Roberta Wong is an incredible, multi-talented artist who continually shares her knowledge, expertise, and passion with the city of Indianapolis. Wong is probably most recognized by the Indianapolis dance community as a former principal dancer with Dance Kaleidoscope. Under Indiana’s Living Legend and artistic director David Hochoy’s guidance, Wong thrived in Dance Kaleidoscope as a company dancer, company teacher, and rehearsal director.
Wong also danced professionally with Boston Ballet (Massachusetts), Indianapolis Ballet Theatre (later renamed Ballet Internationalé, now defunct), Gregory Hancock Dance Theatre, “Yuletide Celebration” with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s Green Show with Dance Kaleidoscope. She is also a well-established and very talented choreographer; she has choreographed for Anderson University’s “Candles and Carols” and “Spring into Dance” concerts, and she organized a collaboration between the Indianapolis School of Ballet and Dance for Parkinson’s Indianapolis. Wong has also presented works created at the Indy Convergence Festival, which were then performed at the Harvest Chicago Contemporary Dance Festival.
Within the Indianapolis arts community, she is a two time winner of the Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis, and she has been awarded an Individual Artist Program Grant from the Indiana Arts Commission twice. Wong has also been featured in Indianapolis Woman Magazine.
With her most recent grant, Wong is looking forward to exploring Gaga movement language (created by Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin), William Forsythe choreographic ideas, and elements of Countertechnique (created by Anouk van Dijk). She currently teaches at Butler University and Indiana University Bloomington as Adjunct Faculty, Dance for Parkinson’s Bloomington, Indianapolis School of Ballet, and Stage 1 Dance Academy in Greenwood, Indiana.
I have been privileged to study under Wong’s tutelage and to work with her on original choreography. She has been very gracious to answer a few questions to help the Indianapolis dance community learn more about her as an artist and as an individual.
How did you get involved with dance at a young age?
My mother enrolled me in dance classes when I was 8 years old, after she saw an ad offering classes by a wonderful teacher named Hanneke Lohse. Mom told me that she and my dad noticed that I skipped well, and that was the beginning of it.
What made you realize that you wanted to pursue a professional career?
Nothing concrete. I had always been taught to take every task seriously, and that by dedication and devotion (as well as passion and good fortune)-- things would happen. I also think it’s courage, too. My friend wanted to audition in San Francisco for Boston Ballet’s summer program. She told me her father would do the driving and take us to dinner afterwards, whether we succeeded or not. I was already out of high school, which made me feel “old,” but I decided to audition anyway. (Luckily their age limit at the time was college age). I was accepted into the summer program at Boston Ballet, and eventually I was offered an apprenticeship.
Regarding first full-company member job, it was once again dedication. Boston Ballet was doing a series of performances; it turned out Dace Dindonis and Michael Stephenson from Indianapolis Ballet Theatre had come to see one of the shows, and they offered me a job after warm-up class! (There was really no reason for me to be at warm-up class; I had only a crowd scene and a small crossover in the show, but of course I attended because that's how I was taught). I always tell my students not to pass up opportunities, but to be grateful for them.
When did you decide that you wanted to teach?
I didn't think about being a teacher. Some company members went out of town, and they needed someone to cover their classes. I almost turned them down out of shyness and perfectionism, but I knew I needed to push myself out of my comfort zone. I even had to borrow their car to get to their classes. Now, I have loved teaching for many years. It's sometimes about doing things that are not at all second nature, but will no doubt expand one in proportion to one's courage, as per the quote by Anais Nin.
What is your favorite thing about teaching?
Everything. Seriously. The students' joys and discoveries, the problem-solving on how to get them to achieve proficiencies, and the creation of combinations. I particularly like the times they finally achieve a step for the first time. For example, a great pirouette [in ballet, this is a turn]: it makes you relive your own joy, and it keeps you connected to memories, small triumphs, and feelings.
What brought you to Indianapolis?
The job with Indianapolis Ballet Theatre. And the work (as in the body of work one does in their lifetime) is why I have stayed. I feel both the city and I have evolved a lot here.
What do you like most about the Indianapolis dance community?
I like that it is connected and diverse. It's smaller and more spacious (than perhaps New York), which gives more people an opportunity to breathe and stretch their wings here. There are so many people doing good work here, and I don't think people realize it sometimes. I love Dance Kaleidoscope for so many reasons, and I am also eternally grateful for David Hochoy's mentoring, teaching and vision. I love that I found my place here.
What is your advice for young dancers aspiring to a professional career in dance?
Always conduct yourself with professional practices; show up, be on time, stay curious, don't judge until you've experienced something. Sometimes don't over think, just do. There are no shortcuts nor instant answers, even though it might seem that way for some people. Devote to and respect the art, the results will follow.
The Indianapolis dance community is incredibly fortunate that Roberta Wong, a multi-faceted artist in dance, has chosen to call Indiana home. She is truly an inspiration to not only her students, but also to her fellow artists and colleagues. Thank you so much, Roberta, for helping the city of Indianapolis to get to know you better!