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Daily Inspiration: Meet Cammie Tolleshaug

Today we’d like to introduce you to Cammie Tolleshaug.

Cammie, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I went to my first hip-hop class when I was ten years old. At the time, I was on a competitive gymnastics team and in our gym they would always be playing music. My teammate noticed how I would always “groove” to the songs while waiting for my turn on the beam or the bars, etc. and she invited me to her dance class she took at a studio down the street. So naturally, I’ve always been dancing, and I come from a very musical family, but this was my first structured experience. Once I started, I fell in love. And the grooving to background music has not changed. Grocery store freestyling anyone? No, just me?

For a lot of my childhood, I was seeking to dance as much hip-hop as I could. I wasn’t interested in any other style. I grew up in the suburbs of Seattle and at the time, there weren’t a lot of options. I took a cheer class for the dance element, I was in my junior high and high school drill teams because they were the closest thing to a dance team we had, and I continued to take hip-hop classes at different studios in the area. Eventually, I started to train at a studio called The Connection (later renamed KreativMndz). The classes and teams were trained with an intensity I had never experienced. I was so inspired, yet I realized how much more there was to learn and how complex the style could be.

When I graduated high school, I left Seattle to go to college at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo, CA. I was reluctant to leave because I wanted to continue dancing and felt like I was leaving my chance of a dance career behind. Luckily, I found a hip-hop studio in the area called Street Heat. I danced there all four years of college and started teaching my own classes. This is when I fell in love with teaching and choreographing. I eventually taught at over five different studios in the area and choreographed for Cal Poly’s spring dance show. As soon as I got my degree, I moved to LA because I still just “needed to know” what it would be like to fully pursue dance.

As soon as I got to LA, I was immersed in taking classes and learning as much as I could. I got involved with casting websites and from being on music video sets, I met various people. Most of the experiences I’ve had in the industry have been from the people I’ve met or connected with. I’ve been so fortunate to be able to book gigs with artists and travel to dance live at festivals. I’ve also been able to continue teaching and within the last year, I’ve been very focused on choreography again. I’ve taught workshops overseas, I’ve been involved in Netflix specials, I’ve choreographed several music videos, I have my own kids team, I’ve choreographed and performed for Drag Queens, and I’ve collaborated on recent projects for The Mob dance company. It’s easy to always be focused on doing more and working towards the next thing, but it’s important to realize you once dreamed of being where you are now.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Self-doubt has undoubtedly (pun intended) been my biggest obstacle. The beautiful and difficult thing about getting more advanced at your craft is realizing there are always going to be people better than you. There is no limit to how good we can get, but as an artist, you have to remind yourself you are faced with different battles than everyone else. So if someone is better than you (subjectively), it’s because they’ve been given resources along the way and their personal struggles (because everyone has struggles) didn’t get in the way of them acquiring those tools. This doesn’t mean you don’t have your own tools that they wish they had. It can be challenging to trust our own journey as opposed to someone else’s until you see the greater picture and have a fuller understanding.

Mental health has been a decent hurdle for me in my dance career. My senior year of high school, I developed an eating disorder that required me to stop dancing for a while. It could’ve taken my life, and I suffered from a multitude of health issues and hospital visits. I was underweight for years, but I was able to maintain my body weight enough to dance by the time I got to California. I got the help that I needed, and today I am very grateful for my health and overcoming a complicated and stubborn mental illness. Earlier this year, I stopped dancing again for a few months, for the first time in almost eight years. This time it was from other issues related to severe depression and panic disorder. It’s so important for us to give grace for how debilitating a mental illness can be, and I know many of us experience some degree of these disorders. You have to fight for the day when will you look back and thank yourself for fighting.

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I’m a hip-hop dancer, instructor, and choreographer. I like to focus on musicality, which is understanding the music well enough to bring any layer of it to life with movement. I’m always pushing myself to create more dynamics and creative visuals with my work. Nothing is more exciting than having an idea in your head that seems crazy come to life.

I’m known for being goofy and making awkward jokes when I teach, but I’m also very serious and detail-oriented. I build confidence in my students and then push them to their greatest potential and beyond. There has to be a balance of encouragement and criticism. As a teacher, I also like to explain to my students the “why” of any correction I give them. Not every teacher does this, but I want my dancers to understand the full picture and never question the significance of applying a note.

I enjoy being creative and passing my knowledge onto others, but I really love and will always love performing. Nothing will ever compare to that feeling. There have been several opportunities this year where I’ve gotten to play all three roles (choreographer, teacher, and dancer), and those are some of my proudest moments. Teaching in Europe was a very cool experience, too. It felt like a movie, so that is up there as well.

Is there a quality that you most attribute to your success?
Patience! I’ve been dancing for so long and I’m just now starting to understand how skilled I am. It’s more than just trusting your journey, but making sense of why things take time. Our brains need time to digest. We can dive in headfirst to anything new and absorb as much as we can, but applying all the knowledge is what I like to call the “marination” phase. Sleep is how we store and file the information that we’ve learned during the day and how it becomes concrete in our mind. I believe the same applies to our bodies. Resting is how our muscles can make sense of our training and convert the skills into subconscious habits. This is why professionals make what they do look easy. Work smarter, not harder.

I also have learned that you don’t need to completely know how to do something before you do it. You learn as you go. There’s no reason to stop yourself from doing something if you don’t fully understand it yet. Say yes and figure it out later.

Contact Info:

Image Credits
Elisa Cortez (@neoncometmedia)

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