Before she traveled internationally to dance and produce her own show, Nancy Ellis, 1989 KHS graduate, danced in the Keating Theater with the KH Players. KHS theater was one of the first steps on her path to become a professional dancer. At high school rehearsals, Ellis grew close with John Dean, KHS art teacher and set designer (1985-89). Dean saw her potential to be a professional from the beginning.
“I remember her being a remarkable dancer,” Dean said. “Whenever there was something that needed to be done, the choreographer would turn to her. She was skilled, disciplined [and] hard working, and that’s what makes a dancer a dancer.”
After high school, Ellis strengthened her performance skills at The Muny with parts in “The Music Man” and “The King and I.” Once summer ended, Ellis relocated to Massachusetts to attend Smith College, where she studied theater and French. Her passion for dance, specifically contemporary, led her to New York where she lived for 11 years. In New York, she began working with Yanira Castro, professional choreographer, and the Gash Voigt Dance Theater.
“[New York] was great,” Ellis said. “There were so many people from all over with so many ideas [that were] making art and dancing. It made me feel alive, engaged and inspired. It was exhausting and stimulating. [It combined] living abroad, performing and making a living off of dance. I loved it.”
Gash Voigt Dance Theater flew Ellis around the world to perform on stages from South Korea to Costa Rica. Ellis continued to work with Castro throughout her travels with Gash Voigt. In 2003, Ellis joined yet another international dance company, Big Dance Theater, which allowed her to visit many European countries.
In 2006, Ellis left Gash Voight and Big Dance Theater behind. She hung up her dance shoes and moved to Portland, OR to start a family. In Oregon, Ellis is currently raising her daughter, Elodie Anderson, who at age 10 wants to be a professional dancer just like her mother. Ellis put dance on the back-burner when Anderson was younger, but quickly picked it up again when her daughter was in her last years of elementary school. She decided it was time to choreograph and dance in a solo show of her own called “Nous, On Va Danser.” The show featured a past, present and future Ellis. The script of her show explains her love of dance, and how she is presently dealing with a mid-life crisis and realizing she has to dance in order to be happy.
“Elodie influences me in a million ways,” Ellis said. “She reminds me how much fun music is and how good dancers are at being expressive and smart by being able to count the beat while moving.”
Anderson said she has taken after her mother and is an avid dancer. She also said her mother is her reason for loving dance as much as she does.
“I want to be just like my mom because she is awesome,” Anderson said. “She is my role model.”
Anderson said she was proud of her mother for being such an incredible dancer, and Dean agrees with her. Ellis’s old teacher still keeps in contact with her and follows her work to this day.
“I’m not surprised by [her success] at all,” Dean said. “I expected it. When you see kids in high school you get a picture of them but you never know how their lives are going to play out when they leave high school, but Ellis was so dedicated. She [has] done beautiful things. She showed her potential in high school, and she lived up to it.”