Trina Mannino
Edited by: 
Raheida Khalique

Q: How did you begin dancing?

I took tap and ballet classes when I was young and I continued to take them as I was growing up, though not very seriously. My aunt gave me ballet books when I was 11 and I was immediately intrigued considering pursuing ballet. As an active kid, I was very interested in the physical rigor it takes to dance. I did programs with BalletMET, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, and American Ballet Theatre (ABT).  

I started becoming more aware of modern dance through the Internet and hearing people at the summer programs talk about modern companies. There wasn’t a lot of professional dance coming  through Detroit at that time except for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, American Ballet Theatre, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. While I wanted to continue with ballet, it became clear that I didn’t have the technical aptitude to be in a professional company. I was alsointellectually curious and wanted to go to college I applied for different college programs and chose one at the University of Michigan because it was technically rigorous and gave room for academic pursuits. I loved the time that I spent there double majoring in Communications and Dance. At first, I didn’t think choreography would be an option for me because there seemed to be students more confident of their choreographic skills than I was.

In addition to my love for dance at this time, I realized that I was more interested in the context and the why of making dances versus being a tool for other choreographers. I know that many choreographers do task-based work where dancers have agency, but I also enjoy ‘putting on the show’ -- working with the technical team, writing press releases, etc. During college, I started to flex some administrative and writing muscles by working at the Michigan Daily. And in my final year, I made dances that received a lot of faculty support and made me think it was something I can pursue.  

Like most young people in dance, I decided to move to New York. The recession in 2009 made it difficult for anyone to get a job no matter your industry  so it didn’t seem very risky to pursue an artistic career at the time Now I think that sounds crazy!  I worked as a part time administrator for various organizations. For seven years, I was a freelance writer for various publications, mainly Dance Europe Magazine and The Dance Enthusiast. Concurrently, I danced for friends and a few choreographers, made small dances for myself, and participated in many showcases and festivals.

About two years ago, I wanted to learn more about the pathway to receiving grants, residencies and producing at venues  places like New York Live Arts because it all felt elusive to me. I also came to a point where I wanted to find l a place where people were supportive of each other and their ideas -- a place I could grow and flourish. Luckily, there was an opening for a company manager at Gibney which felt like a job made for my different skill sets and one where I could be successful. Since joining the staff at Gibney, I’ve received   grant for my first evening length work, and have received  residencies at  other organizations. Immersing myself in my role at Gibney fed my creative process allowing me to apply the skills I learned at on the job  to my own creative work.

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 to deal with stillness. I really love stillness as something  to utilize in my own choreography to let the audience take everything in and really see what is happening. It is a powerful mechanism and as a culture we need to do it more. When I stop and think,my  breath comes into play and  it allows me to check in with my body and surroundings, and to be in the present moment. I associate stillness with reflection.  It gives me time to reflect before reacting.  Stillness makes for a more constructive way of communicating ideas, feelings, and allows me  to see things from new perspectives.

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

I think about this in my work and in the female experience. I was raised in a very traditional \ household that was very patriarchal. Many women in my family were curled into themselves and wouldn't express themselves fully but I think dance forced me to open up a little bit. Even from a somatic perspective, I held so much tightness growing up. Teachers  kept telling me to release and use my breath and every time, I would think  ‘I am trying!’ That tightness was modeled for me in my experience. While it wasn’t traumatic as many other’s experiences,  the  expectation to be quiet and docile weighed on me. So, dance taught me to harness my own power and to see that anger, rage, eroticism, and joy aren’t negative -- they are powerful things.

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

Dance could be used as a platform for various capacities. I think about it through the Gibney model where while the dancers and community actionists  give people the tools to be in their own bodies, to use their breath and stillness, and the joy and power of movement to help temper the things that they  can’t control on the outside but reinforce what they can control on the inside. Whether this it stems from  abstraction or a straightforward narrative, I think dance is storytelling because it can give audiences a glimpse of other people’s experiences. Dance is particularly moving because of the power of the body and in seeing a kinesthetic expression. There are more people than we think who know what that feels like.

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

Personally, the COVID-19 pandemic has made my artistic work difficult by putting a hold on my plans. I was planning on engaging in a new process with dancers but I can’t hold traditional rehearsals right now. I have upcoming residencies and a show in September and though these events aren’t suspended yet, they will require a change in scope. I have to think of new ways to ensure the project exists if it needs to be postponed. The New York dance community consists of mostly freelance dancers and within a week, they have lost all of their income. These are people who don’t earn enough money to begin with. The pandemic has very intensely impacted dancers.  I am fortunate to still have o my full time administrative job and am able to   work remotely for Gibney. However, it scares me that knowing many of my friends had to apply for unemployment and individual relief funds for the first time.

My first cancellation was my showing at Judson Church through a platform called Stuffed. Of course I was disappointed when it happened and it put ithe severity of the situation in perspective. I know it would have felt worse if this was the premiere but I think the most important thing is people’s health and my community so I am willing to do whatever it takes to help minimize the spread.

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?

Many people, including myself, are taking time to think before deciding to head out to the store or purchase something online. We are trying to discern what is essential in this moment and what isn’t. I think we are taking stock of material things versus necessities. Those who are working and able to work from home, are willing to make contributions to relief funds and food banks. Giving to causes is important and necessary, but we also need to reflect on changing the system. One way to help is by listening to our community’s needs and communicating those needs to the government, to different organizations and causes. I think this should be a wakeup call to the inequities in our country and the flaws in our healthcare system.

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 it is amazing when the dance field is bustling with content and opportunity

but this can get overwhelming and could benefit from valuing self care more. I would like to see more diversity and people being included in the decision making. This can include more transparency in grant making processes or on different panels. Another way that we, as a field, can ensure our freelance and independent workers are taken care of is to help them be invulnerable financially. We can make ways for more mental health and healthcare resources for those who are uninsured.

Q: What would you say to healthcare workers if you could?

My mom is a healthcare worker. I’d like to tell them we love you and are so grateful for you and your heroism. Healthcare workers are incredible l individuals. . They are aware that peoples’ lives are always at risk.

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