Dancer turned writer visits Wilkes campus for reading

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Courtesy of Etruscan Press

Taking the lessons she learned as a modern dancer and applying them to her other passion, writing, Renee D’Aoust knows how to stay motivated.

Jake Cochran, Assistant A&E Editor

This past Sunday, author Renee D’Aoust visited Wilkes to read from her memoir, “Body of a Dancer.” In this interview, she compares her twin passions of creative writing and dance.

One of the things Renee E. D’Aoust learned very early on, as a pre-professional dancer studying at the Martha Graham Center for Contemporary Dance in New York City, was that the old theater adage of being in the right place at the right time was very much true. However, she remarked, there is also a part to that adage that often goes unsaid.

Simply put, it’s not just about being in the right place at the right time. There also has to be a role there to begin with, and, yes, luck is a part of it.

“In my book you will see that there are just so many talented people, and it’s never an issue of commitment or dedication,” D’Aoust said. Once a dancer achieves a certain level, she added, everyone is very well-prepared and pouring their heart and soul into the art. That which determines success, she said, is often a certain intangible that more or less comes down to good fortune and good timing.

Just this Sunday, D’Aoust visited Wilkes University to sign, read from and answer questions about her memoir, “Body of a Dancer.” The book was published in December 2011 by Etruscan Press, an on-campus publishing house founded by Philip Brady and Robert Mooney, both of whom also serve as faculty members for the school’s graduate Creative Writing program.

“Body of a Dancer” recounts D’Aoust’s experiences as a student at the aforementioned Martha Graham Center, revealing the extensive physical – and sometimes emotional – toll the demands of modern dance can take on a person.

Perhaps the experience with the most impact, she recalled, were those that saw her going head to head against other dancers at open “cattle call”-style auditions.

“When you are at these auditions you are walking around with your number on, and other people are bumping into you,” she said. “It’s almost overwhelming how many people would be there.”

The talent pool at these auditions, she said, was immense and far deeper than most in the general public might expect. The competition was dedicated, vivid and real. The energy? Unimaginably intense. For some, it showed. Others came across as relaxed and casual. For D’Aoust, all these different personalities combined to create a peculiar environment with an array of emotions.

One lesson D’Aoust learned from her audition experiences, a lesson that has continued to stick with her all these years, is the idea that every moment counts toward something.

“Sometimes the person that would give the dancers their numbers and deal with the sign-ins at the auditions would also be the rehearsal director,” she said. “That way, they could get a feel for how the dancers would carry themselves when they weren’t being watched, or at least didn’t think they were.”

When D’Aoust found this out, it cemented the idea in her head that every moment counts and that one should also be aware of he or she is meeting.

“The training at the professional dance schools is such that you’re always representing yourself and you have to be together when you walk in the door,” she said. “You also are still who you are, though. You do not put on any airs. You honor who you are, but you just are aware that you are being watched.”

Another lesson that she learned through her time as a dancer which is can be applied to more in life than just dancing is how to deal with rejection.

“The rejection doesn’t stick,” D’Aoust said. “You still have to get up every morning.”

It’s a philosophy D’Aoust has retained and used in her future endeavors. Though she said she still loves to dance, these days she’s indulging the whims of another muse: the written word. D’Aoust is an English instructor at North Idaho College and has contributed writings to such anthology titles as “Reading Dance” and “On Stage Alone.”

Just as her roll-with-the-punches attitude helped keep her motivated while braving the hazards of dance auditions and New York City life, it has likewise kept her motivated when the time came time to send her writing out in hopes of getting published. Unlike the dance auditions, though, the experience proved far less harrowing.

“When you get the letter no one is yelling at you, no one is saying your body isn’t right for the part, it’s really quite civilized,” D’Aoust said, explaining that she never feared rejections letters.

They simply couldn’t compare to some rejections she witnessed, and received, in her time as a dancer.