Stepping into the Fear, Dancing into the Fear
By Renée Tillotson
Elizabeth Lenz-Hill began dancing at age 5 and joined the Hawaii Ballet Theatre for Youth by age 8. In a lot of ways, dance came easily for Elizabeth. Her body formed naturally into turnout and other dance postures. As her family moved around the states over the following years, dance remained a constant for Elizabeth. Outside of dance, she encountered constant changes – of context, culture, circumstance. She traveled with her family from Hawai’i to Tennessee, attended college in Minnesota, then danced professionally in Nasville and Chicago before going to the University of Washington for graduate school. Moving to the rhythms of of dance helped Elizabeth through the challenges of constant change, yet over the years Elizabeth discovered a deep sense of self-doubt collecting inside her.
By the time she reached college Elizabeth had undergone many wrestling matches with this doubt. “I often questioned myself, was I qualified enough? Should I apply for this, or try that?” Elizabeth shares. The questions hit her in the personal and professional realms, and would often hold her back.
At a certain point, she reached complete exhaustion from the doubting mind and decided she had to step out on a limb and take a chance, and then another chance, bolstered by the encouragement from some important people around her.
One of Elizabeth’s college professors encouraged Elizabeth to step beyond her fears and take risks as a dancer. Inspired, Elizabeth continued to pursue dance, and take risks.
“I danced with the Tennessee Dance Theater for my first two years out of college, and then I began to crave a bigger dance community,” says Elizabeth, “I had no idea how to do it, or if I could make it in a bigger dance community, or if I could handle the financial responsibilities if I took such a move. I voiced my concerns to a trusted advisor, and she told me, ‘Follow your fear.’ I took a huge breath, put my things in a moving van, and moved from Nashville to Chicago where I had a great ten-year performance, teaching, and nonprofit administration career.”
Later, during her graduate school program in Washington, Elizabeth faced another spat with her doubts. “I approached the end of graduate school at the University of Washington and was applying for university teaching jobs nationwide. In flooded the self-doubts. This time I just repeated to myself to trust the process. I kept sending out applications, putting out good intentions, and following up on leads that came in. I kept having faith that the right thing would work out. Eventually it did, and I ended up at the University of Southern Mississippi as a tenured dance professor in a gem of a program,” declares Elizabeth.
Elizabeth was a dance professor at the University of Southern Mississippi until her move back to Hawai’i in 2018. “Even moving back home to Hawai’i, I wondered what role I could play in the dance community. I wondered whether my talents, as a teacher, performer, and choreographer would be enough to add value to the amazing voices already here,” says Elizabeth.
Perhaps divinely orchestrated, Elizabeth now works at the Hawai’i Community Foundation as a Program Officer. This means she gets to help support the vision of other creatives via grant funding. The Hawai’i Community Foundation, one of the oldest community foundations in the nation, helps many of Hawai’i’s cultural, arts, educational, health, and environmental organizations. The foundation is known for giving a lot of scholarships to university students. Elizabeth works in the Arts and Culture sector. “I get to help give away money to organizations and projects that are doing great things in the community,” exclaims Elizabeth. “I get to help others who are going out on a limb.”
Elizabeth also teaches contemporary dance and ballet at Still & Moving Center and creates an all-inclusive environment for students of all ages and abilities. She’s been a true cheerleader, inspiring students to believe in themselves, step out, and take a chance.
“Dance is the outer expression of our inner energy,” says Elizabeth, quoting her longtime Chicago mentor Nana Shineflug. “It allows our minds and bodies to experience all that we’re capable of.”
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