Amanda Smith
Edited by: 
Allie Taylor

Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with Dance Theater of Harlem?

I am from Orange County, California. I started dancing at the age of 3. I did dance team and trained heavily in ballet in high school. From there, I auditioned for several schools throughout the US and ended up at SUNY Purchase. I got my BFA degree there. My senior year of college I got  a job with NC Dance Theater (their name now is Charlotte Ballet.) I was there for 3.5 years and the last year I felt it was time to move on. I moved to NYC with no job. I freelanced for about a year. And Dance Theater of Harlem was always the company I wanted to dance for. I saw them in Cali for the first time when I was 8. I was in awe of the fact that there were so many brown dancers on pointe that looked like me. It really captured my eye and made me realize it was possible. When I moved back to NYC, I auditioned, and it took awhile before I was accepted into the company. But I was accepted into the Dance Theater of Harlem in June 2017 and I never looked back. It took a while, but it was always a dream of mine.

Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?

The teacher that trained me and took me under her wing while I lived in California at the time was Charis Moses. She was someone who really shaped the way I do ballet and technique. I would say Larry Rosenburg as well. I have been coached by people, such as Patricia McBride, for example. I loved being under her wing at NC Dance Theater. She was a star at NYC ballet, and she always told me I was a star, and that has kept me moving and going.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how? and/or Have you used your art form to make a difference?

Yes. I believe that the way we can do that is through choreography. I think certain choreographers touch on topics of social justice. I think that choreographers who go deeper in the choreography really open audiences eyes to what is going on in the world. A lot of times, when we make pieces, it’s up for interpretation, but as artists we want to leave people with a deeper understanding—with more than what they came in for.

Q: What inspires you and drives you forward as an artist and a person?

I believe that I have been given a gift and a purpose by God. I am a believer in God; I am a church-goer and I have a lot of faith. I have this belief that God has given me this purpose and I am here for a reason and it is to speak to the people through art. I can change lives through my dancing and that motivates me when it gets hard because I know this is meant for me. I must give back to the people that come see me dance. I must inspire and motivate through my dancing… I believe I was given a gift to just be bigger than what I am. Dancing for DTH is huge for me because there’s such a legacy behind it’s creator, Arthur Mitchell. It’s about keeping his legacy and that movement alive. It is what people need in the world. People need to see greatness on stage, which opens people’s eyes to greatness.

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?

When it first started to get crazy we were in Detroit two weeks ago. We were supposed to dance at the Detroit Opera House, and we were premiering a ballet that would have been a national premiere. It is a piece that I think was going to change lives. I was really in the zone, and there was talk about COVID-19, but we were like, there is no way it will get that bad. And then, Thursday, we had a lecture demonstration, and after that, all the shows for the weekend were cancelled. We were not sure how we would get paid for the next few weeks. We were so concerned. Our livelihood was threatened, and as artists, it is already hard to pay rent. Especially living in NYC, there are a lot of obligations to bills and expenses here. That was a big thing for us. Luckily, we had a Zoom conference call about payment, and they have been able to pay us for the week we were on tour, and they will be able to pay us in the future—thank god. But things are still unknown as to our performances coming up. We were supposed to have a NYC season in April that was cancelled. The main thing is the uncertainty—not knowing when we will perform again. They first said we could go back to the studio on April 27, but it changes every day. And there is only so much you can do in your living room, with just pointe shoes and no bar. It is hard to keep in shape. We are hoping that the rest of the season will not be cancelled. So much uncertainty is hard, but we cannot live in fear. This is an eye opener for all of us to be more aware, and to find new ways to experience our bodies. It is a journey, and I think we will all come out of this much stronger.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? (Worldmaking: How you can re-imagine the world in your own terms, the way you want it to be. Using this tool one can construct new worlds and write themselves into narratives that have excluded them and systems that have disabled them.)

I would like to see us come together as one, throughout the entire world. The different dance companies are very separated. I would like to see combined programming. There was talk about Martha Graham and DTH doing a NYC season together. We need to support each other more. I would like to see more diversity. I would like to see diversity and more acceptance in ballet companies. In general, I would like us to be a union because we all are in this together. I think we can really change the world and change people’s mindsets once we come together as one. I want everyone to be on the same level and come together to be a strong union of artists, no matter what art you practice. I think we can come together as one, and be a stronger community. I believe that is what is needed for the future of the arts and the world.

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