Watching Ellie Sandstrom dance is like watching a spider wrap a fresh kill in its web—it’s fascinating and a little frightening to witness something so precise, innate and powerful. She has fierce presence on stage: Whether the choreography is graceful or gruesome, she never loses her intensity. And when she’s performing in an ensemble piece, her body—inked, pierced and, in a word, ripped—is the one your eye seeks out again and again.
Luckily, audiences have had ample chances in recent years to keep an eye on her. Sandstrom has performed mind-blowing hip-hop and modern dance with acclaimed local choreographer Amy O’Neal, both in dance/music company Locust and a new dance company, AMYO/Tiny Rage. She’s performed with modern dance company Scott/Powell Performance, including a gorgeous duet at On the Boards’ Northwest New Works series in June. At the same series, Sandstrom debuted her inaugural work (“The Arrival/RISE”) under the auspices of “SANDSTROMMOVEMENT,” her new, independent presence whereby she plans to increase her choreographic work, both via commissions and pieces she stages herself. (She’s especially excited to develop more work blending hip hop and ballet.)
Sandstrom’s current success is grounded in decades of grueling work. Now a sweet 32-year-old, equal parts strong and playful, Sandstrom began taking ballet classes six days a week at an age when most of us were learning to count to 100. As a ballerina wannabe growing up in Minneapolis, she eagerly attended Minnesota Dance Theatre and then Ballet Arts Minnesota from first grade until age 14, when her family moved to North Carolina. After a two-year stint in the south (where the classes were “all jazz hands and Vaseline smiles”) the family moved back to Minneapolis, where Sandstrom quickly grew disenchanted with public high school. On the brink of dropping out, she auditioned for the Perpich Center for Arts Education’s Arts High School (a sort of Fame school for 11th–12th graders just outside Minneapolis) and was accepted, spending five hours a day doing ballet, modern and improvisational movement, and starting to choreograph. “That place saved my life,” she says.
She fell in love with Seattle on a post-high-school trip to visit friends. “It was warm!” Sandstrom says, adding that the first time she walked down Broadway she felt at home. She moved here and enrolled at Cornish College after sitting in on one of local legend Wade Madsen’s dance classes. These days, she’s the one doing the teaching: at Velocity Dance Center and the Northwest School, classes that range from beginning ballet to contemporary (hip hop) dance, for youth and adults.
“I’m broke all the time, but I am making a living all through dance,” Sandstrom says proudly. She chooses to live this way rather than taking jobs just to pay the bills—jobs that might take away from the time she can spend dancing, which she anticipates stretching into her golden years. “I want to do it all,” she enthuses. “I want to move ’til my hips don’t move anymore.”