Each and every day, I lose myself in the immediacy of the moment, find myself in the joy of the movement. Each and every day, I learn more and more...and, within that new knowledge, realize that I have so much farther to travel.

Shallom Johnson is a contemporary dance artist, visual artist and freelance writer based in Vancouver BC. She holds a Bachelors of Fine Arts degree in Contemporary Dance from Simon Fraser University, and has been active in the Vancouver dance community as a choreographer, performer, and instructor since her graduation in 2004.

Shallom is interested in art in public spaces, site-specific performance, interdisciplinary collaboration, and community involvement. Her street-based artwork, performance and photography examines and documents who gets to make art, where it gets made, and where/how the creative process and product is viewed. In the future, she hopes to explore this theme further via new media and technologies, new methods of creation, collaboration and community engagement.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Q & A Period #1

I've gotten some great questions from the dance students at LDSS, and I"m going to attempt to answer them in a few new posts instead of in the comments. If you'd like to read the questions, you can find most of them here (some of them I got via email).

Ok, here we go...this post is for Megan, Katie and Candice:

1. I am inspired first and foremost by my love of dancing...because to me, I don't feel complete unless I am moving and creating. Loving what I do is essential to my happiness and well-being, and to put it very simply - I cannot imagine not dancing. There have been times in my life where I've went months without going to dance class or getting into the studio to generate movement and rehearse...and I was miserable. Utterly miserable. However, I will say this - no dancer can exist in a world all by his/herself. I am constantly building a support network of people and organizations who I can turn to if I am in need of inspiration, motivation or just a good kick in the ass to get me back on track. Immersing myself in my art is hugely inspiring, especially when I'm in a new setting, meeting new people and forging new connections.

I am inspired by those around me, by my peers and my students and my mentors and members of my audience...by artists I've never met, whose work I've admired from afar. Seeing other choreographers' work is very important for me - it's a way to get new ideas, be exposed to new concepts and methods, to see if I might be interested in working with them at some point in the future, and to just get a feel for what else is out there...locally, nationally and internationally.

Not only am I inspired by other dance professionals and people working in the industry, I am inspired by random events in everyday life, by things I see in the media, by experiences in life that show me just how important the arts are to society, and how great the need is for people who are willing to devote their lives to creating and presenting art in all its many forms. I try to always keep a notebook on hand where I can quickly jot down ideas and inspirations for choreography, whether it's a leaf floating to the ground or an old man slowly shuffling along the sidewalk, or a song on the radio.

2. I always wanted to be a dancer, but I wasn't born with a body that was made for dancing. Compared to a lot of professional dancers, my flexibility (especially in my hips, back and feet) isn't that great. I knew that I was starting with a physical disadvantage, and I worked damned hard for every extra inch of turnout, every little bit of flexibility. It didn't come easy, but giving up was never an option. Still isn't an option.

Over the 21 years that I've been dancing I've had a lot of really wonderful people give me a lot of positive feedback and constructive criticism. I've also had quite a few reality checks, where I had to realize that my body sometimes just isn't made for some things, like going up en pointe (a horrible disappointment at age 13). I always had my mom behind me, pushing me to live up to my potential...and after I moved to Vancouver, I had many amazing teachers who did the same thing, never letting me get lazy or content with my abilities and accomplishments.

Dance is an art form rooted in the body, and supported by daily training.....hours and hours of training. It's not something you can do professionally if you're not working your ass off in the studio and outside of it, every day, keeping your instrument at its peak. Well, thats not entirely true. You can be a professional dancer without training every day. But you won't have as wide a variety of options or opportunities if you don't have the physicality to support the choreographer's vision. Unfortunately, companies like the Dance Exchange are few and far between.

So yeah, to answer your question (sorry I tend to ramble off on tangents) I would say yes and no. Yes I always wanted it and knew that if I worked hard enough it was a possibility...but no I wasn't sure if life would work out that way. And in some ways (when I was first beginning to dance, in pink leotard and black tights at Kidz-Up Dance in the Anglican Church Hall...my mom can tell you about that one) it seemed like such a faraway dream that I might as well have wanted to go to the moon. Once I started competing and, in highschool, started winning competitions and getting really encouraging remarks from adjudicators - that was when I seriously started thinking that I had the ability to succeed as a dancer. In university I began exploring my choreographic inspirations, and realized that I not only wanted to dance for others, I also wanted to create, to see a work through from concept to rehearsals to performance.

And as a side note, I often feel that I haven't accomplished enough - that I'm "getting old" and need to work as hard as I possibly can right now so that I get a really solid career as a performer under my belt while my body is still at its peak of physical ability. I feel that I have a lot of growing to do, as a performer and a choreographer and as an instructor, and that I need to invest as much time as is humanly possible into getting that experience so that I can continue to expand my artistic horizons.

3. Hmmm...I would say (especially after getting to know the folks at the Dance Exchange) that there is a place for everyone in dance. If you love it and are willing to dedicate your time and energy to it, there is a place for you where you can excel. There are so many many aspects of the dance insustry that you can excel in - not only is there dancing and choreographing, there is dance therapy, arts administration, teaching dance in schools/studios/community centres, dance and technology, dance photography, dance history, dance writing, movement-based research, community-based dance, dance presenting, marketing/PR, technical support, management...the list goes on and on. You just have to really look into your heart and discover what it is that you really love to do, what it is that you are really good at, and what you have to offer to yourself and to the rest of the world. And then, you have to do your research and figure out where you need to go, and who you need to know to make that happen.

Dance, like many things, is all about who you know. You can be a beautiful dancer and if you have no support network, no connections, you will have a really difficult time "making it" - not matter which path you choose. Networking, "schmoozing" as some call it, is key, especially once you get into the professional dance community. Get your name and face out there - get people to know who you are, know your name and your work, and acknowledge that you have something of value to offer them and the community at large...

For now, work as hard as you can, stay healthy and work safely, keep your body strong and flexible and keep your mind focused on your goals but also open to explore other avenues. One of the biggest things about working in dance is that you really have to be flexible, because plans could change at any moment...new opportunities open up without warning, and if you're not in a position where you are willing and able to take the chance on something that may be new and a bit scary (like moving to DC) then you'll really be closing doors on your own career. One thing leads to another, but if you don't take that first scary step you'll never know what you may have missed out on.

Photo: me playing with my auto-timer at the Dance Exchange.

...will answer the next set of questions very soon. Stay tuned! :)

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