“It’s crazy being back here,” said Fana Tesfagiorgis, sitting in the dressing room of the Madison Ballet studio. “This is where I used change and get ready for class. Everything seems much smaller now,” she said, gesturing to the child-sized furniture.

Currently dancing in New York City for the prestigious African American modern dance company Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, the Madison native returned to where it all began for her at the age of four on Tuesday to teach a master class for local dancers.

Fana Tesfagiorgis performs with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.

Tesfagiorgis had been meaning to make it back to the city and finally got the chance during a week off in between wrapping a show and heading overseas. It was her first time returning to Madison as a professional dancer. She instructed about a dozen students of various backgrounds and experiences.

“I’m just trying to expand my teaching because that’s also something I love,” she said.

Tesfagiorgis’ career has taken her many places. Since leaving Madison, she attended Interlochen Center for the Arts in Michigan for high school.  She went on to dance for Ailey II, Earl Mosley’s Diversity of Dance Inc., and Alenka Cizmesja’s Art DeConstructed.

Fana Tesfagiorgis leads balance and stretching exercises at Madison Ballet's studio Tuesday.
Fana Tesfagiorgis leads balance and stretching exercises at Madison Ballet’s studio Tuesday.

“The journey has been a long one but I remember where I’m from and all of the people who supported me when I first started,” she said, recalling her days performing in the Nutcracker under Madison Ballet Artistic Director W. Earle Smith. “I remember getting out of school and changing in the car sometimes, just eager to get here and do plaits and pirouettes.”

Even with her blossoming career and the distance that dance has taken her, Tesfagiorgis always carries with her the the lessons she learned at Madison Ballet

“I always had fun here and I never felt pressured to be a certain way or look a certain a way,” she said. “I just felt free like I could learn so much each day. I always appreciated being able to grow in a place that’s a healthy and supportive environment. That makes a big difference in a young dancer’s life, whether or not they stick with it or want to pursue it professionally.”

Photo by Richard Calmes | Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Photo by Richard Calmes | Courtesy Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater

Written by Jordan Gaines

Jordan Gaines

Jordan Gaines is a cultural critic and Madison365 contributor.