Ballet Nebraska Photo by Jim Williams
Dance is my livelihood. How lucky I am to be able to say that. It is something that I love. For me, dance is beautiful, challenging, inspiring, and fun.
From the time I was very young, I had this distinct notion that everyone early in life, first learned to crawl, then walk and then of course, dance and choreograph. I see movement, line, texture and gesture in music, art and everyday surroundings. I hear music and sound and see color, movement and gesture.
Dance runs in our family. My sister and I grew up knowing how fond of dance my mother was, and at a young age started attending the same studio she did, focusing on ballet, tap, and jazz with other children of the same age group. The passion and emotion I saw in my mother as she helped teach us the different postures and steps transferred over to me. My parents even bought me a video compilation of Michael Jackson videos and so I could memorize and perform his routines.
The guiding principal for me is, “Hwendo na bua” which in my language, Fon, means, “Our culture and origin will not disappear.” I grew up in Benin; a small country in West Africa. In order to maintain strong family ties, and pass on history, values and traditions, my mother would bring her children together for stories before bedtime. One important way in which West African traditions and cultures are being preserved is through the art of vivid and exciting storytelling. Furthermore, I was exposed to traditional ceremonies during frequent visits to my mother’s home village of Ouidah. I loved the drumming and dancing, and even as a child, I absorbed the significance of the rituals as well as their pageantry. I embody the spirit of the original intent of the dances and costumes.
I see choreography in everyday life. Whether it’s cars moving to the side of the road to make way for an ambulance or someone holding open the door for the next customer at the convenience store, people know the steps and understand their role in the dance.
I continue to be moved by the commitment we make to the choreography. Standing hand over heart for the national anthem, allowing another customer to go ahead in line, or my personal favorite, high-fiving a total stranger at a sporting event, I find myself emotional at times when the movement is executed with genuine passion and dedication. Our common language of gestures is beautiful, complicated, cultural, effective, and can be hurtful as often as it can be uplifting.
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been painting and dancing. For me, the two art forms go hand-in-hand. Both modes of expression have a history that has developed over time while still maintaining their relevance in the world. Both art forms allow the artist to express their deepest self in the most pure and honest way. They are almost one in the same, because with dancing you are painting the space around you with your body, and with painting your hand that holds the brush and the flick of your wrist that paints the canvas is a dance in itself.
I was a shy student who enjoyed playing in the band, being a small part of the whole sound. I didn’t want to stand out by playing the wrong note or by playing a solo. I was afraid of speaking up in class or bringing attention to myself. The modern dance curriculum at my public high school changed that.
Modern dance was offered as a P.E. elective. I had studied ballet, but knew that I did not have the body to be a ballerina. I longed for opportunities to dance and modern dance appealed to me for the freedom of expression it offered. My freshman year, I took the elective and fell in love.