Kameron Saunders
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: What has been your professional dance journey?

I went to a performing arts middle school where I was introduced to dance.  I chose visual art and acting and then I saw the dance students and went to their concert and said, “I need to do this.”  From seventh to eight grade I did dance and then my mom found a West African teacher in St. Louis and I trained with him and that was my real introduction to anything movement based.  My sophomore year I decided to take classical training more seriously.  I trained at the Center of Creative Arts in St louis in their pre-professional program.  Through COCA we were trained by the industry’s best and leading artists.  We worked with Alicia Graf Mack, Camille A. Brown, and Tray Mcintyre.  Then once I graduated high school I went to Webster University and transferred to the University of Kansas city and graduated in 2014.  I was a dance major and then I moved back home and became faculty at COCA and was working there on jazz and modern and was the student company rehearsal director for five years and re-staged and maintained the work for people like Judith Jaminson and Ronald Brown.  After that, I moved to New York City in june of 2019 and have been here freelance teaching.  Within less than half of a year of being there I was able to get teaching jobs at the city’s leading studies.  I am very fortunate in that regard.  I have worked with companies like St. Louis Ballet, MADCO in St. Louis, Dissonance Dance Theater in DC.  In summer 2018 I was one of eight selected choreographers for the choreography fellowship at Jacob's Pillow, led by Risa Steinberg, professor at Juilliard and Diane Mackantire.  It was two weeks and really intimate.  As a follow up to that we got to choose a choreographer to mentor us and I chose Alonzo King and was able to work with him closely and that was one of the most life altering processes I've ever experienced.  

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional or professional dance career?

The biggest challenge is weight for me personally and the aesthetic that dance for so long, as it pertains to concert and commercial work, there are aesthetics that are more accepted. For the longest time my battle has been my weight.  I started training late and I started taking ballet my sophomore year of high school and in every corner there were people telling me I was too big and a lot of things geared towards the personality of dance. Up until recently I didn’t realize how much weight occupied space in my mind and I am in the process of undoing those traumas. It has been driving me towards success because I like to prove people wrong. This isn't my only challenge within the artform but it has held the most space for me in having conversations about what dancers look like, who has access to dance. Is this person more involved or this person’s passion louder than yours because you don’t look like this? Certain questions I ask and challenge in the field. I am very vocal about it, some people don't like me in that regard but that is ok. Continuing to push the boundary of what was and looking at what is and what can be. Dance is evolving and right now we see full classes online because we have shifted into this self preservation mode. We see this transition to make dance accessible for everyone and there will be a shift on stage. But we aren't really reflecting in what these companies produce and show on stage. I think a lot of companies are trying to diversify and that stops at race. That has been the largest issue and challenge for me in trying to use my voice to remove the hurt I feel towards it personally so that I can further push the art.

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?

Absolutely. Social justice is so interesting because dance is so low on the totem pole as it relates to respect and income. But it is so interesting because the most wealthy and elite people go to see dance like NYC ballet and the ballet companies. It is part of the wealth to go and experience elite art in this way. It is so interesting because there are choreographers out here like Kyle Abraham and Camille A. Brown who make works that are so crucial for social justice. Kyle Abrahm set a work on Ailey called “Untitled America” about the criminal justice system as it pertains to black men and that work was one of the first works I saw on a platform that Ailey has. Ailey has a large following and they perform at Lincoln and City Center and those are the theaters for dance in NYC. People who go to see them are upper class people and that was the first time I saw a work about injustice on the platform that Ailey maintains. I was like “oh wow I can use my voice to speak to the things I find unjust” and so I'm trying to find ways and it is such a battle. In order to make the works happen you need funding, then you apply for grants and who is in charge of the grants, and your dance may ruffle some feathers so the process of these things I have thoughts and questions and I'm still trying to dyspher. Dance can definitely be a means to address social justice issues. I think there are choreographers mostly of color who are the ones at the forefront doing the work. Being loud about it.  

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

There are many things; the people in the craft that leave me speechless such as Alonzo King, Camille Brown, Darrell Moultrie, and Crystal Pite. They make work that they think is necessary and they are not phased by how it is received. There is this need for me to create and it is very clear because if it wasn't going back to the question about the challenge I wouldn't have made it. The push back about my weight was so tough and if I didn’t have that unyielding push to be involved in dance I wouldn't have made it. I was not quitting because if I did I would not be in the arts and that was never an option for me, even in the face of adversity. Dance has fed my soul. Even in the face of all the no’s, even still, I keep going and have been so fortunate to still have opportunities. I know I'm in it because I communicate my voice and what I feel firmly passionate about. My family is huge. The reason I’m in Kansas City is my brother plays for the Chiefs and when I look at him and I look at his passion for football. I look at how far he has come and literally graduated, went into the NFL, and a year later won the Superbowl.  I look at the trajectory of what happened and how he honors his passion. Neither of our parents graduated college and looking at my brother, our parents have tried to forge us a life they didn't have. I am constantly researching, who am I to not honor the things I dream about and be a part of it when my heart and soul need this thing.

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

My family is so close. We are a small family but have so much love and when I am away from them for too long I start to feel sick. When this started to happen it was about 3 weeks ago on Thursday March 12th.  I had a shift at Lincoln Center at 8:30am and I was supposed to come back at night, yet we got an email that said closing the rest of March. In that email they said they would give us updates and would let us know. Then I had to worry about teaching at the middle schools and the show we were working on for the Guggenheim. I went to the grocery store that night and it was packed. Friday came and I woke up and went to work that night for the after school program at 4:00.  When I got off the train the school sent the email saying they were closing through the rest of March as well so the only thing I have left is the show and an hour later I got an email saying the Guggenheim scheduled show for fall. So I decided to leave New York City. If I was in NYC and couldn't get to my family I would have been miserable. In Kansas City my brother lives in a nice neighborhood and you wake up and see people walking dogs and it feels like nothing is happening here but I know the world is crumbling. Because of covid-19 I lost my job and the Broadway dancer said we are keeping the studio open but only letting a certain amount of people join class, then that got shut down. After a week of being here my after school job said we want you to be paid but we need to make something happen now that we do everything online. I record myself doing things online with a class and we have a team of people who send it out to the students and the parents. I think this is great because kids are restless and having to stay inside, it is crazy. I am taken care of with my family but if I didn't have my family this would be worse. Broadway got shut down the same day as Lincoln Center and I see my friends who are mostly ok because they have money saved but I worry about them. Then there is a friend at the NYU graduate program and he was in Atlanta for spring break.  He is now doing an acting program via Zoom and he tells me these stories about him doing a scene with someone else for his teacher on Zoom! That is madness to me! But then the alternative is to not continue class and no one could have prepared for this. Everyone is scrambling to try and continue life as is. Now we know these things can happen successfully via live stream and Internet. What does this mean for businesses when this is over? Why not do more online and not pay these people who aren't essential? I am still able to pay my rent, I applied for some relief and I am ok because I have a supportive family but not everyone has that situation and it is hard.

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.)

There are all these petitions and relief efforts and the people who do grants have re-routed grants to help people. The money for individual projects are going to relief efforts. I look at that and hopefully those things have reached people with power and post covid-19 I want to see them supporting the arts and rallying behind this particular work. People who are not involved in the arts only share it when it gets viral. Like the Meg the Stallion challenge on tiktok and it's a challenge and it feels easily accessible to you and you post it. That is great but what does it look like beyond sharing this. I need to be beyond an 18 second sharing it. For artists I expect to see a lot of new work being in our homes. This is the jumping point to make people know to use this tragedy and make art and talk about justice, this pandemic, how it affects you, and how u have seen it affect other people, like my mom who had a kidney transplant 3 days ago. There are people who are immunocompromised in NYC and I want to see art everywhere. I want to see statements that make the people who don't respect art know it. The people who don't know I expect to see advocacy be present. I hope that this has shown America how unprepared our health system is for things like this. We are unprepared and I am praying this pandemic has opened some eyes especially ones with control to know we need changes in infrastructure. This could happen in 50 years again are we prepared? I look at how China recovered from this and I look at our numbers that have surpassed China and I hope that the politician world can make needed changes in health care.  A large majority of the population is at such a disadvantage even those with money. There is no guarantee in being ok. I really feel like there needs to be changes up top so now we as the ones down here feel supported can make art uninhibitedly and be our most vulnerable selves without feeling the stresses of what does this look like how can I make this happen financially. I want to see: support, art, and changes in our healthcare system.

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