Jenna Pollack
Edited by: 
Raheida Khalique

Q: How did you begin to dance?

My parents are professional musicians. I grew up being a part of the freelance music world. I joined them on gigs and had dance class at a local recreation center then, a local dance studio. Dance always stuck with me and I was a bun head until college. Dance was a way to express myself and to attain perfection. I was obsessed with that struggle.

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

Things that come to mind are general skills such as physical listening, knowing how to read a room, taking the temperature of how someone may engage with you in conversation and making them feel welcome, invited and safe. I like to exchange with others. I enjoy being able to make real time decisions with what is happening around me and it is all due to my training and work in the field of dance. I like being able to riff as we straddle multiple professional realms. Also, I learned to have different sets of vocabulary to pull from and describe my ideas in the moment. Being able to lead by example has been a civic pillar for how I engage with the world. I've learned this by looking up to most of the women in my college training. Another thing I have learned is teaching and learning how to stand up in larger discussions.

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

It's funny because most of my hardships also come from dance. I eat, breathe, and sleep the performing arts. As an artist, you have to be your biggest advocate, your biggest fan and critic at the same time. When you are feeling down and insecure you need to buff up the part of your ego that says you have invested your time wisely to pursue this profession. I am so used to cycling through those voices in my head, that when an external one comes about, I am practicing giving myself the support I need. That is applied to any sort of antagonistic conversation that comes to me. I know my inner voice so well and how to turn up the dials on each one.

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

I am a nerd. I apply that to my field and other performing arts fields. For example, last night I was watching this video from the MET in 1982 following the professional careers of 5 curators and I totally geeked out over learning how adjacent artistic fields operate and what their agendas are. I like to learn what the rules of engagement are, the hierarchies, how the field evolved, and how it aligns with other things or movements that are tracking in time simultaneously. I geek out on larger frameworks of other fields in the art because it gives me more content to engage with in my own fields of dance, performance art and teaching. My friends make fun of me because I don't watch movies. I only watch art films and read dance articles and I sleep and breathe the performing arts.

For me, being obsessed with dance in a vacuum is unhealthy. As a child, I was growing up in a specific time of ballet training and being trained to be suspicious of other mediums within dance. People would say things like “how dare you like jazz or hip hop?” and “there is nothing valuable in circus and what is West African class?”. I also nerd out on these other styles of dance and I dream about going back to school for urban development of Sociology.

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

There are so many ways that are all valid and crucial tools as part of the larger equation. We need all approaches and perspectives.  What makes me sad is when people knock each other down becuase it perpetuates the value system that people either belong or don't. I think there is a big trend right now about public art which is exciting to see created and performed in the communities it is made. This becomes integral to the eb and flow of the voices of the community inside of it. The idea is that it can’t exist without those voices, instead of transporting a work into community and calling it public art.

Similar to site specific dance. About 10 years ago people started integrating art into public space and thinking about how plotting  this art in different sites might not make it site specific, just public art. if you commit to it being for the public, you can’t just plop it into all of these different spaces. As dance makers, we are actually engaging with the subject matter at hand, instead of responding to it. We are engaging with the voices of the material and I think that it is kind of new for the Western dance perspective.

On a larger scale, uplifting the voices that are not represented. Public art uplifts more voices, not all voices, but more which I hope continues to be a ripple effect. That said, I think there are other ways to engage in social justice and individual practices. I think the way people make political work in isolation (prison) is equally valid and responding to the way we engage with culture and media.

We were watching a film with my dance students the other day and they said “I don't get the story” and I said “maybe there is not a story.” Sometimes, often in political issues, it is more complicated than a story and dance is an amazing tool to engage with those topics.

Also, I'm not an active social justice practitioner in my choreography. I don't claim to make that work right now. I am continuing to modify my practice and I don't claim to know what I'm doing. I continue to try to make my practice product relevant and accessible on a variety of levels. I do not have the skills yet to claim I'm doing that work (social justice) and I'd like that to change. I am trying to listen and pay attention to those who are.

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

The first and biggest thing is my choreographic practice. I have been putting together a new work for the past year and a half, working with a sustainable design engineer. We met at an artist stem mixer a while back and applied to funding to begin to do a research process of vocabulary building. We wanted to achieve a better understanding of one another's imaginations and ways that we can make decisions and what informs our practices. Specifically, we determined a theme of thinking about environmental sustainability and we have been aiming to make a piece that engages with that topic. For the first 9 months we went through a big research process of language building and learning how the other engages with other mediums and working multidisciplinary. Since the Fall season, we have been engaged in a prototype process. We have 5 human sized wooden structures that are different shapes and require different levels of human engagement to give them motion. My parents are engineers and can make the figures, considering they have to be safe for dancers to handle. In February, we brought my dancers into the equation. There is a dire lack of funds in Massachusetts so I pay them out of my adjunct teacher fee. I think they deserve these rates. We were able to rehearse 2 out of the 5 weeks and in that time,we gave the dancers the figure, how to be poetic with the structures, what is working, what needs to change, what do we dream of.

I have a residency at Dance the Yard. It is like a baby Jacob's pillow. COVID hit in the middle of the research process. The Yard has not yet been cancelled, but they cancelled the first half of the season and since our residency is in August, it is on the chopping block. I am so proud of this process for many reasons. I am proud of being able to collage all of these organizations to help make this possible. I got funding from smaller organizations as well as harnessing a network of people and institutions and a community to make this work possible. What I lack in money, I have an abundance in the community and that's what I really care about as a collaborator. I am worried about losing 80 hours of research. I'm also worried none of it will happen. I'm worried my dancers will move from Boston because it is so expensive. I don't know the next time we will be able to gather in rehearsal or performance. Maybe the whole goal of making this piece for a theater is avoided. And that is really scary. But within every black hole comes a possibility.

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