With her waterfall of black curls only slightly subdued in a pony tail and her nearly 6-foot frame flowing effortlessly from attitude to arabesque, Alicia Graf Mack, one of Alvin Ailey’s most celebrated dancers, barely sounds winded during opening night preparations on Tuesday afternoon. “I just always remember that this is my dream job,” said Graf Mack, taking a break from rehearsing in a quiet studio space tucked away backstage at the Kennedy Center.

A Maryland native, Graf Mack’s cheering section during Ailey’s annual run in Washington, now in its 30th year, is always the loudest at curtain call, but she remembers one fan in particular. That would be Malia Obama. After taking in Graf Mack’s performance one year, the first daughter joked that she could no longer use her own height as an excuse not to be flexible. It’s in those seemingly small moments where Graf Mack’s influence can be measured.

The Reliable Source: If you had to describe dance in one word what would it be?

Alicia Graf Mack: Life

RS: And how about D.C. in just one word? 

AGM: Vibrant.

RS: Where do you feel more at home as a dancer, in the studio or on the stage?

AGM: On stage I lose myself. I allow myself to get lost in the feeling. Whereas in the studio I’m thinking about the practical aspects. On stage is where I definitely live. It’s like an outer body experience.

RS: If you had to head to the Hill and push the government for more arts funding what would you say?

AGM: I would remind them that the arts lives among us. If we don’t allow young people to find creativity in their lives then we will have a deficiency in society. Study after study has pointed out that when children get involved in the arts they do better in math and science. The arts are just as important as every other subject in our curriculum.

RS: As an area native what advice would you give to the little girl or boy who sees you on stage and dreams of being you someday?

AGM: Just keep dreaming. I always try to keep the same mind set I had as a child. To remember that this is about creating magic.

RS: And finally how would you rate First Lady Michelle Obama’s dance moves? 

AGM: The first lady is a great dancer. She doesn’t take the movement too seriously, which is the key to being a good dancer. She always looks like she’s having fun.