Who is Erica Nielsen?

Ericawritesdance (at) gmail.com — I check email about once a week.

I became passionate about dance as a child, taking lessons at Miss Julie Divan’s Innovations Dance Studio in Burlington, Wisconsin. I attended Macalester College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and majored in international studies with a focus in cultural anthropology, but most of my time was spent in the dance studio. In 2003, I combined my interests in anthropology and dance for a master’s of fine arts degree in dance from Arizona State University. My graduate work took meto Bulgaria and culminated in the publication of an essay, “Bulgarian Dance Culture: From Censorship to Chalga” in Anthony Shay’s Balkan Dance (2008). After living in Boston for two years and performing with the Bulgarian folk dance ensemble Ludo Mlado, I returned to Phoenix, Arizona. My original intent was to pursue projects with the modern dance community. Then something incredible happened. I received an email about a call for authors for a social dance book series, and the company needed someone to write a book about folk dancing. I applied and got accepted. It seemed like everything that had happened in my life, for as long as I could remember, fell into place in that moment.

From 2008-2011, Iworked on Folk Dancing for the American Dance Floor series of ABC-Clio/Greenwood Press. I started the project when I was 27. I was not married, and I did not have family responsibilities. I also had a very flexible job as a transcriptionist, working from home. For about 1.5 years, I traveled to dance events in many parts of the U.S. and interviewed myriad dance enthusiasts. Fieldwork was a critical component of this project, because I needed to spend time in dance communities to understand what they were about. The experience was life-changing! Good music and dancing has a way of bringing people together like nothing else, and I was inspired to incorporate recreational dancing into my own life to make it more fulfilling. Many people have limited social interaction today because they work from home (myself included) or in front of a computer all day. Dance communities enable people to connet, both mentally and physically. Dance communities enable people to take a break from everyday life and to just relax and have fun. Life isn’t just about work. For me, at least, I find the greatest sense of fulfillment and happiness come from expressing myself through dance and relating to other people through dance. In the field, I also saw couples dancing together who exhibited such passion for dancing and for one another, I knew that that’s the kind of life I wanted to have. Soon after my fieldwork, I met Nicholas Okamura, who not only accepted that dance was an important part of my identity and life – he was also willing to go dancing with me!  We got married about a year later (on Black Friday of 2010) and continue to live in Phoenix. We attend local dance events as often as we can, and we would like to travel in fall-winter 2011 to attend dances in many other regions of the U.S. and celebrate the publication of Folk Dancing with the people who made it possible!

Folk Dancing is now available on Amazon.com and can be ordered through major bookstores such as Barnes & Noble.



  1. Rich Cech replied:

    Hi Erica,
    It was great fun meeting and dancing with you in Long Beach. Hope you had fun dancing with the ‘Rowdy Crew’… remember Louisville in 2010!
    Later Gator 😉

  2. Judy Merkt replied:

    Erica –
    Would you be interested in including Sarasota, Florida on your book tour? We are having a workshop with Ira Weisburd on Wednesday, November 2nd – perhaps you could be a part of that?
    If this interests you, please contact me and we can discuss further.
    Thank you !

  3. keith m. collis replied:

    Hi, Erica. I received news of your book through the MN Square Dance network – congratulations! I’m somewhat connected in the Twin Cities for Dance & note: 1) opening of the new Cowles Center, 2) two sites I’ve been building relating to my work (Facebook/Frankenstein, and ReverbNation includes film montage from dance shows; “WE” from the Russian novel by Zamyatin & “My Name is Vincent” inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s letters to his brother – best event in 2005 TC “Art on the Town”.)

    Best wishes in all of your endeavors, sincerely,

    Keith M. Collis Composer (google entry phrase to reach the sites)

  4. Janice Hampton replied:

    I plan to buy your book. It really looks like a good history of folk dance.
    However, I noticed something in the picture of you standing next to a bookcase with various pottery on the top of it. There were some brown and cream colored diamond designs on something that looked like a little bowl or pot I purchased when I was just about 12-14 years old. It was purchased in Colorado but close enough to Arizona to be like what I have and probably made by Indians. Could you tell me more about it?

    • erica511 replied:

      Hi Janice,

      That pottery is from Bulgaria. I’ve been collecting it since I was 16 and my friend Silvia (from Bulgaria) brought me a little bell as a souvenir from one of her trips. Some of the objects were gifts, but most were things I picked up during my trips to Bulgaria as a graduate student.

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