Interview: Zui Gomez
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Q: What has been your professional dance journey, and how did you come to dance with________? Or What is the most recent show you have been a part of and how did you come to be a part of it?

I was born in the Dominican Republic and raised in Miami…  I didn't want to be a dancer until sophomore year of high school. My mom and I researched performing arts high schools in my area and that had public transportation. I did a performing arts high school and then got my BFA at Boston Conservatory. I moved to NYC after college for eight months and was overwhelmed with New York City. While I was in NYC, I did a lot of self-training because I was working at a restaurant and saving money to survive. I wasn't taking class as often but giving myself a method to stay in shape. I moved back home to Miami for two years and did everything I could in the dance community of Miami… I felt like I got to this bar and I wanted to go past that point and I thought NYC would be the place to challenge myself. I moved back to NYC because I wanted to work with a close friend of mine and she has a Miami-based company and she brought me to NYC with Ballet Hispanico… I was living in Brooklyn at the time I auditioned for Ballet Hispanico and I worked at a restaurant. The second company position was not paid so I had to maintain an income. Shortly after dancing with them, I got injured and…  stopped dancing for six months… I came home to Miami to recover and re-trained my body to walk. I auditioned and worked. I did a lot of yoga, I relied on meditation — and do to this day. I got the job at Ballet Hispanico first company for two seasons, and then I learned about the company Gibney Dance.

I have been with Gibney for three years now. I have learned a lot administratively and in ways I didn't think I could. As a dancer I have often been told all I can do is dance and our voices aren't always heard, and for the first time I was learning about how to give back to the community and do social justice work. We are asked to create our own fellowship programs and we hold our own movement workshops… we host these workshops in shelters usually, and it allows the people in the class to focus on the moment right now… I am currently dancing with Gibney and I have enjoyed the process so much with them and it is a place where I can find myself, for sure.

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

Rosie Hererra — she is so smart and she really thinks things through and I really appreciate that about her. I feel like I have learned a lot from my friends — one person I have seen grow since we were 17 years old Jose Luis Lopez. I feel like I can have a conversation with him and we understand each other in very deep ways and we respect each other’s opinions. If we were to agree to disagree we’d know that it’s safe to do that. When he talks about dance he makes me see dance in different ways. My partner as well, Gabriel Johnson, who is a photographer… Dancers, we have all had a lot of similar experiences, but when I speak to Gabriel, he allows me to see it from a different perspective and it doesn't even have to be about dance. Because I have been able to have the freedom to do that with him, I am able to see the dance world in a different way. 

Q: What have been some challenges in your pre-professional or professional dance career? (Adversity as a minority artist…)

I think no one tells you how it is, and it’s different for everyone. When you think it’s supposed to be a certain way — like you're supposed to go to college then audition then get the job — we are not really prepared for what it is actually like. One of the most difficult things is comparing myself to someone else's success or to someone else’s journey. I do also feel like injuries have been ways to self-reflect and really help you understand the more important things in life and what you value. As a dancer your body is your instrument so it really shows you how important your physical instrument is. It’s not like we can go on Amazon and buy a new hamstring. I learned that the hard way.

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. [At Gibney] we are creating dances about self identity, bullying, consent, anything along the lines of what teens are experiencing. I have learned… dance can make it easier for someone to learn — it's more visual. I think dance is a way to talk about subjects that may not be easy to talk about. An example for consent — I did not grow up having those conversations and with dance I think you can fill that gap and have people understand from a different light. There are endless ways to do this.

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

I think the youth, young adults. I feel like I have a responsibility to show that things can feel better and become better. I know it can be hard for young adults to understand that. I also feel my responsibility as an artist is to allow an audience member to feel something or walk away with a message. My connection with the audience doesn't need to be one in a million but if I can make one connection with someone, even if I don't know it then, I feel like I have accomplished something. My goal is to always try to leave what I can on the stage so that those who need it can take it.

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

It is so fresh and sensitive. It has been very emotional. I feel like I get it in waves. I don’t have an explanation for it because it is so current still. Artistically, it has pushed me forward in ways that I didn't think I could do. For example, I am very controlling with my schedules and I would say to myself, “I wish I had a part of the day where I can sit and do nothing,” and now that I have all these hours to sit and not move as much, it almost gives me even more control to focus on smaller tasks rather than try to accomplish 15 different tasks. I also am interested in putting together dance videos sent by different dancers all over the world. I am focusing on that, which is not necessarily my skill but I am learning. It has been very interesting. It has been almost very unreal for sure. 

The day we found out [about the pandemic closures], we were about to start a rehearsal… Our choreographer, who is pregnant, felt it was best for her to move back to Nashville, reason being because she thought if she would get stuck in New York, she didn't have her support system. So once we were informed with her decision we had to figure out how to move forward, because that later day our CEO sat everyone down and shared the full news. It was a moment in time where everything paused and it felt like a movie. I almost didn't know what to do, I still am figuring out how to stay positive. I will never forget the silence in the room which still lives in the streets and the sadness that laid over everyone without having to say a single word because we knew from here on out it was going to be very, very tough.

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

I was talking to my friends about this — one of my friends brought up the point where she was supposed to go to a concert in June and she was hoping it would still happen and the other friend said she doesn't think big gatherings will even exist for a long time. And I thought to myself how there will be a shift in our culture on how we socially interact and with things we are so used to doing — what will this pandemic create for us into the future? Or will we go back to just how it was before the pandemic? What the things might look like, I don't know. I am imagining the elbow bump is a thing instead of a handshake — just that alone is a social interaction that could become normal... At the end of the day, I have faith in humanity. I think most of us will get the sign from this pandemic and understand we need to make bigger changes for each other, the planet, ourselves, and everything that surrounds us. I hope we all come together to see that change needs to be made. 

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.)

Kinder. I think also people will see economic imbalances in the jobs that people are set to believe earn higher than others. Here in the U.S., athletes are high paying jobs whereas dancers are not. Dance is a way to heal the body and I hope we learn to see that the performing arts in general needs to be funded more and seen more, because it does so much for the people and our own sanity. And that said, it can be the person on the couch watching dance on the TV — it shows how much joy that brings to you. The performing arts, whether it’s music or anything, it does something to the body that can be really satisfying. I hope people see the artists are the ones that glue us all together, and I think this can be seen through entertainment. 

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