Q: What has been your professional dance journey?
When I was younger, I really was just a ball of energy. My parents were trying to figure out and kept trying different things. Actually, I took karate for maybe two days but it wasn't my thing. I didn't like the aggressive side of it. Then my mom was like, “Okay, well let's see, if he likes to be really active why don't we try putting him in dance class or theater group.” I was always just bopping around and making random noises. They're like, “Oh yeah, people do that in this field”, so they put me in tap. After that I slowly went into other styles, then I went to ballet and jazz and then everything else just kind of followed after that. To help pay for my lessons, my mom actually started making costumes in exchange for payment at the studio. She really was the main reason I was able to do it and I didn't actually know until maybe sophomore year of high school that I actually wanted to do this. So then my junior year came around and the whole college conversation started and I decided this is what I wanted to do. My family was like, “Alright, well, let's go big or go home.” I made a list of all these colleges that were considered the top schools for dance at that time. So that's basically what got me started. I got really inspired, actually by seeing people in the LGBT community involved in the arts. I did random community theater my senior summer and I did Oklahoma my senior year. Aside from that, I never really did musical theater. Besides that I always just looked at myself as a dancer and as long as I'm dancing, I'm good to go. But then I realized later on that I didn't only enjoy dancing, I enjoyed every area of the arts community, which is why I'm so immersed in so many different projects. I do a lot of theater. I teach in a lot of different places and love traveling. I'm also immersed in nightlife and I help choreograph for up and coming artists, one of which just produced their own festival and everything. I like to be immersed in every part of the arts world.
Q: Can you talk a little bit about your identity and how that influences the work that you do? How does your adoption story or being raised influence your art and open your eyes to other things?
Part of the reason I'm so big into arts activism, and it's not just the LGBTQIA community, is human rights. The reason I'm so passionate about helping to raise funds and create benefits and platforms for people to learn about different LGBTQIA supporting organizations is because when I was younger, I came out and got bullied relentlessly. It was funny because I was bullied about being gay before I came out. But I realized I liked boys and was just pretty much like “yeah, like boys. You're right, I was gay.” Then I got bullied worse because I said I was gay. There was a point where I was receiving death threats and just a lot of different hate crimes. It doesn't matter how old the person doing them was, they were hate crimes. Some people's older siblings got involved, like it was just crazy. And we're in Jackson, New Jersey, so it's not even a bad place. It just happens everywhere. It actually got to a point where I was, I did, self inflicting just because of how horrible I was being made to feel and how it felt like I should be punishing myself for something that was normal to me. I actually grew up with my mom's brother being gay. I always saw him living a great life as an openly gay man. So it was just so crazy to me, something I thought was normal. When I would see gay characters and shows or I would see like, RuPaul Drag Race first started and seeing those people so openly queer, I was just like, “this is amazing. Why don't I get this? What am I doing wrong about being gay that's making people hate me for it?” It just got out of control. It led me to get help through organizations like the Trevor Project, which I'm happy to say that I've been able to bring over. I think the last event was the biggest one and had over 140 different artists involved. We raised $5,000 for Trevor. It's bi annual; I host one in the winter and one in the summer. And the last time we were at $7,000, with over 130 artists. So it's really important to me, especially to make sure people know about the mission of the Trevor Project and how they aid in the LGBT youth and not just LGBT, really anyone can. It's a suicide hotline, but they really are an amazing organization that does so much. I also am very big in really just finding ways to make sure people who don't normally have a platform, have one that's accessible to them. So one of the ones that I did through my arts initiative that I called Leg Up On Life, was called Matriarch. And that was in the Spring of 2018 for Planned Parenthood. I did one where it was just female choreographers, which is harder for women in general in the arts, because there are so many. And as a creative, I do agree that I think it is ridiculous that women are fighting to have their voice heard. We're in a field where we talk about everybody having a place and yet I feel like there are certain people either based off of their gender identity or the ethnicity that they're not being heard as well. So I also really try hard to make sure that I incorporate in any of my events, a nice diverse group, not just in the style of performance that artists do. I know when I was younger and interested in starting to learn about the arts world, it helps me to see people that I can relate with up there. And I was so happy to be able to see queer people in the arts world succeeding. So I hope that I'm able to encourage others to have a sense of community so that we can keep allowing people of all different voices, all different styles, to inspire more people to join or at least respect and support what we do.
Q: What has dance taught you specifically that you have applied dance and theater? What has dancing theater taught you that you've applied to your everyday life and how do you engage with the world dance in theater or dance and the performing arts?
I think one thing dance has taught me is when I first started studying, I was in like most people at a recreation studio. I got a lot of lessons and just how to behave. We learned to respect others and it was very important to be very, not open and like everyone needs to know your business, but like open and understanding other people and other sides. Which is something that my dad also taught me, but it's just like seeing what my parents were saying. Being in such an artistic place really was what sealed the deal for me. I feel like dance in general, has really helped me come to terms with my personality. I'm not the amount of work that I get done. It doesn't always seem like it would come from somebody as bubbly or likes to laugh or be silly and stupid. I just feel like I've been able to really express who I am. I've come to terms with the fact that it means I'm going to find a group of people who appreciate that. Some of my close friends are not in the arts world, but I feel like it was easier for me to figure out how to explain who I am. I'm not saying I'm the only person who's like this, but the way I choreograph and the way I view movement is now something I can happily say I go off of my own terms, and I like to feel that I now do that in my everyday life. Where in the beginning, I feel I was so focused on figuring that out and figuring my voice out in the arts community. Once I solidified and felt confident in that, it just completely took over who I am, too. So I think the arts also gave me strength in that sense.
Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist?
I felt fine when it first started. I wanted to take this time to get a break in this field because we never do. I was just gonna take like two weeks and thought I would take this as time of reflection. I started getting stir crazy because I'm somebody that dances at least like five to six days a week. But I also do teach a lot so outside of just dancing for myself or in my living room, I just am so used to being in that environment. But it was nice because I got to sit back in the beginning and then I was done reflecting and I wanted to get back to doing what I do. So I started this passion project called Digi gaming groups, which has been in my head for a very long time. After this is all done, I am going to start releasing a series of videos online, different video games. So I've been making mixes for those. I've been starting to choreograph them, try and bring all my passions together and then it was also just kind of sad. In the sense though, because there was news of Miss sight the Miss Saigon first national clothing. Clothing, which I was the vacation swing for and had done over 100 shows with them. And then also my partner's on the cats national tour. He came home for a bit and it was just crazy to see some of my friends who have been employed for so long, had that safety, or were excited about upcoming projects, slowly getting knocked out. Then seeing my gigs starting to get knocked out as well. In all three areas what I do like where atrophy jobs are getting postponed or canceled, teaching jobs being canceled, or my classes at steps or whatever. All the class sizes started getting smaller and smaller for everyone. It was just crazy because it was either people are staying home or they would come to the studio being like well, when this hits the fan, I want to make sure I dance as much as I could before it to hold me over. So it was just so crazy to see the different mindsets. But now I'm actually working on a virtual leg up on my show. It's the same arts initiative that I started back in 2017 that did the night of life, the two biannual events and that matriarch event and several other events. It's called Lifestream Hogs. It's a live stream. And it is bringing together a lineup of choreographers, musicians, drag queens, all in partnership with Philip creative, which is a visual arts company that does photography and videography. And we're partnering up to bring still a virtual but still lively experience. A lot of the performances that are being created are awesome performances that have been designed specifically for this. It's really cool to get a group of dancers even if it wasn't in the room. So get a collective group all working towards bringing to life. A final product that we're one all proud of gets the point across. It's been just kind of weird to not leave my house at all. Usually when I'm not dancing or teaching or working, I am home but not really having the option in the beginning. Now I feel like I'm always in my head and thinking about a new project that I want to do or a new thing I want to bring to life. Because I feel like as artists, we don't always have the time to come up with these.
Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic? What would you like it to look like? What kind of programs do you think need to be built and in place, and how do you think that we should be or can be thinking about the future?
I 100% think you're right, I don't think it's going to look the same. I don't think patron sizes are going to be the same. I don't think the community itself is going to be the same because I think there are going to be a lot of people who might feel a little discouraged by this and like how scary the situation to me for the arts growing up. It was kind of always an understanding that the arts and religion are the first things people are okay to sacrifice, because they don't realize how important they are to them until they're gone. What I would like to see come into place is I would love to see more protection from members in the unions. I also think it should be more accessible. Whether it's a different union, where it's like, you're not necessarily a part of actors equity or the American golden goddess, or Agha or any of the other mmas I just think that there needs to be some more protections and it needs to be more accessible to the whole arts community. I think I also would like to see just outside of protections and what programs I think need to come to life. The main thing I would like to see is less competitiveness. I know there's not a lot of jobs and there's going to be even less jobs going around after this. But I really just think people before this were getting so caught up in competition. Whether it was with their auditions or their social media following with getting people to think what they do is more valid than other people. People need to remember the arts world. We're supposed to invoke emotions in ourselves and our audiences. And I think some people when they get so competitive, lose what we all say at one point that we're in it for. I personally just want to see the arts world after this come together in a way that's more positive, and maybe people that they didn't normally give time to or anything like that. Maybe they'll be more open to seeing what their craft is and what they want to present to the world. I think the hardest part about this community is when you don't feel support. I think at one point, everyone kind of feels that way. We do such beautiful work in such important work and it's not always viewed that way. People are always going to watch TV shows, but people don't realize how much life revolves around what we do. I think the best way for us to be able to present in a better, more important light to the world after this is to just find different ways to create, find different ways to support, find different ways to make sure that people who aren't in the arts will want to come. And if we're constantly putting each other down in front of our friends or people online, like criticizing them, the people who were supposed to be selling to us are already less interested.