Quinn Wharton

The Music That Keeps Emma Portner Inspired—And How She Really Feels About That Justin Bieber Collab

As anyone who follows her on Instagram knows, when Emma Portner isn't working on high-profile projects—like Netflix's "Umbrella Academy" and a collaboration with Vogue and Saks—she's in the studio, dancing to a wide array of music that the word "eclectic" doesn't even begin to capture. She describes her taste as: "Audio-theater meets spoken word meets lo-fi meets classical. I could hop from Carnegie Hall to a jazz club to an underground DJ set to a Mitski concert all in the same night if I ever wanted to."

As part of our playlist series, we talked to Portner about her favorite songs, how she finds new music and how she really feels about the Justin Bieber video that launched her into the spotlight back in 2015:


On Her #1 Go-To Song

"'Love' has been the first track on most of my playlists for many many years. Mica Levi is an utter genius. It feels neutral—as far as sound can go—but still so emotionally potent. If the word 'melt' were a song, this would be it. Mica's entire 'Under the Skin' album is one of the best film scores I've ever heard."

How She Finds New Music

"I am searching for new music 50 percent of the time. That is not a joke. Music can regulate my emotions and that is a difficult thing for me to do on my own. I make a lot of Spotify radio stations and do a lot of Soundcloud stalking. It's often a lengthy process that feels somewhat invasive. But it is worth it when you find something really special. I'm often looking for artists who haven't yet been discovered, or NYC-based musicians I can collaborate with in real life."

What Robyn's "Missing U" Means to Her

"Robyn took an eight year hiatus and came back stronger than ever. It really encouraged me to look at myself on a deeper level to evaluate how much I can handle. Bending and breaking are very different things. Sadness and depression. Pain and damage. She acknowledged these differentiations and that is radically powerful. I dance to this almost every day because she manages to get such positive musical energy around some pretty sad ideas. She is basically the queen of making me bop while I weep."

Why She Loves Peggy Lee's "Is That All There Is?"

"One of my favorite Canadian choreographers, Linda Garneau, choreographed an incredibly moving piece to this song for my studio back when I was a competition student. I've always related to it. I dealt with a house fire when I was a kid and the first line of the song is 'I remember when I was a little girl, our house caught on fire.' Ouch. I love her idea of dancing through life's pain."

Her Relationship to Music In the Studio

"Sometimes it drives everything and sometimes I completely ignore it. I don't often like to be tied to one track when creating. I like being able to take a phrase that was made to Max Richter and put it to Missy Elliott. "

Yes, There's A Song Called "Who's Afraid of Justin Bieber"

"I mean, come on. That's hilarious. I often feel mild embarrassment towards my Bieber appearances within the concert dance world now. I have really changed over the last few years and this track just makes me laugh."

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Jason Samuels Smith, photographed by Jayme Thornton

Moving Forward by Looking Back: A Week at the L.A. Tap Festival Online

I turned to tap at the outset of the European lockdown as a meaningful escape from the anxiety of the pandemic. As a dance historian specialized in dance film, I've seen my fair share of tap on screen, but my own training remains elementary. While sheltering in place, my old hardwood floors beckoned. I wanted to dig deeper in order to better understand tap's origins and how the art form has evolved today. Not so easy to accomplish in France, especially from home.

Enter the L.A. Tap Fest's first online edition.

Alongside 100 other viewers peering out from our respective Zoom windows, I watch a performer tap out rhythms on a board in their living room. Advanced audio settings allow us to hear their feet. In the chat box, valuable resources are being shared and it's common to see questions like, "Can you post the link to that vaudeville book you mentioned?" Greetings and words of gratitude are also exchanged as participants trickle in and out from various times zones across the US and around the world.

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