Interview: Dylis Croman
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Q: How did you begin dancing?

I grew up in Texas and started dancing when I was three, and never stopped! I met Ann Reinking at the age of 14 at a summer intensive, and that's when I was introduced to musical theater. I had seen musicals and liked to think that I would like to do that someday, but I was so dance-oriented in my youth that I never really found my voice, so I didn't think it was possible. When I met Ann Reinking, I was in a three-week summer intensive in Florida, and she took me under her wing. That was my introduction to voice and acting lessons. I focused on developing those two crafts as well as dance. I mostly trained in classical ballet, and while I did some other styles, I was focused on the classical technique. I moved to NYC when I was 17 to dance with Eliot Feld at Feld Ballet NYC, and basically got started in NYC at 17. Once I finished my time with Eliot Feld, I got hired for Applause, and that started my journey in the Broadway world. I got really lucky. I worked extremely hard, but I also had people on my side that were looking after me, Ann Reinking being one of those people. She was the choreographer for that first Broadway show I got hired for. It was the national tour and it never made it to Broadway. It tried! That was my intro to being in a musical — that was 1995, when I first moved to NYC, and I lived in NYC for 23 years, dancing and singing on broadway and on national tours. It was an unexpected dream — I always imagined myself strictly dancing, because I felt most comfortable expressing my passion and my emotion through movement. Singing and acting became something new for me. Looking at myself playing Roxie Hart now, I just never would have imagined that years ago when I was a wee tot! My move to Nashville was more about a quality of life than anything. I loved NYC; NYC is one of the best cities in the world, in my opinion. But as I got older, I started to wonder what else was out there. My boyfriend is a musician, and with my southern roots, I decided to try Nashville out. I still fly back to NYC - the last two years, I've flown to NYC to work in New York. 

My parents were very financially helpful and emotionally supportive to give me these opportunities. Over the summers, we would go to LA and NYC so I could take classes. My trajectory changed as I got older, but whatever I wanted, I wanted it so bad I would do anything. It’s the hard work you put into this craft that is the key to success — you cannot expect it to be given to you. My parents instilled the hard work in me.

Q: What has dance taught you that you have applied to your everyday life and how you engage in the world?

It has taught me more than just physical grace — it has taught me emotional grace with myself, with the world, and with the people I communicate with on a daily basis. Learning how to hold your body and rotate your hips and all this stuff you endure — I think all of that gives you discipline and a grace with patience for pain in a way. You also learn about really just stretching yourself to the edge — I think living in our world, we are stretched everyday to go back to our truthful self. We are naturally good people, but sometimes the world beats us down. I think dance is a physical form, and when we do it, we are our happiest, and I think that makes us better people in the world. Finding anything that taps into your joy is what makes you a better citizen. It is such a passion that brings joy to my heart, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to find this and make a living. Through the gift god has given me, I feel I have been able to shape people's lives in the theater. I feel like I have been able to transform people's lives through art, and that is a pretty powerful thing. When I get tired, I lose sight of what we are really doing. Art is formative and transformative, and I know that because of the people I talk to after a show and seeing people at the stage door. I also know that as a child, going to the theater and seeing shows, I felt transformed. I was able to leave my real life to be teleported to this fantasy world for two and a half hours — and what a magical thing that is. 

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life?

Dance has helped me through so much in my life. One specific thing is that I unfortunately got a divorce seven years ago, and that was really hard, even though it was mutual. That was a very down time for me in my life, and I was in Chicago at the time. The opportunity to get on stage every night — I took hold of that with all my might. I felt that was all I had at that moment and it saved me. There have been many times in my career where dance and the artform have saved my spirit and my mental state and brought me back. When I am on stage, I feel like I am my truest self, even when I am putting on a show and playing a character that isn't me. For whatever reason, being on that stage and doing what I love is amazing. And sharing it with twenty-thousand people in one night is amazing. Sharing their energy, you feed off their response and it's such a true relationship in that way. You don't feel alone — all of a sudden you are not alone and you are with all these people, doing it with you. What I do for a living saved my heart during that time in my life.

Countless times, you may feel down, and like right now — we are stuck in our houses, but we can find ways to be creative to lift our spirit, and if it is dancing in your kitchen or listening to music and having a dance party, it can always lift you, whenever you need it to. And having that is always a good thing. 

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance that influence and inspire your artistry?

Absolutely. I think dance is the perfect platform for that. Dance is a universal language—you can evoke emotion and feeling when you are performing. That can be read by anyone, anywhere, no matter what language they speak. It is a beautiful thing that we can represent how people feel internally for people who are not in tune with their own body in the way dancers are, and reach them and understand them in that way. It is beautiful to watch someone express what you are feeling and relate to them in that way.

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

I would say reading. I am a wishy-washer reader, I can go in and out of that. But when I do find things that inspire me, I love to read spiritual and self-help books. I gravitate to them because they help me through whatever I am trying to process. Meditation, as well, is something I do practice everyday. Meditation is key for me because I find it centers me for whatever art form I want to play with that day. I find meditation brings me to a place where I can draw from my true self. I also love the outdoors and to hike. It brings me happiness. I just took a walk today. There is a greenway near our house. We kept six feet apart from everyone. Yoga, I also practice yoga. I am training for my yoga certification right now. 

Q: How can the arts/dance be a platform for social justice issues?

We have the platform to share social justice issues. Like ‘Hamilton.’ That is a story I never really knew about, even though we were in school taking history. I don't remember being taught about that story, yet through art, we learn more about our history. I think it's a wonderful platform to deal with issues that are hard to deal with and talk about. When you can put social issues in a song or poem or show or dance, it lightens it up and is a way for people to digest it easier. It adds that extra element of magic — when you experience it as a viewer, it can touch you deeply… Art can get into the crevices at your soul that you can't get to in everyday life. Just talking about it and listening to the news can cloud emotional depth, but live performance can let people tap into their emotional channels. The performing arts are very powerful and I hope and pray it can continue when all of this is over. Hopefully we can heal those who are sick and heal the world because it is hurting right now. 

Q: How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you as a performing artist? (community, financially, initial reactions, company shift, online class, emotions, initial cancellation reaction)

It has taken every part of my livelihood out of the equation in regards to future work at the moment, because live theater is a gathering place for people to sit inches away from each other. I know personally that now and anytime in the near future, I am out of work. I am staying prayerful and meditating on it to stay sane, and second of all, to send light out to the world and out to this pandemic. It has affected me in that I can't see my family right now — they are in Texas. That is hard. I talked to my mom on the phone the other day and she started crying. It is hard to be away from your loved ones. Fortunately, I have a partner and we have each other and our little dog. The unknown of how I make my money through live theater is unnerving, and feels very scary. If you allow yourself to think about the future, you can really lose yourself in this whole thing… It is necessary for us to come together and send light out, and try not to obsess over what is to come. Not one single person knows what is to come. We must stay in the moment of where we are, and I think that this pandemic has brought us to this place to be forced to live in the moment, because we can get so distracted with the outer world. We are now being forced to sit with our families and appreciate what we have right here and right now, and find the importance of this exact moment — and that is a lesson in itself. It is comforting to know we feel all these emotions together. We will be okay in time and we are okay right now — there are many struggling, but overall, we got this. We can do this. 

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic? Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society?

Literally while doing something as simple as walking my dog, I have noticed people's eye contact changing. People are looking at each other. You notice even more because if they are wearing a mask, they look at you and there is a real connection. You SEE people more. People are taking each other in now. It is in the little things, like, we ordered some Indian food and they put in extra things for us. It was just kindness, offering free food to us. We were supporting them and they were supporting us when they gave us some free food. It felt like we were taking care of each other. Specifically for Nashville, we just recently went through a tornado. It came through and it demolished a lot of houses and businesses 15 minutes away from us. That happened — and the pandemic came right behind it. In Nashville, I can feel everyone in my community — it is an energy thing. I feel everyone is being very supportive. We cannot physically touch but the energy from one another is palpable and the support system is pretty palpable. I see people sending Gatorade to hospitals. My friend sent some Gatorade and water to the hospital and she got this email that just said, “thank you so much”. The people working are trying to heal with no way to hydrate, so little things like that help that you just might not think about. People are thinking outside the box of how to help one another. We should be thinking like that everyday, all the time, but this pandemic has really opened up our hearts to reach out and help in any way we can. 

Q: Initial reactions and feelings:
I was in Nashville and I was going through intense yoga training for my certification pretty much every day at the yoga studio here. So when I found out about this, obviously the studio closed and we couldn't gather anymore. I was on such a roll with that, I was really enjoying it — it was a hot studio, 95 degrees, and it was healing my body and soul. When that all stopped, it felt so abrupt — everything came to a halt and it was very uncomfortable. It brought anxiety and everything you don't like to feel to the surface. Thank god for the internet and the resources being offered that way because we can take class online and I can find ways to continue my yoga practice through Zoom classes and live Instagram classes. It felt surreal when everything had to stop. 

Now that I have had time to process, I have started to see the silver lining in some of it. Obviously there are still scary moments. But part of my yoga training is to open my mind to other styles of yoga, and the people that train me said to us, “Start taking as many classes as you can from all different teachers so that you can open up your practice and understand that everyone does it differently, and everyone is different in their teaching style.” I remember them saying this in the beginning, and now that we are here, I realize I now have the opportunity to take class from so many different people online. That is the silver lining for me. 

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 imagine it to be more valued than it has ever been. I imagine it to be not as expensive financially to go take these live performances in. I find that it is unfortunate that it is so steep price-wise to just go and see a show. I am hopeful that there will be adjustments there that will allow more people to see live art. I imagine that once this is over and we can find a vaccine for this, we will gather together again, this time being more aware of our actions and how we are, and being more open. I imagine us gathering together again with different lenses — maybe looking through a lens of joy and communion, and not taking for granted any of that anymore. 

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