Setting up as dancer and doctor

handMadelyn Ho '08 discusses the origins of her dance profession and medical training. 

By Truelian Lee '21


11/3, 4-5 PM: Madelyn Ho ’08, HMS ’18, dancer with Paul Taylor Dance Company (Location: OCS) Read Setting up as dancer and doctor by Truelian Lee '21 on the Harvard Arts Blog CANCELED. Please check back for rescheduled time.

Flipping through her local dance studio magazine, a young Madelyn Ho ’08 stumbled upon an advertisement for The Nutcracker and knew she wanted to audition. “Looking back, it was one of those things that made me say, ‘Wow, I’m proud of my younger self for taking the initiative and audition,’” she said.

Ho started dancing as a child and continued through college. While at Harvard, Ho was the Ballet Mistress of Harvard Ballet Company, served as a First-Year Arts Program proctor and was involved with ARTS FIRST, the annual student arts festival. After graduation, she danced with Taylor 2 for four years before leaving to study at Harvard Medical School. Three years later, she joined the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She will be a speaker in the You Can Get There from Here series at 4-5 p.m. Friday, Nov. 3 at the Office for Career Services. The series, which features Harvard alums who are 30ish working in the arts, is a new joint project of the Office for the Arts and the OCS.  Ho's talk is free and open to undergrads -- and requests registration for attendees. I recently caught uyp with Ho, and we had the following exchange.

Madelyn Ho '08
Madelyn Ho '08 Photo: Paul B. Goode
What first got you interested in dance?
I remember my mom had taken me to a dance recital when I was pretty young, and I really loved it. I was putting on dance recitals at home for fun, and finally my parents said, “Let’s put her in class so she can have one formal recital per year, and we’ll just watch that.”

How did Harvard influence your choice to become a professional dancer?
Before college, I didn’t have any aspirations to dance professionally. It was really Harvard that made me even consider a career in the arts. The OFA helped a lot. The Harvard Dance Program also brought in a lot of guest artists, and it was amazing to see a lot of high-caliber artists, choreographers and teachers.

How did your Harvard experience help you as a professional dancer?
Having had so many guest choreographers and having worked with so many people has really helped me in terms of learning to work with different rehearsal directors and teachers and learning how to gain the most out of every experience. I think in the professional dance world, where things are really fast-paced, being able to pick up material and notice the details is important. My undergraduate experience helped me nurture my persistence and learn how to learn. I also learned very practical things, since at Harvard, because so much of dance is with the extracurriculars, you’re involved in all of the aspects of producing a dance — setting up the floor, arranging the stage, planning the lighting. I think that really helped me understand what goes into dance.

How did you decide to pursue medicine?
Starting college, I knew I was very interested in science, though I wasn’t quite sure where that would take me. I was definitely interested in research, and I was thinking of a PhD. However, throughout college, I really liked interacting with people, and it was harder to do that on a daily basis with research. I also really wanted to have a direct impact with the patient. Toward the end of college, I started thinking about medical school, but I had also wanted to take some time off and explore dancing.

What has it been like juggling medical school and dancing?
In some ways, the logistics have been difficult. I’m very lucky that the Paul Taylor company is a full-time job. I see similarities in both medicine and dance — both have a very collaborative environment. So if you're engaging with other people in a team like in medicine, you’re constantly working with other residents, medical students, attendings, nurses, patients. You’re just working with so many different people. And it’s the same in some ways in a dance company. I think it can be very easy to get caught up in the facts you’re learning in medical school, but stepping out of that environment with art allows you to grasp that bigger picture about the humanity of medicine. It's funny, when the dance company people come up to me with medical questions, it’s kind of become a joke. “OK, Madelyn, it’s your office hours, can I come to you with this medical question I have?”

What advice would you give to undergrads who are thinking about exploring a career in the arts?
I feel like it’s one of those careers that feels like no one else is really pursuing. On campus, during junior year, there’s so much recruiting for finance and consulting, and there are so many people going into graduate school, and it can feel like there is no one to talk to. If you can, reach out to alumni who you know are in the field. I’m always happy to talk to people who are interested in dance. One of the things for me that I remember when I started dancing was that I felt like this must have been a mistake. I didn’t have a BFA, and there were people who majored in dance and had a lot more experience. And I think that can be very intimidating. I think just reminding yourself that Harvard has prepared you in more ways than one, and just reassuring yourself that you are in the right place and you are meant to do this, is important. I think also, just in the arts, it’s one of those things where a lot of the times, it’s about being in the right place at the right time, so being open for opportunities and whatever that may mean is key, and I think that going to Harvard helps you set up for that.