I had the immense honor of interviewing Judy Tyrus on both her new book; Dance Theatre of Harlem
A History, A Movement, A Celebration and the work that she is doing to help other ballet companies archive their histories through her company, ChromaDiverse. I would love for you to check it out!
Hey all, new piece out highlighting LA choreographer and teacher Makenzie Martin and her company Geometry. Check it out by clicking above.
There is something in the slightly buzzy expectation of a bright new year waiting around the corner; a new horizon or a fresh start or, in more recent times, a fervent hope that what has been going on will finally pass and we will be on to something new. That “something” is collective amnesia.
We forget that there is no fresh start. What does exist is simply a moment to reflect; a pause in the daily rush during which we have time to honor accomplishments, and, if we are honest in our self analysis, to accept the hardships, the losses, and the breaks that occured in ourselves, in relationships, in our faith. There can be an opportunity to then take that reflection into account and make different choices going forward. The question is always, and it feels as if I must say “of course,” if we (I) will.
Just like waking up each morning and listing the things for which you are grateful, there is value in noting the accomplishments that dot each year. I find that this year they are even harder than usual to remember, lost in the daily grind, in the constant cacophony of loss, anger, and in a rather calamitous final few months. However, accomplishments do exist and I celebrate them, albeit quietly. I made a beautiful dance film and am in pre-production for another. I have made it to my final semester of grad school, even though I accelerated the process by a semester. I have glowing evaluations from my advisors, assumed an activist role in student council and have earned a full ride through the Carolyn Kelly Educational Foundation. I am getting settled in a new job with an amazing team. There is the potential for me to start to actually create change in the dance world, one institution at a time. A student (many more than one) has come back to or discovered a love of ballet in my class. I have started to write poetry and some day may find the courage to share it. I sometimes still dream.
I often joke that I am indestructible. I never get sore, I can go forever riding or running or walking or dancing. I don’t really need food or water or sleep or love or touch or any other human non-negotiable items. To be perfectly honest, I almost believe that I thrive on the challenge, on the illusion of immortality. However this year brought home to me, in quite a dramatic fashion, the fact that I am indeed quite destructible; physically, emotionally and spiritually.
I learned this year, and it was definitely part of what I took from 2020 (Was there a new year in between the two?I am not sure.) that at some point you will have to stop. You (I) will need to sit in pain, sit in failure, sit with disillusionment and fear and disempowerment. There is a time when your tools for running from it all disappear and you have to feel. And what you feel can hurt so much that you can’t breathe, that you will feel the weight of the world with it’s hard truths.
Sometimes it doesn’t all work out. Sometimes the breaks are permanent. Sometimes ideals fall and illusions shatter. It’s scary and heartbreaking. I leave this year much sadder, much older and much more fragile than I entered it.
I also leave it having done things, over and over, that have historically been incredibly hard for me. I asked, again and again, for help. I showed up the best that I could, knowing that it wasn’t enough but also knowing that it was all I had. I dropped out of commitments because I couldn’t do them and let that be. I slowed down. And all of that was okay.
I learned that when you ask for help, some people show up over and over. Some people don’t and you can’t always predict the outcome. I learned to accept that. I learned that “not perfect” is often enough. I learned that many people don’t take responsibility for their mistakes or moments of carelessness. The results can be devastating. I learned that schools are businesses and to expect administrators to care about individual students or faculty members is often idealistic and unrealistic, that student council and student voices are often the last consideration. I learned that we need to speak up and out in spite of those limitations. I learned that stillness can be terrifying. I learned that I can survive it.
This year has been devastating on a global scale. My challenges, while overwhelming to me in the moment, are minute in comparison to the losses that millions of people experienced. I try to hold that reality when my world turns dark and I can’t see the light. I read student notes and pet Sprite and call my sister, mentor, or best friend (Four hour time difference be damned). I immerse myself in schoolwork or choreography or poetry. I sit in the dark and cry. I move on. I write. I cry again.
I am intensely grateful for my circle of friends and mentors. I am in love with my students and my dancers. I adore my advisors at Goddard. I am grateful that the sun has come out and shines as we turn the page on a new year. I hope that however you acknowledge it, there is both joy and reflection and that you find some space to breathe.
Most of my dance writing covers activism in some way; artistic directors who break boundaries by starting programs for differently abled dancers or female directors in a male dominated field. I cover abuse, bullying, and gender norms by studying those leaders who are trying to break old patterns and upend the norms. I research what needs changing and how artists can and do lead in a world that dismisses us. I rarely simply celebrate. However, when given this opportunity to write about the Los Angeles dance community, a moment of cautious celebration came to mind; the multiple generations of working dancers who populate this brilliant group of performers.
The image of a working commercial dancer is generally an extremely hot, young, often scantily clad human executing seemingly impossible feats behind Beyoncé, Jason Derulo, Megan Thee Stallion or Cher. Hair, eyelashes, midriffs, biceps, and booty all flashing! Our culturally diverse company landscape also looks like that of other leading dance centers. Artists with Los Angeles Contemporary Dance Company, Invertigo Dance Theatre, Lula Washington Dance Theatre, Ate9 and Diavolo Dance Theatre would fit into the companies in any dance hub as would their ballet based counterparts at Los Angeles Ballet and Barak Ballet and the politically active dancers of Contra-Tiempo. While there is great diversity of dance culture, the majority of these dancers are young.
However, there is an entire additional dance world unique to Los Angeles. Film, television and commercial work teems with work for dancers, dancers who are diverse culturally, physically and, in the biggest break from most stage and theater dancers, in age. These dancers often populate the background of a scene, functioning to move the story forward and create the world of the show. SInce these scenes serve the narrative, the dancers need to fit into them, as regular humans in regular places. For example, I have danced a western wedding jig, a square dance with politicians and a swing dance in an asylum. Musicals, both on television and film, are popular and, in contrast to many stage versions, the dancers in them also look like real people. Crazy Ex Girlfriend and Zoey's Extraordinary Playlist use dancers throughout in traditional production numbers. The series finale of Transparent featured an entire chorus of multi-generational dancers as did The Prom and Debbie Allen’s Christmas on the Square. Finally, there is crossover into performance arenas that are generally populated by the younger dance crowd. Miley Cyrus hired older dancers for her video Younger Now. DaBaby had a chorus of Boomer dancers backing him up in his 2021 Grammy performance of Rockstar.
This multi-generational dance community is a gift. In addition to the ongoing industry issues regarding the lack of racial, gender, ability and body diversity, we have a severe problem of ageism. Our busy working older dancers fight it by highlighting the immense value of respecting, honoring, and including those who have come before. Artists can change outdated perceptions, leading by example. These amazing dancers are doing just that. Representation matters.
Click here to read all about the new "Best Practices" guidelines for dance studios and companies compiled by Dance Data Project.
Wrote a new article for LA Dance Chronicle on mentoring in the COVID era. Featuring Justine Menter and Michelle Elkin. Two very inspiring women! Check it out!
Fun new article in The Show Report. Thanks to David Šášik for the chat!
Click here for article!
Here is a screen shot from the editing dock......
Dancers: Darby Epperson and Ryan Ruiz
Director: Bradley Bentz
DP/editor: Matthew Clay
I am working on a really cool film project. Matt Richter, an amazing lighting and sound designer and the Technical Director for the LGTB Center in Los Angeles is also a composer. He asked me to choreograph a short film...so I'm doing it. Here are some preview shots with my two gorgeous dancers, Darby Epperson and Ryan Ruiz.
Gorgeous Eva Ariel Binder was nominated for a Young Artist Academy award and rocked my jewelry on the virtual red carpet. This kid (she is only twelve!) is the real deal, a multi-talented powerhouse! I work with her as a ballet coach and was so thrilled when she wanted to wear this vintage filigree set to the ceremony. Watch out for her. She is already so accomplished and she has so many plans!
Nancy Dobbs Owen
Want to know what is happening right now? You've come to the right place! Enjoy!