Maja Naomi Furnes is currently performing a solo choreography, a multimedia dance installation, with the Tom Dale Company. I caught up with her when she returned to London from the company’s trip to Shanghai.
The Japanese-Norwegian dancer has a degree in modern and contemporary dance from Norway’s National Academy of the Arts, and works as a professional dancer.
She started out dancing ballet when she was four years old but was far from a dance prodigy growing up.
“I was definitely not always a great dancer. In fact, I would describe myself as quite bad when I was young.
“Up until my mid-teens, when I started taking ballet seriously, I considered quitting several times when I felt I wasn’t good enough and that I was being pushed too far,” she said.
After being rejected from ‘Happy Feet’, the acclaimed youth company at her dance school in her teens, Furnes said she felt a need to prove herself. “I wanted to prove to myself that I could be one of the ‘accomplished’ ones. I had never been that, I had never stood out.
“I remember I asked my ballet teacher, Kirsti Skullerud: “What do I have to do to get in to Happy Feet?
She told me to practice, practice and practice some more. And that is exactly what I did.”
During the next round of auditions, she was accepted.
“The years with the youth company allowed me to challenge myself. We performed a lot and I was exposed to different styles and choreographies.”
In order to keep growing as a dancer, Furnes now takes classes, attends workshops, travels, sees productions and shows, and follows fellow dancers and companies on various social media platforms to stay up to date on developments.
“A large part of the job is actually to network and email companies, choreographers and dancers. Knowing the right people can be crucial to get work,” she explained.
A career highlight was when she bagged an apprenticeship with the acclaimed Hofesh Shechter Company.
She said: “I was extremely lucky and was chosen out of 1000 auditioning dancers to dance for the company. Alongside seven other apprentices, I got to travel all over Europe with a super cool and physical production, called ‘Disappearing Act.’ To me, that was epic!”
“Dancing does something to you as a person, it affects your whole being.
“Through dance you learn a lot about yourself physically, mentally and spiritually. Working with choreographers and traveling all over for various projects, I meet so many interesting people from all around the world.
Not only dancers, but also other artists and team members.”
According to Furnes, that is the best thing about being a dancer.
“I get to broaden my mind and understanding of the world through those experiences,” she continued.
The life of a dancer can be a rollercoaster though. Especially if you freelance.
“As a freelancer you can decide which projects to work on and manage your own time but you usually won’t be able to plan your whole year. And you’re always working 200 per cent. You don’t get paid for all that work,” she said.
She added: “If you’re working in a company there are other challenges. You don’t have the same freedoms, but you have more financial stability and you’re more secure should anything happen to your health.”
For dancers, it is imperative to avoid injuries.
“I’m always training my strength and conditioning to protect myself from injuries.
“For instance I will not endanger my body by going skiing,” she said.
“Dancing is not just for fun, but serious work where we convey art to audiences as our livelihood. Working isn’t always fun, and there are days when you just really don’t want to move. But you have to do your job.”
No matter how well dancers look after themselves though, dance careers are notoriously short compared to other career paths.
She said: “I will not be able to dance forever so eventually it will be natural to teach. I already enjoy that.”
She continued: “Right now, I am happy freelancing, enjoying the exhilaration of the crazy, unpredictable life of a dancer. But soon I would like to work in a company. I’ve been eyeing the Gothenburg Opera for some years now. It would be a dream to join them.”
“But I also have a smaller dream,” she laughed.
“To dare to dance off in a hip-hop battle. Right now the thought makes me feel sick!”
All photos courtesy of Maja Naomi Furnes