100 Creatives

Nicole Olson of Scorpius Dance Theatre on How She Always Knew She'd Be a Dancer

Every other year, New Times puts the spotlight on Phoenix's creative forces — painters, dancers, designers, and actors. Leading up to the release of Best of Phoenix, we're taking a closer look at 100 more. Welcome to the 2016 edition of 100 Creatives. Up today is 100. Nicole Olson.

Even as a child growing up in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin, a small town outside Milwaukee, Nicole Olson knew what she was destined to do: dance. 

"I have never imagined doing anything else," Olson tells New Times. "And I loved all the arts growing up; participated in most of them. It’s what makes me feel the most alive. I can’t imagine going through my day without feeling that way."

She studied at Milwaukee Ballet School and went on to earn her BFA in modern and ballet from the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, where, she adds, "I was lucky enough to start working professionally while in college."

Now based in Phoenix, the 45-year-old dancer and choreographer serves as both the head of the dance department at Metropolitan Arts Institute and as the associate director and choreographer of Scorpius Dance Theatre, whose A Vampire Tale features her as queen of the bloodsuckers. All of which keeps the dancer in near constant motion. 

But the inspiration just keeps coming. 

"I base most of my work off of the human experience," Olson says. "I love telling stories and expressing human emotion through dance. Whether I’m the one onstage performing or setting work on others, I am most influenced by people’s narratives."

I came to Phoenix with some clothes, some jewelry, $600, and a 25-year-old’s sense of adventure. In a lot of ways, not much of that has changed.

I make art because it calms my brain, feeds my soul, and challenges my body. I’ve always danced and created dance, in some way, my whole life. I love the process, the rehearsals, the artists, and the craft. I never feel more “in the moment" then when I am dancing.

I'm most productive when I give myself strict parameters. When I start choreographing, I have to have “rules” to follow. For me, if I have too many options, I’ll include everything and the kitchen sink in it. It looks like a mess. The goal is clean, precise work that speaks.

My inspiration wall is full of art! Photos, paintings, fashion, sculpture, music, dance, literature, etc. Especially poetry. It reminds me the most of dance, I guess. Poetry is a thought; a moment. That is what I feel dance encompasses — a moment in time. I have many books in my home filled with poetry. It inspires me.

I've learned most from my mentors. When I say that, I mean that I seem to have new ones every day. They span from my teachers, my colleagues, even my students (their young, creative minds amaze me everyday), to the people I run into at the grocery store. People are fascinating, and I love to watch their body language and how they physically react to situations. They inspire my work, both when I’m performing and when choreographing. Physical language is engaging, and no matter what verbal language you speak, we all understand the body’s words.

Good work should always move you, speak to you. I love hearing others’ interpretation of my work. I’m thrilled if they come up with another story or feeling or bond than the one I intended. What is important is that they felt “something.” Then I know I’ve done my job.

The Phoenix creative scene could use more inside circle support. We sometimes get a little segregated; actors, directors, painters, sculptors, writers … We are all artists. We have simply chosen different mediums to work with. It is hard to convince everyone else to support us if we struggle with supporting each other.

There are so many influential, creative, and brave artists here in Phoenix. I love that about this city. Take the time to learn from each other. Our gifts and experiences are priceless. See a play. Go to the gallery. Watch some dance. Read a new book. Our options are unlimited.