.
Now 21, Tyra danced for a few childhood years with Motiance Dance School, and later re-joined the dance world by signing up with INDISU Dance Theater of St. Maarten at the age of 12, which she considers the beginning of her formal dance training. She moved to New York to pursue her dream at age 17.
* Tyra, how would you describe your growth since moving to NYC and pursuing this path?
I would say that my growth has been exponential. When I first moved to NYC to attend The Alvin Ailey School, I attended their summer programme, where I was placed in Graham 1 and Horton 1. That was expected, as the levels for modern techniques range from levels 1 – 4.
My ballet placement really surprised me, as I was placed in level 2 of level 2-7. It was truly humbling. When the academic year began, I got placed in Ballet 4, Horton 1, and Graham 1. Because of my level placement, I was not eligible to audition for any of the school’s concerts.
For my second year, I was promoted to Ballet 5, Horton 2, and Graham 2 which made me eligible to audition for school performances. I then made it my mission to be cast in every school production, and I was.
In my final year at Ailey, I was promoted to Ballet 6/7, Horton 3, Graham 4. As a part of The Ailey School, there is a performance group called the Ailey Student Performance Group where we tour and perform new works and Ailey classics in school theatres around the tristate area, including Connecticut and New Jersey.
Fortunately, I was cast in all pieces, and in all performances. That year made me grow mentally because I had to be stronger than ever to work through my ankle injury. It was difficult, but I did it and graduated with honours.
Since becoming a professional, my growth has been more artistic. That can mean challenging and playing with dynamics, emotion, and the intention that drives each movement to give it colour and flavour. This is a never-ending growth because there is always more room to explore.
Pursing this path has not been easy, but I wouldn’t change it for the world. If I had to go back, I would still pursue this career choice. Of course, I’ve made mistakes along the way, but I believe those mistakes made me grow the most as a dancer and as a person.
* When did you realise you wanted to be a professional dancer?
It started really with me just striving to be in the company and learning the art form, which I became obsessed with! I basically fell in love with dance and knew that I wanted to do it forever.
I think I made the decision that dance was going to one day be my profession after I attended my first summer intensive in 2015 at Complexions Contemporary Ballet Summer Program.
I fell in love with the process, the hard work, and most importantly, the way it made me feel. Dancing made me feel like I had purpose and a voice. It made me feel like I was truly living! That feeling is what did it for me.
* Tell us about your experiences dancing with the famous Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Performing Memoria with Alvin Ailey was absolutely amazing! During the process, I don’t think I fully fathomed what was happening. Being in the same room with the same people that I admired so much was insane to me.
Being in rehearsals with them definitely made me step my game up. I wanted to emulate the standard they held. I also always observed the company members: the way they learned, practiced and behaved in the studio. The high level of professionalism continues to inspire me to this day.
Performing on stage at City Center was beyond phenomenal. I was in such awe and disbelief that I was there on that stage! The high that I felt during and after the performances was incredible. I literally started to cry as the curtain started to close after I took my last bow. It was an experience that I’ll never forget. It was truly an out of body experience.
* What has life been like since your graduation?
If I’m honest, life after graduation seemed scary at first. I was waiting for my OPT Visa, which allows me to work in the US for one year after graduation, to be approved. There was a chance of it being denied, which would have been devastating as I wouldn’t be able to return to the US and work legally.
Since receiving the visa and returning to the US, the dance world has been good to me. I am proud to say that I have not gone a month without rehearsing for a project.
Since I’ve graduated, I’ve been working with multiple companies and projects, so my planner has literally become my best friend, which helps me to be organised and punctual. Most of my days start at 9:00am and end at 10:00pm. Overall, professional life isn't easy, but I love it.
* What has been your most challenging experience so far?
That would definitely have to be when I injured my ankle. I had to constantly remind myself to trust and surrender to the process, and I will come out an injury-free dancer. I also had to remind myself that “Rome wasn’t built in a day” at times when I felt like my ankle wasn't heeling fast enough. My patience was definitely tested, but remaining humble, grounded and consistent is what got me through it.
* What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently working with Salvatore LaRussa Dance Company. We are preparing for our NYC season, during the second week in September. I’ll also be going to Minneapolis for a dance festival in September with An Nuo Spiritual Dance Art Company.
I have a series of performances coming up for DoubleTake Dance Company, including one performance for Fashion Week. I’m also preparing for a performance with Bloodline Dance Theater, and I’m working with the Barkin/Selissen Project.
I would like to thank my mom, Florenicia Wilson; Mylene Engel; Member of Parliament, William Marlin; The Ailey School; my past sponsors and my various supporters.