Interview: Topaz Von Wood
Edited by: 
Katelyn Besser

Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with Second company for Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble?

I am from Florida, I went to a ballet conservatory at Sarasota Cuban Ballet School and was homeschooled so I could focus on dance. I never went to real school and dance was my life. I would dance all day, do some academics, and dance some more. I never went to prom or anything. At 18 I did the Ailey School certificate program. I moved to NYC, was there for three years, and received my certificate. I auditioned for several companies and got 4-5 company contracts but I felt Cleo [Parker Robinson’s company] was the best place for me. I graduated and moved to Denver to dance for Cleo. The season ends in June and we find out in April if we will get promoted to the first company. I have been so blessed to be able to dance straight through high school and into my professional years. I’ve never had to take a break from dance.

Q: Do you have any mentors or important people in your life that have shaped the way you dance and or think about dance?

I have a lot of mentors. I have had countless people help me on this journey. In this company I have been more inspired than I have ever been. Just working for Cleo [Parker Robinson] has forever changed my life. She is just a light, dance is hard and you feel like you will never be good enough, and she always says “one spirit many voices” and she has this way of making us feel like our voices matter. We come together, we all hold hands and we hug. Dance has always been so cutthroat but something about her has forever changed the way I think about dance with the energy and generosity she brings into the studio.

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

Making money. It is really hard to have a consistent income in the arts. It's based on ticket sales, where you tour, how many people they can afford to take on tour, etc. When you're a student it is all fun but when it becomes your job and it is how you pay your rent it becomes a whole different thing. I think people now are seeing how we bring this light into the world and hopefully are seeing how important the arts are. Maybe after this we’ll be paid the way we should’ve been this whole time. Also keeping myself motivated. It’s very hard on the body. I just turned 22 and I’m thinking about the clock ticking: that most people stop when they're in their thirties. When you perform and see people be so moved by what you do, you realize this is why I do it and I could never stop.

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?

Yes. With Cleo [Parker Robinson Dance Ensemble] the company I am with especially. That is the main issue we cover. I think dance is a way to have a platform to do that in not an attacking way. Usually people just stop listening. But with the arts you can get through to people. I think it is the best and most effective way to do it. Something about it touches people differently.

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

As an artist, it’s the opportunity to share with my community. They come to these performances and we awaken something inside of them. I love inspiring others. As a person, mostly family. They keep me pushing. I moved to NYC to pursue dance when I was 18 (I was with Alvin Ailey) and since then I've been on my own and they support me. I think now more than ever people see how badly they need the arts and that inspires me.

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

It has been hard. I am with a professional company with a contract so we had so many shows booked for the rest of the season and it has all been cancelled. We had a rehearsal about 3 weeks ago on the 14th when they told us to stop coming in and from there it has just been extending and extending. I dance all day everyday and I don't really have the option to work from home. We try to rehearse over Zoom but it is not the same. We can't go full out or practice partnering. And that’s hard for us. We are a performing company, that’s what we do. It has mentally taken a toll on us. That is our whole life, it’s beyond just a job. If we can't dance, what do we do? It has been very difficult.

Q: What was your initial reaction to the US shutdown and mass cancellations?

My initial reaction to cancellation - I thought it was fake. I remember thinking this will blow over in a week and maybe 1 or 2 shows will be cancelled. But then it just kept going and going. It wasn't until late March it sunk in and I realized everything was really cancelled. On April 25th we had our big spring concert planned and we just found out that was definitely cancelled. I thought people were just being dramatic but it finally hit me mid March that this is real.

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

I have seen a lot of dancers dancing in their house and showing that you don’t need a full studio or stage to make art. It’s wherever you are, you are the art. All you need is a few feet to move to make art. Our company has now been having rehearsals on Zoom, we also take classes on Zoom, as well as learn new choreography. It’s disappointing as dancers because we want to go full out.  I was jumping and turning and throwing myself on the floor and partner but I can’t do that anymore. We just have to accept where we are, take what we can get, and still make something happen. I am exploring what happens when you can't go 100% but still make it beautiful, authentic, and real.

Q: What social changes and responsibilities have you seen people making during the pandemic?

Mostly just staying home. That is so hard to do. People are always on the go and to say I need to do my part and sit here. It has been beautiful seeing people coming together from all backgrounds to stand with each other and say, we are going to fight this. I see in NYC around 7pm they clap for the health care professionals. With little things like that, we are finally seeing Americans come together. At the end of the day it is about the human race not just political views and stuff. It’s been really beautiful to see that.

Q: Do you think the pandemic will make us a more socially conscious society? If so, how?

I hope so. I would think so. I don't think we can be the same after this. There’s no way. No one has ever experienced anything like this, in our generation especially. We will look at everything differently. Now we are forever changed and won't take things for granted.

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 think the arts will be more appreciated and we will have bigger audiences, especially now that people know what it’s like not to have full access to us. Now people understand that they need the arts. Even when you’re going through the worst of times you can turn to the arts. As artists we get tired and burned out but it reminds us how important this is and we made the right choice choosing this life even when people question why we do this profession.

Transcription courtesy of