Interview: Sadiya Ramos
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: How did you begin dancing?

My journey in dance began when I was six. My mom put me in pre pre-professional program at Dance Theater of Harlem. I then went to Ballet Academy East and French Academie of Ballet, a new school that specializes in French technique. I was there for three years in high school then in my senior year of high school I danced with the Paul Taylor teen ensemble, so I learned some of their repertoire and got to perform Taylor’s work. I discovered BOCO [Boston Conservatory] at the National Dance Festival at Point Park in Pittsburg. I wasn't planning on attending a conservatory, I was hoping to go somewhere like NYU or George Washington. I met the director, Tommy Neblett, in the elevator. I was doing my elevator pitch and telling him why I was there and he said to take his class. When I went to his class he said it would be my audition and I applied and got in and decided at the last minute to go to BOCO. During my time at BOCO I have had a great experience. My freshman year I was awarded the Formation Scholarship by Beyonce Knowles. It was unexpected. I was happy that I put myself out there and applied. I was able to work with amazing artists like Jennifer Archibald, Otis Sallid, and Yury Yanowsky and those were amazing experiences that really challenged me.

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

Dance has taught me we are not so separate from life. People have this mistake that dance is so different but we are a manifestation of life and we reflect on our lives and put it into movement. It has taught me that you shouldn't use the strength you have acquired over time to measure your capacity for creativity. It always pushes you to move out of your box and your comfort zone. It also allows you to gain acceptance of who you are and what you have. You can't change who you are but you can learn how to make an impact with what you have.

Q: Has dance helped you overcome any hardships in your life? What have been some challenges in your pre-professional dance career?

A challenge in my life as a black latina I think was learning how to embrace my skin color and complexion and differences compared to my peers. I went through a rough time in my teenage years during puberty when my body was changing differently and more rapidly than the people around me. It was hard to understand why I was different and I didn’t want to be so different at the time. I think dance helped me accept my culture, my skin color, my background, my frame of reference and how that has built me into who I am today.

Q: What other interests and passions do you have outside of dance? Or what is something that inspires you to do your craft?

I really love to draw. I love sketching and painting. I have been working on stuff now that I have the time. I also really love making dance films. It almost feels like cross training, it all leads back to dance. I usually sketch my body in a dance pose. It inspires me to go back to dance and research more of what I want to discover.

Q: Do you believe dance can be a platform for social justice topics? If so, how?

Yes, it absolutely can. I think that when you use your body you are able to portray things in a visceral way and recount things that have happened. Accounts of abuse, police brutality, all kinds of things that have happened especially to people of color. And why not? Why not use your body and movement to bring notice to these issues. Another thing we can do is integrate the arts into the school system better. I don't think children living in underprivileged areas and receiving education in inner city schools have accessibility to genres like ballet. I think making that accessible to children would allow them to express their truths in a different sense and allow them to tell their stories on a different platform and be in tune with their bodies and how their own experiences can be understood through dance and movement.

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 took away my college experience. Our school wants to give us a virtual graduation - it's ridiculous. The rest of the college experience will be inadequate. We pay for studio space in our tuition and there is no space or way for me to adequately train and perform. I think one of the hardest things is the idea that dance is very communal; and there is so much fellowship in what we do. Not having my counterparts to inspire me and contribute energy in the room is definitely affecting the way I practice dance.

Q: Can you talk a bit about the initial US shutdown and class cancellations?

The Thursday before the week everything started to change, we were doing a run through for our senior showcase that would be debuted in NYC at Alvin Ailey Citigroup Theater. A lot of people in the industry would be there and that is something we count on for networking and job opportunities. After the runthrough they announced that if we had any concerns about the coronavirus we should talk to the administration but none of us were worried about it at all. We were thinking about what we were going to wear in NYC, the showcase, our choreography. I went to a few shows at Berklee that weekend and it was an inspiring weekend. On Saturday I emailed my teacher and the chair of the department to email my teachers and tell them I would be absent that week for our show. Two minutes later I got an email from my teacher, Joy Davis, who was coordinating the trip. She said that we shouldn't get on the bus on Monday to go to NYC and there would be a meeting about the coronavirus That made me nervous but I was still in denial. I had to take a final for a class Monday morning and as I walked out of the final I saw a news flash from CNN that the head of Port Authority tested positive for coronavirus. And I thought, we are not going to NYC. I go to the cafeteria and then get an email that says all Berklee sponsored trips are cancelled and I was like, what? And we were so upset - we practiced for the showcase all year. And we thought about the drama and casting issues and the work we went through for this show and we finally went to the meeting and they said the trip was cancelled and we should hang tight in Boston and not go anywhere. After further discussion later that night, teachers were telling everyone that the school will be shut down for the rest of the semester. That is when seniors started to mourn and for the rest of the week we lived it up like it was the last of the semester. I did something every night. A lot of students opened up their homes to perform their music so everyone could be together and listen to it. My partner had a show that Friday they cancelled and he was able to have it at a club he performed at before and that was the last Berklee show all of us seniors had. It was celebratory and very sad. It was all bitter sweet. While it was very fun and I had the chance to meet people I never met and say my goodbyes, it was really heartbreaking as well.

Q: How do you think we can continue to create and share art during this time?

I think it is so interesting before all this was happening I was going on tangents on how social media was so detrimental to social life. I have since changed my mind. I think technology is what is going to keep dance going. These Instagram Live classes are genius. Zoom is a genius. I think if we continue to take class together and use the space in any way that we can, we can come back from this in a different way. We will all be out of shape - period - but we will all rise up in a different way. Perhaps we will come out of this more artistic, our artistry might be more potent, and we will discover things about our artistry we didn't before. My freshman year we had an intro to dance history class and my teacher talked about the space has changed over time in regards to the theater space. I always thought of how appreciative I should be of the space that I have but I never thought there would be a time where I wouldn't have space to move. There is also space, there is always a studio. And that one little lesson foreshadowed what is happening now. I do think as dancers we are adaptable creatures and we are more than aware of our space. I think if we can use our time and space wisely we will be able to come back from 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?

A lot of people are outside taking walks. In my town a lot of sidewalks are not pedestrian friendly but people are making it work. People talk from a distance and people are more appreciative of social time. People are thinking twice about hygiene practices. People are biking, out with dogs, and exercise in different ways. I have seen a lot of families out walking together which I think is the reason why I didn't like social media at first because I thought it was why families were not connecting in an authentic way like phones at the dinner table. I think we are more grateful for our relationships now.

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 the performing arts field to be more open and less exclusive. I think after this period of time I am hoping people will open up and think companies don't need to be so exclusive. I hope there will be a sense of gratitude for dancers keeping this art form alive. I hope that there will be more funding for the arts and people will be more appreciative of artists who use our bodies to reflect and perform and tell our stories because I don't think the arts get enough support. I also hope the dance world will be more communal and open. What I mean by exclusivity is, dance can be superficial and decisions can be made based on appearance. I hope people are less limited in their frame of reference of what dancers should look like and what dance should be. I hope dancers from different techniques, backgrounds, and cultures can be included. I am concerned about where I fit in as a dancer when I transition to the professional world. I hope people open their companies and just let more people dance who have diverse backgrounds and techniques and just give people the platform to dance.

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