With dancer and Air Force spouse Julie Mulvihill’s love of process, she resiliently ‘choreographs’ ways to work and create from anywhere in the world and during the pandemic. Plus, her love story is so adorable that I think it could be made into a movie.
MilspoFan: Tell us a little about yourself, your journey as a military spouse, and where you are today.
Julie: My Air Force spouse is the younger brother of one of my best friends from high school. Robert (and his sister Jennifer) lived up the street from me for my high school years, and he graduated a year behind me. We both went out of state to college, but both were close with Jennifer, and she was always a reason to come home in the summertime. The summer before I was a senior in college, and Robert a junior (2000), we became romantically connected, and it was a deep albeit long distanced relationship for many years. By 2004, we had been together for about four years, and I was in my last year as a graduate student doing my master’s in Dance Studies at UNCG when we broke up. Robert joined the Air Force shortly after that. For the two years prior, Robert and I had continued our relationship long-distance with him coming and going from me in Greensboro and me going to see him at first to Knoxville, TN, our hometown where he worked, and then to Blacksburg, VA where he did a year of graduate school himself.
After we broke up, I graduated with my master’s degree in 2005 and moved to Raleigh to be a part-time Administrative Director/Grant writer for a regional dance company. I was also adjuncting, teaching dance at UNCG. My work exploded, and I started to “live the dream” making dances for theatre and dance companies, teaching at Arts Together preschool in Raleigh, and adjuncting at three different universities at one time across the state of North Carolina. I showed work at the American Dance Festival in Durham, NC, and local festivals and showcases, and I was generally over the moon with my work life. I was dating a person who at first, I thought I would marry, but I knew he was a really great friend and not a really great romantic partner. I did some soul searching and decided to do six months of first dates online, at the dawn of the online dating platforms. It was scary and exciting, but I realized right away it wasn’t for me. I knew in my heart that Robert was my life partner and who I wanted to grow old with.
Because of our group of friends and my connection with his sister, our social circles were inevitably colliding. I had an opportunity to tell him how I felt at a New Year’s party at the start of 2008. It was a conversation in my life that I look back on and admire my own courage. It was the hardest thing I ever did and one of the things that I am most proud of doing in my life. I set aside my pride and my knowledge of the challenge of how he felt and was my most honest and authentic self. He said, No. I was devastated and also aware that I had done everything available to me to express myself—I had nothing to regret. And so, we parted ways. A few hours later, he called me and said he thought he made a mistake….and I said: Yes, you did.
By that time, he was out of Officer Training School and situated in his first station at Arnold AFB. I was about to start a low residential PhD program in Dance Theory and Practice. I visited Robert at Arnold a few times before he went to Tyndall AFB for a year of training. I thought I would join him at Tyndal, but decided that I would only go if I found work in dance—he was only going to be there a year, and I had spent seven years building a career and network in North Carolina. At the dawn of starting my PhD, I needed to be sure I had an income, and I wasn’t going to give up my dreams. I did not find work near Tyndall AFB in Florida, but I did find work at Georgia College and State University in middle GA. Robert was soon stationed at Robins AFB in Warner Robins, GA. We lived together in Macon for four years. We got married after three when the deployments became overwhelming, and I needed to have signature power over our life. It was an awesome time. I loved my job at GCSU and still consider it one of the best jobs I have ever had—teaching and making work with students.
Robert got picked up to cross-train from being an Air Battle Manager on the JSTARS to becoming a Flight Test Engineer as the foreign exchange student from Air Force to France. We left GA in 2013 and drove across the country to Monterey, CA where Robert did immersive French courses for eight months, and I danced professionally for SpectorDance. We left for France in May of 2014. There are no military bases in France, so we lived on the economy in Martigue, in the southern part of the country for seventeen months. While we were there, I had our son in 2015. Giving birth in a foreign country is a subject for a different blog altogether!
We returned stateside in August of 2015 and were stationed at Edwards AFB in Lancaster, CA. I finished my dissertation there and was a guest artist at Antelope Valley College. It was my first opportunity to teach in a community college and I loved it. Leaving CA as a Doctor of Philosophy in Dance Theory and Practice in 2017, we headed to Cambridge, Massachusetts where Robert was picked up to attend MIT and earn a third master’s degree. We spent 18 months there and our funny joke is that our son also went to MIT at the time, attending the MIT-sponsored preschool.
In 2019 Robert, was called to the Pentagon to serve his required staff tour. I was serving as Visiting Assistant Professor at Wesleyan University in Middletown Connecticut (yes, that’s where Lin-Manuel Miranda went!) so our son and I moved to Middletown for six months, and Robert went on ahead to make our home in Alexandria, VA. We were able to make the trip back and forth easily enough and our running joke is that not only has our son attended MIT, but he was also a student at Wesleyan!
I finished my gig at Wes and joined Robert in VA in the summer of 2019. That fall, I began working for a community dance center and then in the spring of 2020, I started adjuncting at the University of Maryland. Covid hit, and I finished my responsibilities and did not look for or take work for the next year so that I could facilitate virtual kindergarten for our son. I dedicated the year to service for dance organizations that I care about, taking on administrative projects that I am still in the midst of and can do from home.
This summer 2021, we have moved again to Tinker AFB in Oklahoma City. I am excited by the opportunities ahead and am hopeful and optimistic about the coming days. I am serving as key spouse here as Robert is taking command for the first time, new roles for us both. Robert is at 16+ years in the Air Force at this point, and we feel like we have gotten to see and experience the world because of the opportunities granted us by the Air Force. We also are very committed to fulfilling our dreams and doing our best with purpose.
MilspoFAN: How did you become a dancer?
Julie: I know it’s a cliché answer, but I think everyone is a dancer. I have been a dancer all of my life.
MilspoFAN: Describe for us your creative work and the type of dance that speaks the most to you.
Julie: I am interested in collaborative dance making. The work that interests me is the making part, the creating, together. Good dances are fine, but good processes are AMAZING to me. I feel like creative process in group dance making is a little microcosm of how we behave in the world in general. How we treat each other matters: sharing, giving, or stealing power from one another; listening; voicing or nonverbally demonstrating our thoughts. These are the skills I see being explored and enacted in group dance making, and that has a huge impact on me outside of my dance practice.
MilspoFAN: How has your role as a military spouse impacted your work as a painter- creatively, logistically, or otherwise?
Julie: My role as a military spouse has impacted my work as a dancer in that I had imagined myself as a tenure-track academic creative professional, but moving so often without real power over where has greatly impacted that vision for my own career. On the flip side, I have gotten to make dances with people all over the world. That has been something amazing and completely unexpected.
MilspoFAN: How do you cultivate your creativity?
Julie: This is a great question amidst Covid. Oftentimes in my experience, cultivating creativity is based on who my collaborative partners are…with Covid limiting interactions, it has definitely impacted the amount of work I make. Still, I would say that I am learning to recognize my creativity in unconventional ways. I now see how creative I am with answering tough emails and have hard conversations on the phone. I am learning to see creativity beyond the materials of dance making.
MilspoFAN: How do you meet other artists or plug into the local arts scene when you PCS?
Julie: I usually reach out by email or phone to dance programs nearby. At this point, I occasionally know someone—or know someone who knows someone—and am able to make a connection and feel some momentum toward a new project or gig. I also look for the local Contact Improv group, although that is really different now with Covid.
MilspoFAN: What’s next for you?
Julie: I am not sure yet. We have only been in Oklahoma City for about a month. My son has just started in-person school for the first time. This cultural moment has done some pretty devastating things to the performing arts as well as university systems—some things, while devastating, have been a long time in coming. I am not sure where I fit in at the moment, but I am optimistic and resilient. I am a military spouse after all! We are scrappy and can get to it with depth and clarity quickly.
MilspoFAN: What is the most practical piece of advice that you would give to other artists?
Julie: When you can’t find the opportunity you are looking for, create it for yourself.
Find Julie on the web at : www.Juliemulvihill.com