A chat with Artistic Director Caitlin Elledge
of X Contemporary Dance
Caitlin Elledge started X Contemporary Dance after struggling through her professional pursuits in ballet. The dance world tore her down but she got back up in a big way. Elledge now employs dancer’s of all shapes and sizes and celebrates them for their uniqueness. Every body can dance.
Share about your story in dance:
I grew up jumping from studio to studio in Southern Mississippi. At around age 3, I started dance because all 4 of my siblings were dancers (as well as my mother, aunt, grandmother, and great-grandmother). Dance runs in the family!
My main training was under the direction of Henry Danton (Royal Ballet/Sadler’s Wells), and Yvonne Bergeron (New Orleans Ballet), both of whom were very strict Vaganova instructors. I was very lucky and had the opportunity to travel to London for a week to train, as well as take master classes around the southern US from amazing teachers.
As I got older, my passion grew, and so did I…
I ended up developing body dysmorphia and a binge eating disorder at the age of 12, but somehow continued on until age 16, which was when I was accepted into the Professional Training Division at Nashville Ballet.
My time at Nashville Ballet had its ups and downs, but was overall the greatest thing for my career. After 2 years in PTD, I was accepted into the Second Company (NB2), as well as Cincinnati Ballet 2, and a scholarship to both summer intensives.
I was 18 at the time, and thought I had all I could want. I was moving up in a company, had performed amazing roles while in PTD, etc. Unfortunately, my time in NB2 was cut short due to undiagnosed Bipolar 2, depression, anxiety, and an eating disorder.
I started coming home from dance with more and more leftover food until I just stopped packing lunch altogether. If one thing went wrong in class, I would completely unravel. I experienced dissociation almost constantly, and didn’t know how to cope with it.
I left NB2 halfway through my first season and could no longer see a future in dance.
After all that had happened, I decided to take a year to focus on myself. I took class when I could, choreographed pieces to perform at a few studios back home, and even had the opportunity to choreograph for VUPointe Ballet at Vanderbilt University.
Things were looking up, but I still had this idea that I wasn’t good enough, regardless of how hard I worked. In the fall of 2018, I was hospitalized for attempted suicide and finally got the help I needed.
Dance came back naturally after the hospital, and my desire for it completely changed. I joined Blue Moves Modern Dance, continued freelance work, and began teaching regularly.
Now it’s 2020, and I have my own dance company. I never thought I would say that, I still struggle with my body image, but I think this new body suits me much better and I am stronger than I ever was before. My dance story is just beginning, and I hope it never ends.
What inspired you to start X-Contemporary Dance?
I just felt like I always needed a space to just dance and be safe, and I wanted that for other people. I was tired of not feeling good enough and being told I wasn’t enough, and it was painful for me to see my beautiful friends go through the same thing.
What kind of dancer’s do you hire?
I hire all types of dancers as long as they have solid technique. Any height, body type, race, or gender. I also really love artistry! Being expressive is the most important thing to me, and I’m happy to say that all of the artists in XCD have amazing expression in their movement.
There is nothing more beautiful than seeing dancers do the same choreography in their own personality. It’s like looking at a sky full of fireworks- they all do the same thing, but not a single one looks the same!
What conversations do you hope to open up in the dance world? How?
There are quite a few conversations I would LOVE to open up in the dance world:
1. That every BODY can dance and that it’s okay to be different. I believe XCD definitely shows that, especially in the work we’re creating.
2. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. It’s okay to talk about what you’re going through, and it’s okay if you need a break. The dynamic in XCD is different than any other company, and I hope others will learn from that. If you allow dancers to rest, better work is created. If you allow dancers to be themselves and make an environment that is free from competition, better work is created.
3. BODY SHAMING, SEXUAL HARASSMENT, SEXISM, AND RACISM ARE REAL IN THE DANCE WORLD AND NEEDS TO BE DISCUSSED! I cannot shout that any louder to the rooftops. This is something that HAS to change, and I will not rest until it has.
What has been the most surprising part of running a company?
The most surprising part of running a company is how natural it feels. I love the dancers so much and am so happy to walk into that studio and create on them. It feels like something that I was always meant to do, and I am so incredibly happy to be alive, healthy, and able to do it.
Anything else you’d like to share:
I have been wrong my entire life. Dance is so much more than bodies. It is so much more than perfecting technique. So much more than trying to impress others and constantly trying to get ahead.
It’s beauty and strength in its rawest form…color and texture, sound and movement…explosive and powerful and overall incredible. Not one individual person is the same, and the art form accentuates that in the most beautiful way possible.
Learn more about X-Contemporary Dance and Donate here.
Photo Credits (in order of appearance):
Caitlin Elledge by Martin O’Connor Photography
Caitlin Elledge by Alicia Hernandez (C.C.Images)
Marie Williams by Christina Joy Fideler (photographer)
Layne Porter by Martin O’Connor Photography