Dancer, Choreographer, Artist, healer, Muse, New York City
She is a contemporary dancer, a muse to incredible choreographers, performer and a contortionist of sorts (if you don’t believe me, just watch this New Yorker video). I also recently found out that she is a healer, enabling the body to better repair itself and reach its full potential through energy work.
“When someone walks down the street, you see their history, their choices; a kind of beautiful map” - Michelle Boule once said in an interview. I’d like to extend that concept to the photographs. I wanted to convey the sense of history as well as the present, the aura that surrounds this WOW WOMAN. Ms. Boule is full of energy and class, filled with what seems to be a bottomless wonder about the world. Michelle I know is an ever-positive, magnetic presence, but in the write up below you see the sheer raw and honest account of what it took to get to the current place of peace and discovery. Please enjoy the soothing, confident, happy, wondering, inquiring and enlightening Michelle Boulé.
2. Where is your hometown?
Brooklyn, NY. Originally from Sugar Grove, Illinois, USA.
3. What is your profession/career/title/self-label/designation?
Just the other day I thought to call myself a Transformation Specialist! I’m not sure if that’s quite the right label yet, but it speaks to my interest in transformation and how that happens through my work in the arts and healing. I’m a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and energy-medicine practitioner. For the past 20 years, I’ve studied the science and philosophies behind Eastern and Western theories and practices of somatics, healing, and the physical expression of consciousness. My work aims to transmit this profound and at times esoteric knowledge into the space and time of performance, as well as into the day-to-day existence of people’s lives.
4. What was the journey like to get where you are (in life and career-wise)? What are some accomplishments you’re most proud of, and what was the turning point to set you on a current path in life?
I really believe that life (the universe or God) does its best to direct you towards the life that is yours. We don’t always accept that invitation because we have ideas of what our life should be, or someone told us our lives should look a certain way.
But as a dancer and person who registers so much through my body and the energy that moves through it, I’ve grown more and more familiar with how we are really guided through our lives if we’re willing to surrender and listen.
When I was 16, I had to quit dancing, completely. Besides going to school and studying, I had danced every day (except Sundays) mostly from 4-9 pm after school and then for long hours on Saturdays. Someone told me when I was 13 that I had to decide what kind of dancer I wanted to be, which at the time meant ballet, tap, or jazz. Ballet seemed like the most realistic thing to do. Ha! That was what I read about in Dance Magazine in the early 90’s, and getting into a ballet company seemed like a real enough job. I didn’t even know what contemporary dance was at the time.
Needless to say, I then tried to become a ballet dancer. I left the studio where I had been dancing (ballet, jazz, tap, and acrobatics) and went to another studio that was a 45-minute drive from my home and that was more focused on ballet. I tried to become a ballet dancer, and in all honesty, I loved dancing, moving, and performing, but I wasn’t happy there. I didn’t naturally have the skinny ballet body and the super pointy feet. I have memories of the girls talking about how they had a space between their upper thighs (which I sadly hear is now a thing for women all over. I think it helps to not read a lot of popular magazines that condition women into false and unhealthy ideals.) And my dear dad built me a "foot stretcher” because they had one at this studio and I wanted “better feet.” The foot stretcher was basically a medieval contraption of a long wooden board with a belt strap on it. You would place your foot under the belt and then try to straighten you knee so it would force your foot to point more. I no longer had my Saturday morning jazz classes where my teacher would teach us fun combinations to the latest pop songs, or ballet class in a room full of varied bodies.
I ended up doing a 6-week summer dance program at the Boston Ballet, which essentially ended my dance life as it was. By the second week, I couldn’t walk without pain in my ankles. My calf muscles were as tight as leather, and I had been reinforcing so much misalignment of my physical body towards a ballet ideal that I had developed severe tendonitis in both ankles. I came home from Boston and had to quit dancing. My long term high school boyfriend at the time also broke up with me, disappointed that I had given up on my dream. My dad, who was a radiologist at the time, brought home a medical journal with dancers on the cover. I excitedly picked it up and opened it to the article on dance. He had underlined a sentence saying that some people’s bodies are not built for dancing. I went upstairs to my room and cried.
Oh my goodness! The situations we live through.
I felt directionless and depressed, got through my senior year of high school, burying myself in my studying and graduating as valedictorian, and then went on to college to figure out what to do with myself. I can’t say this was the “funnest" time in my life.
I ended up at the University of Illinois, by my dad’s advising and choosing, and had no idea they had a Dance Department there. I happened to walk by the dance studios one day and peeked in the window. I enrolled in some beginning classes, that didn’t irritate my ankles, and eventually started taking classes with the dance majors. During midterm reviews, I asked my ballet teacher if I could also have a private review like the other dance majors. She asked me why I wasn’t studying dance, and I replied that I couldn’t dance. It was what I had come to believe. She pointed out that I was clearly dancing, and before I knew it, she had me enrolled in the Dance Program with a scholarship. I called my parents to tell them they would be paying less tuition!
Returning to dancing literally realigned me. My teachers were amazing and supportive, and the program introduced me to a holistic way of working with my body. My injuries healed. I studied the Alexander Technique, developmental movement, and other somatic systems of integration. I learned about contemporary dance and choreography, and I knew that I wanted to be involved in work that was pushing boundaries and asking questions. My mind opened, and I uncovered a part of myself that wasn’t going to be satisfied with the status quo. I worked my buns off (in part my coping tool), graduated with the highest honors possible from the University, and moved to New York to dance with a choreographer one week after graduation. My amazing parents drove me all the way to my cousin’s apartment on West 24th Street from Sugar Grove, IL in their white minivan loaded with some of my belongings. I remember crying as I watched them drive away a few days later.
I have always felt supported by New York. I eventually met a choreographer and now dear friend, Miguel Gutierrez, whom I danced and collaborated with for 15 years, witnessing and participating in his trajectory of starting out to gaining international recognition. I received a “Bessie” New York Dance and Performance Award and a second “Bessie” nomination for my work with him. I started teaching professionally in New York and eventually in institutions and universities throughout North and South America, Europe, Australia, and Asia. The New Yorker Magazine featured me in a dance video series, and The New York Times has said “When Ms. Boulé is onstage, it’s hard to take your eyes off her…” That was a nice compliment; however, sometimes it’s more memorable when a random stranger screams from a car “You’re the best dancer in the world!” That was a funny moment. I’ve danced all over the world with other artists I admire immensely like Deborah Hay, Bebe Miller, John Jasperse, John Scott, Heather Kravas, and Donna Uchizono, to name a few. I began focusing more on my own choreography in 2011 and have since received multiple commissions, awards, and creative residencies. I also became a Certified BodyTalk Practitioner in 2008 and have had a clinical practice using energy and consciousness based healing techniques to help people transform their lives.
5. What did you study in school?
Dance - Performance, Choreography, and Pedagogy at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana.
I have continued studying dancing, improvisation, creative practices, and numerous different somatic modalities with various teachers.
Beginning in 2009, I started taking courses with the International BodyTalk Association, studying energy medicine and everything from principles of consciousness, matrix energetics, and bioenergetic psychology to epigenetics, the microbiome and immune system, and traditional Chinese medicine. I also have studied BioGeometry and SourcePoint Therapy, and this December, I’ll be doing a yoga teacher training with one of my favorite yoga teachers, in part because I’ve always wanted to go to Bali and the dates coincided with my planned trip. I have no goals of becoming a yoga teacher, but who knows? I started studying the BodyTalk System because I knew it was going to change my life, not necessarily to become a practitioner. However, I have since treated hundreds of clients.
6. How is your life different from what you pictured at 20?
“I didn’t know the extent to which I would travel around the world and connect with so many different people, being exposed to all the art and the artists I’ve encountered.”
My idea of art expanded by meeting people like Miguel when I was 22 years old. I had no idea I’d be passionately working with energy and consciousness-based healing! I don’t know if at 20 I thought I would be married and possibly having a family, but that seems to be taking its time in my life!
7. What was your biggest disappointment and plan to overcome it?
Besides my departure from dancing and return to it, which really wasn’t strategic, I’ve had some disappointments in relationships. That hard breakup in high school made me afraid to enter into relationships for a long time, and then when I finally did have a solid, long-term relationship, I wanted to know that it would be for life! At times of stress or moments when we don’t feel safe, we might set up rules or promises for ourselves to try to not get hurt again. Those rules don’t always work, and life will present opportunities for us to see that those rules (often subconscious) aren’t actually helping us. That’s the golden opportunity we have when we face conflict. What are the “containers of consciousness” I’ve set up that have led me to this moment?
I’ve also learned that I can’t imagine myself into a reality. It’s so important to see our current reality for what it is. So “the sanity of reality” has been my motto as of late, and allowing myself to surrender and joyfully dialogue with what the universe is trying to send my way.
8. Advice for other women?
Don’t work so hard. Tap into your feminine power to surrender, flow, and manifest. That’s also work, but it’s a different kind of work. Let yourself take up space, and honor your timing.
9. Knowing what we know now in current political climate, can women be "all that we can be" in today's world? What is the way forward, as you see it for "feminist values”?
Yes, I think we can be all we want to be, while I also believe that we have to consciously choose what that is. I am all for the stay-at-home mom, and have sometimes wondered if that’s my calling! I love making a home, cooking, cleaning, nurturing, and all those traditionally feminine traits. I know I also love my work and have definitely tapped into that alpha-female that gets things done, is super productive, and can check boxes off like no other. At the same time, I know that my feminine has been calling me. The left side of my body (the feminine side) wants some care. I can’t keep up with all the work I’ve set myself up to do. I am craving a slower, simpler lifestyle, or at least more support to make that happen. I loved reading writer and Jungian analyst Marion Woodman’s work while I was creating a dance solo for myself called “The Monomyth” in 2016-17. Marion spoke about supporting the feminine, not by trying to be a man, but through embracing the spiralic, emotional, earthly nature of the feminine. I feel like we all exist within different areas in the spectrum of feminine, and that the feminine is the dualistic, different counterpart to the masculine. This isn’t an issue of gender. It’s about qualities, and I feel we all need to find an overall balance in our lives of masculine and feminine, whether that happens solely within ourselves, or also within our relationships. The sexes need to live together rather than battle.
10. Where in the world do you feel “tallest” (i.e. where is your happy place)?
I love performing and being able to dance and work in the studio.
I also deeply love seeing other people (usually in classes or in sessions) self-realize. It’s a moment where the lights turn on and energy starts to move and dance. It is incredibly inspiring and reminds me that so much is possible.
11. What extra-curricular activities/hobbies are you most proud of? Why?
I would call myself primarily a dancer. I process the world through energy and movement. Maybe the healing work is my extra-curricular activity, although I also see it as dancing and bringing movement and transformation into people’s lives.
Other than that, I like to cook, and while I’m not the most amazing chef, I feel like it’s such a wonderful practice of self-care. Maybe someday when I’m not traveling so much, I will have an herb and flower garden. I would love that.
12. What do you want to be when you grow up? Future goals/challenges?
I want to keep combining my dancing, choreographing (or artistic practice), teaching, and healing.
There is this loose idea floating around of having a center where people can come together for dancing, art, and healing. I would love for this to exist outside of the city, in a beautiful natural environment.
13. What fears are you still hoping to overcome?
The fear that drives me to work too much. The self-conscious fear about what others might think about me, my work, or my body. Those little friends still show up at times as good reminders.
14. Anything you'd do differently if you had another go at life?
Right now, nope.
15. What inspires you?
Being able to shift my perspective. Usually this happens through experiences of movement, in looking at visual art, and in nature.
16. What are you hopeful about?
Pema Chodrin writes in opposition to hope in “When Things Fall Apart,” and I kind of love that essay. Hope says something is wrong with “now" and encourages us to be somewhere other than where we are. It puts an agenda on our future.
I still use hope, but I do try to remove “hope” from my writing. A friend and I started saying “Here’s to a great week!” rather than “I hope you have a great week.” Or just “Have a great week.”
But I do wish or intend for happiness and peace, and for people to know that they are intrinsically good, whole, supported, and loved. That we can embrace differences, and cooperate with respect and acceptance.
17. What are some ingredients to a good life?
Having great family support (traditional or chosen) and healing your relationship with your family (even if it’s just energetic). Friends you can call and see at any time.
A wonderful partner.
A place that feels like home.
Time in nature.
Art that makes you broaden your perspective.
18. What advice would you give your 14-year-old self?
You are beautiful. You don’t need to hide. Let your light shine. I got your back.
19. What are you reading now? (what books do you gift most and what are your favourite reads?)
I’m re-reading my friend Paola Ranova's book Your Cardinal Connections and Emergent Strategy by Adrienne Marie Brown. I tend to read a lot of books on healing practices and philosophies.
20. Who is a WOW Woman in your world who inspires you and why? Can you nominate three women you know who perfectly fit WOW WOMAN description?
My sisters and mom
They teach me about love, persistence, the importance of family, and humor.
21. Where can others find you/your work (links to websites, blogs, etc.)?.
FB: Michelle Boulé