How Chloe Arnold Found Empowerment Through Art
I come from a lineage of survivors: African Americans who endured the brutality of slavery, Native Americans who survived forced genocidal migration, and my Jewish grandmother who escaped the Holocaust. My ancestors' enduring spirits live inside of me, giving me an indelible foundation of strength and compassion.
On the bookshelves my mom filled in our one-bedroom apartment in inner-city Washington, DC, sat a book called To Be Young, Gifted and Black, written by Lorraine Hansberry. Those words were aspirational, and empowered me to imagine a place beyond our limited conditions.
Lee Gumbs Photography, Courtesy SILLAR Management
I worked hard in school and excelled in sports and social leadership, but my home life weighed heavily on me. I lived in survivor mode every day, starting my own small businesses and even working at a junkyard to help my family financially. I struggled to find my own voice, until I met my first dance teacher, Ms. Toni Lombre. She believed in me and unlocked my soul, passion and rhythm, with the faith that movement would set this scholarship student free. She knew how much I loved tap dancing but required me to train in other styles too. I had no idea that she was cultivating my future.
Ms. Toni's guidance led me to the greatest mentor I could have ever imagined, Debbie Allen. At 16, I was cast in her play at the Kennedy Center, where I did a tap duet, but also jazz, swing dancing, singing and acting. A living example of an African-American woman from humble beginnings defying the odds to become an icon, she took me under her wing. Debbie mentored me through college at Columbia University, my move to L.A. and living bicoastally. She influenced my imagination and challenged me to trust myself.
In tap dance, a field where men dominate, I was determined to give women a leading voice. That inspired me to found the Syncopated Ladies, an all-female tap company, whose videos now have more than 50 million views online. One of my proudest moments was my recent Emmy nomination for Outstanding Choreography for "The Late Late Show with James Corden," which had never happened for a female tap dancer.
I found freedom through performing and choreographing, so I am committed to paying forward the lessons of my teachers. I encourage young people to dive into their greatest potential as global citizens with infinite possibilities. I believe art saves lives—it saved mine.
Yvonne Rainer's Parts of Some Sextets (AKA "the mattress dance") hasn't been revived since it premiered in 1965. Nor has Rainer had any wish to do it again, to ask performers to heave 10 mattresses around while carrying out 31 tasks that changed every 30 seconds. It was an unwieldy, difficult dance. (Even the title is unwieldy.) But Emily Coates, who has danced in Rainer's work for 20 years, became curious about this piece and was determined to see it again—and to dance in it. She will get her wish November 15–17, when the mattress dance will be performed as part of the Performa 19 Biennial.
Back in 2011 when Joe Lanteri first approached Katie Langan, chair of Marymount Manhattan College's dance department, about getting involved with New York City Dance Alliance, she was skeptical about the convention/competition world.
"But I was pleasantly surprised by the enormity of talent that was there," she says. "His goal was to start scholarship opportunities, and I said okay, I'm in."
Today, it's fair to say that Lanteri has far surpassed his goal of creating scholarship opportunities. But NYCDA has done so much more, bridging the gap between the convention world and the professional world by forging a wealth of partnerships with dance institutions from Marymount to The Ailey School to Complexions Contemporary Ballet and many more. There's a reason these companies and schools—some of whom otherwise may not see themselves as aligned with the convention/competition world—keep deepening their relationships with NYCDA.
Now, college scholarships are just one of many ways NYCDA has gone beyond the typical weekend-long convention experience and created life-changing opportunities for students. We rounded up some of the most notable ones:
"The show must go on" may be a platitude we use to get through everything from costume malfunctions to stormy moods. But when it came to overcoming a literal hurricane, Houston Ballet was buoyed by this mantra to go from devastated to dancing in a matter of weeks—with the help of Harlequin Floors, Houston Ballet's longstanding partner who sprang into action to build new floors in record time.