Interview: Julia Eichten
Edited by: 
Alana Galloway

Q: How did you become involved in the performing arts?

I was always dancing as a child and I couldn't sit still. I had three older brothers who I would perform for all the time, whether performing the popular dances at the time or something else. I grew up doing competition dance where I pushed myself to do as much as I could. I always tried to not limit myself, and then I auditioned for Juilliard and got in. That changed the course of what my training and perspective were. I continued to learn more about functionality anatomy when studying in college. I also learned how to ask myself, what did I want to talk about as an artist?

I had my first professional job at Julliard with Camille A. Brown and Dancers and that was before her big blow-up moment. She is one of the hardest working and most genuine people I know in the business. I was freelancing for a bit before joining the LA Dance Project as a founding member after college as well.

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

I think it has a lot to do with the environment of going to Julliard and being surrounded by various people from different backgrounds. I didn't have exposure to very different walks of life before college. I was open to learning from everyone who had different perspectives than me. I think being someone who is open, receptive, willing to learn, and open to say, “I don't know” is something dance has taught me. It has also taught me to be an open person. I learned that you can't possibly know everything and that you need to be a constant student. You need to be fearless, bold and courageous.

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

I think dance has always been my therapy and my religion. Even when, in life, I have complicated relationships or my relationship to dance changes, it is still the thing I lean on the most and what keeps hope and joy alive for me.

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

I love music. My partner is a musician, and during this time I have been able to learn how to make my own music and play with voice and body signs. Fashion is also a big part of my life. I love clothes and tactile things. They influence how I think and see things.

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre professional and professional career?

This is always a tough one. I have been super privileged and lucky. I got to tour the world with people I love and do repertoire I never dreamed of doing such as Cunningham and Forsyth. A hardship was realizing that there are different ways of being allies as dancers. Seeing what people are sometimes willing to endure and realizing that maybe I am not has brought me to dance advocacy. Dancers need to know they do have voices outside of their bodies that are powerful.

There is no standard, even in commercial standing dancers. We are all still fighting for minimum pay and that is something that has been a constant fight and re-thinking of how we represent each other and how we are allies. This applies to diversity and intersectionality. I think dance can be a really imbalanced system that we have created ourselves. That is a struggle, because as a dancer you see the humanity it brings to people and to see that being taken advantage of is a hard thing to dissect and deal with. It's such an emotional field and craft and it's difficult to keep personal and professional lines clear. There can be advantages taken in that blurriness.

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

I think something that I try to instil in any dancer I teach is to be an all inclusive dancer. There is so much empowerment that lives inside of dance. Something that really stuck with me when I visited Chile was seeing this group of women protesting. They had this protest in front of parliament. Within the protest itself there was a very simple movement task that they all did. Seeing a sea of people doing gestures together with passion and power in numbers and movement was the most radical, clear, poignant and succinct way of getting their message across, I think. It's something you can't unfeel and if you can get that visceral response and if you can get people to feel that gut response that music and movement do so well, then you can't deny the discrepancy in privilege and rights being violated. You can't unfeel those things, and I think that is one of the strongest platforms we have for social justice movements.

Yara Travieso led a group of women outside Trump Towers, outside the Harvey Weinstein courtroom, and outside the White House for a Womens’ March. It was this Chilean Women's Protest and I thought that was such a great way to see that transfer from social justice to art. Sara Silken in LA also uses social justice dances in her work to address white privilege and it's such a clear way to see problems since it's flesh on flesh -- it’s so different from reading a statistic. One of the most powerful acts is to use yourself and your body as the demonstration.

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

I have been lucky. I had sort of a calm summer  this year. There were things on the horizon that have been cancelled such as an Opera in Amsterdam. I'm so thankful to have a part time job at CalArts with teaching online. I'm so glad I have this income. I think in an overall sense, not having the community or ability to go into a studio and share space with other people and not be the social person has really affected my mental and emotional health just because you don't have the same feedback that  you usually have. Having this screen and lacking human interaction has been the biggest thing that all dancers are feeling and trying to navigate.

I realize how much inspiration I get from my colleagues and my students in LA and NY and my personal community, so I'm trying as much as I can to stay in touch with people and really try to be connected with thought. I think that's the biggest one. Just having that space and time together and knowing it's going to be a really long road back to that is a lot to take on and swallow.

Q: What were your initial reactions and emotions to the shutdown?

I think it was the week of March 9th. We were still at school on that Tuesday at CalArts and I was assisting my friend. We could sense the students' concern. That Thursday, we had no school and I was helping produce a friend of mine's work at LA Dance Project Spaces. We did a livestream version of that. I was in the process of normal life or teaching and being in the studio everyday and producing and assisting a friend. It was a strange time in LA. You could feel the tension and the panic -- you could really feel it in the air.

Q: What does a daily routine look like for you? What have you been working on during this time?

I teach live through Zoom Tuesdays and Thursdays with CalArts. Tuesdays, we have choreo labs and guests come and show their work or students and faculty show what they’re working on. It's a dance-wide meeting--one of my favorite days of the week. I also teach class privately for AMUCK as much as I can, I take Dance Church Go classes. Sometimes I don't have the energy at the time. Something I'm working on is I've been developing this alter ego persona that has been helping me cope. My alter ego persona wears fabulous outfits and makes music.I have also been playing with material like wood plexiglass, stones, and found objects and making sculptures that last maybe a day. One day a week I also help plant plants at a greenhouse. It’s kind of all over the map. As a daily workout I do pilates and take some of the workouts that Sarah Mernes ballet principal has posted online.

Q: What is a message you would like to say to health workers and other essential workers on the front lines on the front lines if you could?

A major thank you is all I can bring myself to say for the endless courage and bravery and split lives. I have close friends whose family are on the front lines and I hear what they are navigating everyday. The fact they keep going back... I can't thank them enough. Their spirits are also incredible, since I know they have to keep finding joy even in chaotic moments.

Q: How do you see people continuing to create and build community during this time in the performing arts?

I know Seaweed Sisters in LA have a thing they do on Sunday nights and Dance Church Go has been doing an amazing job. I work with the LA Dance Church teachers and each city keeps their teachers working. DANC (Dancer Association of New York Community) freelance artists who are trying to make a union for freelance artists in NY that hold meetings for anyone to join the conversation. I have AMUK as well and we meet and have class every week. There are a lot of micro and macro things I am noticing, like I just spoke with a friend and we are trying to figure out how to offer classes to keep moving. I see people investing and the offerings are the biggest way people are keeping the community going. It amazes me how much dancers are willing to really give and continuously keep engaged with each other and stay active even if they are not physically active but just thinking and finding moments of joy throughout the day. I see so much effort being put into that as well as great things, like I saw a Bed Workout Dance class where you don’t get out of bed. I love the many facets because I don't think there is one way to do it and you have to listen to what works for you in this moment.

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.)

Looking at performing arts in a big scope, I hope theaters and institutions recognize how their artists are essential in keeping culture alive. With most institutions, there are no artists on salary or getting paid mostly, so finding ways to keep dancers employed and having real accessibility is a big thing to more people. And also changing how funds are distributed through the field and looking at the labor dancers is how those pyramids are made. We are not at the bottom of the trickle down effect anymore.

Transcription courtesy of