Interview: Nick Kenkel
Edited by: 
Kristin Hanson

Q: How did you first begin dancing?

I joined a dance company in college. I went to Indiana University and became a member of the Indiana University Afro American Dance Company. It was a school affiliated dance company and we earned credit, it was a course you would take. For three years I studied dance in college.

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

The performing arts have taught me to project and to exude artistry through a daily basis. I learned that through the performing arts and I try to apply that into my daily life: be it confidence or how I approach something. I've done Broadway shows, so you have to be an actor. As an actor, you have to look at all sides of the coin of you the role you're portraying. In daily life I try to see all the different sides of the coin in people with people I interact with on a daily basis. I try to understand their backgrounds or where they may be coming from. That I didn't used to do before I was an actor.

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

I think the biggest one of the biggest challenges is dealing with rejection. A lot of people don't have to deal with that. If you're pursuing a job in the entertainment industry in the performing arts, rejection becomes about 80 to 90% of your work experience. So that's a big thing to deal with and to overcome and it's probably something that I'm still trying to overcome as a creative now that I'm a director and choreographer as well. If I'm up for something and I don't get it, it's very similar to when I was a dancer auditioning for a job and not getting it as well. It's a really unique business in that so much of your day to day grind is rejection, and you just have to deal with it. You have to accept that in order to succeed. Whereas I feel like other industries, it's not not such a recurring problem.

Q: Have you always been a creator and choreographer or did that shift during your career?

Ironically, I will say I did always have a creative bug that I felt somewhere deep down, even before I was very trained. I was always thinking of choreography or ideas for numbers to choreograph. I actually started in college, a group of us from our dance company approached the local nightclub. We actually had a really cool nightclub at Indiana University when I was in school there. It was called Mars Nightclub and they had an amazing dance floor, and they had an amazing light and technical aspect to the stage. They even had cages but they never used them. They did nothing, so I approached the owner and said I’d choreograph a show. My friends got involved and he just wanted to see what we could do and we showed him and he loved it. He wanted us to perform every weekend. And so we became known on campus as the live performing ensemble for this nightclub that actually looked like a really cool nightclub back in 1996, if you can believe that. So even before when I was really honed in on training, what the discipline was in terms of building your technique and understanding choreography, I did have a creative bug that I was already starting to fulfill.

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

Just like with movies or books you can make an audience think about something and create a lasting impression on them so that when they leave the theater they're either haunted or overwhelmed with joy by something that they saw. I love all types of dance but my favorite types of dance invoke storytelling through the dance. And so, a conceptual thoughtful movie or book can be transcribed just as well by a choreographer who invokes a really good story, and leaves the audience thinking about it and asking questions and trying to figure out how that affects them or how they can be affected by it.

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

Personally, I teach at Broadway Dance Center in New York City, which is the biggest dance studio in NYC. I cancelled one of my first classes because I just didn't feel right about it, it was getting to that time when people were really getting worried about it. The day that I cancelled, all of Broadway shut down. That night they canceled all their shows and I was like, man, this is happening quick. So I no longer teach at Broadway Dance Center and to be honest, I haven't yet gone online to teach. So many people are doing it I just haven't, I felt the need to just sort of sit with this moment and let it affect me and try to learn from it.

But financially and from a job perspective, I was creating a brand new disco dance huge extravaganza show for Norwegian Cruise Lines. Although they weren't really in the news in terms of having a ship with an outbreak, they're severely affected by this and all their ships are currently docked and we are all furloughed right now. I'm no longer working on the project, so I'm very bummed about that.

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

I don't really have a routine. I try to meditate in the morning with my coffee. I like to listen to classical music at some point during the day, but outside of that it's all up and down. I'm actually going to, because so many of my students have asked me to teach, I'm going to teach my first Instagram Live class on Thursday. I'm gonna do a free Instagram Live class and then I think I'm going to try to do some Zoom classes where I ask people to make a donation then I'll give a good chunk of that to a COVID-19 fundraising organization.

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

I've been reaching out to former casts in musical theatre, actually. When you do a show, or if I direct a show, you become family really quickly and very easily, especially if you have a good director on hand. So I've done many reunions with former casts over Zoom. I've reached out and asked if various casts want a reunion and it inevitably ends up being a cocktail hour as a sort of toast to each other. We reminisce on the good times. It's actually been good. It’s something you always say you're gonna do and then you never get to so it's actually forced me to stop and contemplate life and family and friends. Part of that is reconnecting with people that you bonded with immensely over a certain amount of time and then you possibly haven't seen them in a while because you're working on other projects.

Q: Using the idea of “worldmaking” how do you imagine the performing arts world after the pandemic?

I noticed I have less patience now for salacious, futile, self aggrandizement, and self centeredness. I feel more community based now. I feel like my priorities have shifted. I feel like a time like this, with something that happens once every hundred years is meant to ground people, to help shift their priorities and I've certainly shifted mine. It's hit me deeply. I’m forty-six right now so I'm sort of middle aged rethinking how to continue going forward as an artist, making money but also being happy with what I create and being happy with what I put energy into. I am all about feeling sexy and sassy and feeling fears, but my patience for that is probably going to change going forward and I'm going to care more about storytelling and doing more social good. Basically going forward, how can the arts help propel me to be a better person to be a better philanthropist to be a better altruist?

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