Rosy Simas on Using Dance to Unite Identity, Ancestry & Culture

February 24, 2021

Creating is a spiritual act for me, rooted in natu­re, formed through my link to the ances­­tors and the land of which we are made. I weave cultural concepts with scientific and philosophical theories. My work unites themes of personal and collective identity with family, matriarchy, sovereignty, equality and healing that centers the voices of those who are Native, Indigenous, Black and People of Color.

That is, of course, the artist-statement answer. I think, for me, the question is more “Why do I make dance?”

I wouldn’t particularly say I am a people person, but I need to make dance, even solos, in relationship with others. It is in the process of being with, listening to, witnessing others that my ideas become energy and matter moving through time and space.

Even the visual elements that I seemingly create alone—the moving images, sculptures and textiles—are interwoven into my performance, and the installation projects are rigged in collaboration with production artists.

I work primarily with composer Françoi­s Richomme. We create working and performing environments in which the dancers can source movement from the history, culture and ancestry stored in their bodies. It is our job to string it all together, to frame it and to give them the best possible situation so they can thrive and grow.

Simas wears a black shirt and pants and stands against a black background. Her body is tilted backwards with her right arm extended behind her. She has dark hair and her eyes are closed.
Photo by Imranda Ward, Courtesy McKnight Fellowships/MANCC

For the last 10 years, I have focused on developing a physical and intellectual decolonized practice which strives to benefit everyone involved: performers, design collaborators, partners, community participants and audience.

I am always asking how language can be generative and holistic while asking performers to explore new territory. Getting to the right sequence of words requires making mistakes. It also requires listening deeply so that I discover things that I never knew I knew. I learned this skill from my longtime teacher, Barbara Mahler, who is a genius at helping people find their individual physical strength and expression.

The key to language, though, is listening—deep listening, not just to words and sounds, but to the body in relationship, in perceived stillness, in gesture and in motio­n. For me, it is this union of listening and guiding others through carefully chosen language that makes the best dances.