Interview: Tislarm Bouie
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I started dancing at first. I'm from Brooklyn and we would have block parties. When I was 8 my mom made a routine and I did it. When I was 9, my mom passed away and my cousin was taking dance class. I went to the recital and I wanted to do it. I started dancing in Harlem and then auditioned and got into Professional Performing Arts School for high school. It’s one of the best performing arts high schools in New York.  We had a partnership with the Ailey School. I went on to go to University of the Arts and got my BFA in Dance.

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

It has taught me discipline, compassion, ambition, and determination. As a dancer when you meet new people you want to give them a hug because we're used to using our bodies. That sense of care for others, I take that everywhere I go. I would say my background in concert dance has given me a work ethic that people don't really have. For example, if you are in a rehearsal and you get a break but you never sit down, I was taught not to do that. I’m always going over choreography after a quick sip of water. You work from the moment you step into the room to when you leave.

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

Yes. My college essay was about how dance was my guardian angel. My mom passed away when I was nine. I was raised in a fixed income household so when I was seven I lived with my grandma and we moved to the projects. I knew I didn’t belong there. I always had dance. I didn't hang out in the street, I had dance or an after school program to go to. Once I went to school in the city it changed my life. I went to school with all these talented kids, they were only twelve or thirteen and had already been in movies or on Broadway. These people were my classmates and it instilled in me that I could do this. This saved me from being a statistic of my environment, it got me out of the hood. My mom was a drug user and my dad was a seller. Dance saved me. It was my outlet.

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

I love directing and choreographing. I love film. I love short films and narratives. The past three years I have been studying and doing musical theatre and finding a way to correlate that with my art. So the short films I create always have a storyline, it isn't just a dance video but has some kind of meaning. My dream is to get a Tony and an Emmy for choreography.

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

I have always had to worry about money coming from my household. Especially going to college, which was hard. To this day I still don't know how I finished. There were some days I was so hungry I would steal a Honey Bun or a Sprite from Rite-Aid to get through a Horton class. I had to get a room thirty minutes away from campus and there was a bus but sometimes I didn’t have money for a bus so I had to walk early in the morning and in cold weather. I was around people who had money and I had to figure out how to eat and live. In professional life the hardest thing is being told no and then going back and having to show up. Leaving what you feel at the door, doing the best you can do and sometimes when you are not cast it has nothing to do with you. It is about what they’re looking for, about what they saw in their head before you even walked into the room. It is about not beating yourself up when you are told no and knowing how strong you are and what you have to offer. No one else has what you have. Keep pushing, it takes one yes to change your life.

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

I see so many shows, and there was a show called “Slave Play” talking about interacial couples. There was this one couple where the white counterpart was called a virus. He didn’t realize it but he affected her and her body in ways she didn't even realize, silencing her and it was detrimental for her character. It was important for people to see. When you go see theatre you see a reflection of yourself and other people and opens your mind to how people are viewed in the world. Sometimes we do things that we don't even realize we do and when we see it on a stage we can reflect. The same happens with movies. You tell stories through art that can make people feel and then change things.

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)

I am not able to audition for anything. It is scary because we don't know when the theaters will be open again or even when people will be okay to be around all the people behind the camera on set. You can't have a twenty person cast or even go into an audition room. We’re dancing close together and partnering, and we can’t touch each other right now. It is pretty frightening, I don't know when this will end and thank god I am on unemployment so the stimulus has helped. It is scary because there’s no work right now. We can not tell our stories right now and that is frightening.

Q: Can you talk about how you felt during the initial US shutdown and mass cancellations?

During this I was auditioning, I almost booked something substantial that was cancelled because of COVID-19. When this first happened I was with a friend and we didn't realize how serious it was quite yet and the next day things shut down. It has been an adjustment to just be and not be too hard on myself. If I’m in a bad mood and don't want to do anything I try to stay motivated as much as I can. This is something that no one has been through before.

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

I love you guys even though I haven't met you. I appreciate you. I thank you for putting your life on the line to save lives and just sharing your work and your vulnerability with people you don't even know. Thank you.

Q: What other interests have you delved deeper into during this time?

I choreograph and direct. There is a project I wanted to do this summer and I have dived deeper into it. I’ve been finding music and figuring out different ways to tell the story I want to tell. I have been able to work on my short films. That is mostly what I have been doing. For me personally in the next three to five years I want to switch over to completely directing and choreographing. This short film is 15min long with different songs and stories and I am really excited about it.  I hope that I can go outside soon to shoot. Also there is this app called Broadway HD, so I have done research watching Broadway shows and old music videos for inspiration so when I go back I have more knowledge than I left with.

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?

There's been a lot of online dance classes which are so good for the community. We are in a weird time where we can't go to the studio. I have a friend who is making sandwiches for the homeless and handing them out. I have seen people making masks and sending them out. I see people helping one another through this tough time and raising money for dance schools to keep them afloat.

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.)

More diversity, more funding for the arts, more pay. More appreciation for the arts. Right now people watch these shows and TV and movies and like, where do you think this comes from? These are actors and artists that aren't supported. So I would love to see more dancing in schools for arts programs and universal healthcare. And more appreciation and love for little things like giving someone a hug, sitting in a restaurant, being nice to waiters and people who have to work while we are all scared in the house.

Transcription courtesy of