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Artist Profile: Paul Taylor Dance Company Member Madelyn Ho ’08 on Following Your Passion

Madelyn Ho performing in Amy Hall Garner's "Somewhere in the Middle."
Madelyn Ho performing in Amy Hall Garner's "Somewhere in the Middle." By Courtesy of Whitney Browne
By Maria F. Cifuentes, Contributing Writer

Madelyn Ho ’08 took a leap of faith figuratively and literally when she decided to pursue a professional career as a dancer for the internationally acclaimed Paul Taylor Dance Company (PTDC). As a Harvard College and Harvard Medical School graduate, she will return to Boston April 14 to 16 to perform with PTDC at a show presented by Celebrity Series of Boston at the Boch Center Shubert Theater. The shows feature dancers that have personal ties to Boston, Western Massachusetts, Central New Hampshire and Central Connecticut.

“My mom was a piano teacher. So there was always music in our household and my mom also really loved dance. So I think I give her a lot of credit for introducing me to dance,” Ho shared in an interview with The Harvard Crimson.

Ho grew up in Sugar Land, Texas and fondly remembers watching a dress rehearsal for a dance recital at the age of three and immediately falling in love with the art. From that moment on, her passion for dance — especially ballet — only continued to grow. She danced throughout high school and wanted to keep dancing in college, but deep down a part of her knew that she wouldn’t be able to dance professionally.

When applying to colleges, Harvard stood out to Ho during prefrosh weekend because she was not only enamored by the Harvard Ballet Company’s performance but also felt that she could pursue a rigorous academic career through her arts and sciences education at Harvard.

“Here's a group of people who are super passionate about dance, and dancing at such a high level. This is something I can continue doing in college while still getting a degree,” said Ho.

The programs offered at Harvard gave her hope that she could possibly pursue a career in dance even though at the time she was unsure of what her academic and professional future would look like.

“I think if I hadn’t gone to Harvard, I wouldn’t be dancing professionally now,” said Ho.

Through the Artist Development Fellowship, she was able to attend two dance intensives and immerse herself into modern dance. She not only attended the Paul Taylor Winter Intensive, but also took a course at Harvard that focused on the history and repertoire of Paul Taylor. This opportunity helped solidify her passion for modern dance and her desire to one day join the PTDC.

Right before her Harvard College graduation, Ho saw her dance aspirations come together when she joined Paul Taylor’s smaller company, Taylor 2. Ho smiled as she recalled that there was always a lot of Paul Taylor in her life. After all, as an undergraduate she saw Taylor 2 perform at Harvard and the main company perform in New York.

“There’s so much humanness in the dancing. It just felt very right for me,” said Ho.

When asked about her growth as a performer and the journey it took to become a dancer for PTDC, Ho recognized that she had to find a balance between perfection and allowing herself to be human.

“Something like dance is very ephemeral, right? And there’s always the striving to work on things. But there’s something beautiful about being human on stage,” said Ho.

For Ho, being a dancer is a continuous process of growth that involves juggling between striving for perfection and its counterproductiveness. Ho also emphasized the importance of balance in pursuing her goals.

“I think … motivation is so important to help us get to where we are,” said Ho. “But also finding that balance of recognizing when to allow] oneself to be human and be vulnerable."

Her experience with PTDC has allowed her to delve more into vulnerability as she dances and strays away from perfectionism. Interestingly, there are no mirrors at the studio since Paul Taylor did not want the dancers to stare at themselves while rehearsing, as he wanted the interaction between the dancers to be genuine. For instance, he did not want the dancers worrying about how high their leg went since perfecting a move is not integral in portraying the realness of a piece or corresponding storyline.

She praises the genius of Paul Taylor and is excited for everyone to experience the humanness in the interaction between dancers when they perform “Company B” and “Brandenburgs” — two of Paul Taylor’s most popular works — in April. Although the pieces are quite different from each other, they both contain elements of what makes Taylor unique. From sweeping athletic movements that reflect a relationship between the dancers to a storyline with characters based in the 1940s depicting World War II, Paul Taylor manages to capture light and darkness within a single moment.

Ho shares that in preparing to perform these pieces and Amy Hall Garner’s recently commissioned piece “Somewhere in the Middle” in just a few weeks, she is really looking forward to returning to Boston after not being able to complete the PTDC tour as a result of the pandemic and sharing her passion for dance with her close friends and mentors in Boston. “Being back is just very exciting for us. And the program is great because you get to see the full range of what the PTDC does,” said Ho.

Ho’s passions aren’t just confined to dance either. Beyond graduating Harvard College with a B.A. in Chemistry and Physical Biology, Ho also attended HMS and completed her Doctorate of Medicine in 2018. Throughout her college years, Ho knew she wanted to combine her passion for dance with science.

“I was more interested in the human aspect. And in some ways dance also really inspired me to pursue medicine,” said Ho.

When she discovered the field of dance medicine that focuses on the needs and specific injuries of dancers, she knew that she could apply her experience in dance to better understand the needs of other dancers.

In her desire to blend both of her passions, Ho was faced with a difficult decision of whether to pursue residency or a professional career in dance. When asked what was the deciding factor that allowed her to choose a career in dance, Ho smiled and recalled that it was something that she knew she had to do. She finished her fourth year of medical school in a non-traditional way with a schedule that involved attending classes and dancing professionally for PTDC.

While one may be shocked by Ho’s decision to pursue a professional dance career, people close to Ho understood her decision.

"The people who know me know how important dance is to my life. So in that way, they weren't surprised,” said Ho. “And I think they recognize what a special opportunity this was. You know, as I like to remind my dad, getting into the company is percentage wise, harder than getting into Harvard Medical School."

Ho feels incredibly fortunate to be dancing full time, especially since some of her biggest concerns previously included obtaining a stable career and having relatively few arts opportunities as an Asian American woman. As she has danced with PTDC since the spring of 2015, she encourages everyone who wants to pursue dance to do it and hopes people choose to be brave enough to go after what seems out of reach.

Most importantly, Ho shared, “if there's something that you love, you can find some way to incorporate it into your life. And I think that's — that's important."

Watch the Paul Taylor Dance Company perform at the Boch Center Shubert Theatre from April 14 to 16.

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