Once upon a time, Elisa Schreiber wanted to be a pediatrician. But we all know what happens to the best-laid plans…
Just one week into her studies at Duke University – following an introduction to Clay Taliaferro and the Limón technique – Schreiber scrapped medicine and focused her energy on dance. Four years later, she moved to New York to pursue her passion.
A self-described “late-starter” in the field of professional dance, Schreiber spent her early years in the city studying under as many dancers as she could. While attending a teaching workshop, she was picked out of the group by Carla Maxwell, the former Artistic Director of the José Limón Company.
“For the next five years,” explains Schreiber, “I learned repertory with the company and performed in New York and abroad when guest artists were needed for larger pieces.” Since then, Schreiber has gone on to study a wide range of techniques – from ballet to contemporary and floorwork to improvisation – as well as perform with a number of different companies.
In addition to pursuing her own dance career, Schreiber also teaches. She has worked for Peridance Center, Spoke the Hub, Marymount Manhattan College and the Limón Institute, among others. While it is not uncommon for dancers to teach as a means of supplementing their income between gigs, Schreiber discovered a new freedom in behind-the-scenes work.
“There is something uniquely satisfying in helping another dancer find a way to move with more efficiency and, hopefully, more texture,” says Schreiber. “I teach Limón, but with an eye towards: how will this help a dancer tune their instrument, no matter what they do next?”
The question of what to do next has been something many performing artists and arts institutions have grappled with over the last year. With closed theaters and paused productions throughout the city, the regular work of a dancer has been on hold. Still, many artists have found ways to continue doing what they love. “I think what’s left the strongest impression during this time is that dance can really happen anywhere,” Schreiber explains. Ballet classes have been held along the waterfront and performances have happened in parking lots, at beaches and beyond. Schreiber credits The Craft, run out of Threes Brewing, for consistently streaming dance performances throughout the pandemic.
She has pivoted as well, adapting her teaching to the virtual setting and even creating a class focused on movement in confined spaces. For many dancers it’s not just the lack of space that can make it difficult to move, but navigating uneven floors, furniture and other housemates. “Sometimes it can be a bit frustrating,” admits Schreiber, “but it’s comforting to know we can still teach, take class, and connect while distant.”
Over the last year, Schreiber has managed to do all of this from her apartment in Greenpoint. A resident of the neighborhood since 2007, she has watched the area evolve and change, but still appreciates the community. “I know my neighbors on the street – we nod and say hello,” she says. “The women at CTown ask about my son. This city is an overwhelming and frenetic place, but this neighborhood always feels like a deep, calming breath.”