Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with Hubbard Street?
When I was 17 I attended the San Francisco Conservatory of Dance summer intensive and I met Glenn Edgerton there, right before he became artistic director for Hubbard Street and I loved his class so I followed him to Hubbard Street where he started a summer intensive there. I had planned or dreamed to go to Juilliard for school and I did not get in so my next choice was the Alvin Ailey Fordham BFA program. I realized within my first week of school that it was very structured towards grooming Ailey dancers but I wanted to dance for Hubbard Street. I continued to do summers at Hubbard every year until my junior year. At the end of that summer I was hired into Hubbard Street II and spent two seasons there finishing school work online and was able to graduate after two years with Hubbard street II. I had 6 months in between that contract and my main company contract with Hubbard Street and then I stayed at Hubbard from April 2014-December 2019.
Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?
Yes, the first one right off the bat Taryn Kaschock-Russell, she was the director of Hubbard Street II when I started attending summer intensives at Hubbard Street and I can not say enough amazing things about her. She transformed the way I approached class, choreography, and repertory. I had been trained for so long to do the choreography as exactly as it was shown and copy it. However her approach was so human and genuine it really brought me to a humbling place and it was also elevating. She also belched for people she cared about. She took a leap of faith on me and I was not the first choice but she saw something within me and took a risk on that. She has been a huge advocate for me since then. In fact we are talking about working together in the near future as well. She is someone that I have kept in touch with and learned a lot from. I feel generally as I was entering the professional world my two lenses were Ailey and Hubbard Street and I was always partial to Hubbard and the women there because there was something about the women at Hubbard at the time that they met you at your level. I don’t want to compare too much...There was something about the community at Hubbard Street and the women in particular who brought themselves down to your level and they were beautiful, smart, intelligent, outgoing, and disciplined. This included people like Robyn Mineko Williams, Cheryl Man, Clare Bataille, Sarah Cullen Fuller. Jacqueline Burnett is the main reason I went to Ailey and then followed in her footsteps at Hubbard Street II and then the main company. I remember seeing her at 18 and being obsessed with her dancing. We did a Q and A after and we spoke for a bit and I read her bio and decided I had to do those things too. I learned a lot by observing the women of Hubbard street
Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional or professional dance career?
I feel like I kind of got in my own way most of the time. Dancers are in the mirror everyday, comparing ourselves to other people thinking ‘why did she get this and I didn’t’ or ‘how come she gets the better costume or partner’ or whatever. That was my biggest personal challenge, just allowing myself to be, and that prevented me from getting hired right away into the main company. I needed to be shot down so that I could go out and discover more about myself and let go of preconceived notions of what I thought I had to be in order to be a professional. It was not until after I came back to audition for the company that Glenn hired me and he said “I can see you now. You let go of something and I can see you.” That was a huge turning point for me. I think also that transition from pre-professional to professional. So like in college everything is set up for you, you have your classes and grades. Into Hubbard street II where now it is your job and you are personally responsible. There is a lot of new pressure in that to show up and perform and adjusting to a 10am-6pm schedule was a lot. It took me months to get used to that. I had a large panic attack before my first performance with Hubbard Street II. I remember I was in my head and thought ‘I don't deserve to be here I don’t know why I am here. I am not good enough. I can't do this.’ And when I look back at that time now, I just think it was a much harder transition than anyone could have prepared you for. Even transitioning from that into not having a 10am-6pm job, trying to break into the NYC dance scene, and then going back to a 10am-6pm job but this time the game has completely changed. It’s not 6 dancers in the company, it’s now 16 dancers in the main company with dancers who have been professionals for over a decade and you are just getting started. There is such a gap between pre-professional and professional. You are not only learning about yourself as an artist but you are learning about contract negotiation, union dues, and responsibilities. You are learning about administration, education, and outreach. There are so many facets to being a professional dancer that I feel that a lot of dancers learn by experience. I don't think that model is sustainable anymore.
Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how?
Yes. Of course it can be. I feel the default art form that people go to for social justice is music, but dance does the same thing and you see it. There are so many arts organizations out there who vouch for people that don't have a voice. Through my experience with JUNTOS Collective, we have direct contact with people in underserved communities. It is an in person face to face experience and I think when others take ownership of that and feel like they are a part of the process it invigorates them and that energy spreads through their community. With JUNTOS we travel to those under-represented communities and it is a huge reason why people join and why it works, because we bring ourselves and the art of dance to those specific communities. In times like these where we don't have art to physically go to it is so huge for people's mental health and their general well being for community building and expanding people's horizons. Also challenging audiences is what art is for.
Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?
That is a question I have been grappling with lately. As a dancer I have spent my entire life doing this art form. This has been my life's purpose since I can remember. Once I took that leap of faith and left a job where I was doing that every single day without much time off, at the time I thought that I wanted to continue performing and continue dancing and I thought that was my life's purpose forever. But just last month even, before this pandemic, I had started second guessing that and another thing that I am really passionate about is arts education. I love teaching and like I mentioned before I feel like there are all of these gaps that need bridging like dancers need help these days entering into the professional or even the pre-professional world. I think right now I am in between if I want to keep performing or if I want to turn a new leaf and start thinking a bit further down the road. But I think the underlying thing that keeps me driven is knowing or having the sense that I can help this community and I can change peoples lives. Just in the last two weeks I filmed my own ballet class and I have a Youtube link I am sharing with anyone who asks for it and I posted it on my Instagram. I had so many past students ask for it and people abroad who I have never met before who follow me on Instagram. They have started asking and sharing about the class and people ask if I am going to do any Instagram live classes. That gives me a sense of purpose. There is tangible evidence that I am helping people and spreading a positive message. That is what I want to continue doing whether it is a performer or an educator, that is just what I want to do.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?
I was in the middle of audition season in New York City and I was doing a lot of musical theater auditions and I was just kind of starting to get into a groove. I was taking a lot of classes and using that part of my brain. This came suddenly and I had just done three auditions back to back before I flew back to Chicago and then less than a week later everything shut down. That was disappointing to know I can not continue that practice now. I also have work for the summer that starts in May but now I just don't know. So if I don't have that going, I don't know what I will do. My life hasn't changed too much other than that I was already unemployed and dependent on my partner and I am lucky I have him because I know so many others don't have a support system.
Q: How do you think we can continue to create and share art during this time?
I think I have been taking more classes and working out more than I was before the pandemic. I think it is amazing to see what is offered there is so much being offered for free right now at absolutely no cost. Some are asking for donations but most things out there right now are free online. People are getting creative online. I have a strong feeling the art will be incredible on the other side of this. I think it is totally going to change the game.
Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic?
Because I am in a city I think it is difficult for people to practice social distancing. To be honest I have been disappointed with my community just how people have reacted to it. I have a dog that I have to walk 2-3 times a day so when I am outside I avoid dog parks and places that are enclosed and if I am about to pass someone I move 6 feet away from them but not everyone is thinking like that. People are still supporting local businesses which is great but maybe it's because I am asthmatic and I am worried about contracting the virus. The streets are more quiet but I wish people were doing a better job in my community at really practicing social distancing. I brought food to my boyfriend's dad the other day and I walked through this park and it was packed with kids at the playground and people were playing baseball and it was disappointing to see. I just saw the LA mayor closed beaches and certain trains and there was a notice because he saw too many people casually hanging out close together.
Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic?
I would love to see a smarter arts community that is well managed. I would like to see the arts have some relief funding and some kind of base. We need huge improvements in the arts community. The artists and the art are always the first thing to suffer in any crisis and I would love to see a world in which they come first. It is not a question if we can pay the dancers for two weeks. It should be yes we have funding for that and we can support you and the art. I think I would like to see people come together a bit more. It can be so individual there are just so many options for artists and for donors. I think there is a way we can build more of a net where we work together. There was a dance NYC symposium and I saw a clip of Nigel Campbell, saying “If you have flour I have sugar why don't we all come together and make more pies. Why don't we use each other's strengths and assets to make a more sustainable and stronger arts organizations.”