Why I Dance: Paloma McGregor
Since 2005 Paloma McGregor has brought her intense quality to Urban Bush Women in Brooklyn. She embodies Jawole Willa Jo Zollar’s marriage of power and sensuality, with moments of sharpness thrown in—almost like she could pop and lock. She’s got expansive arms and a deep, juicy plié and you can’t miss her in the group. With her lifelong collaborator and sister, Patricia, she is co-founder of Angela’s Pulse Performance Projects, and is also guest artistic director of INSPIRIT Dance Company. Her choreographic work has been presented at Bronx Academy of Art and Dance, SolarOne Solar Powered Arts Festival, and the New Dance Group, as well as Dance Place in Washington, DC, MOCA Cleveland, and Cleveland Public Theatre. McGregor teaches dance and writing workshops throughout the country.
Why I dance changes constantly. On my best days, dancing—pushing myself to my physical and emotional limits—lets me express my deepest truths. Sometimes I dance to be the center of attention. And on those increasingly rare occasions when I make it to a club, I dance because they’re playing my jam.
Through it all, I dance for moments like one I had recently at a university. I met an undergraduate student who recognized me as a dancer with Urban Bush Women. “That’s what I really want to do,” she said, “but…”
I don’t recall how she finished the sentence, perhaps because my mind drifted back to a time when I was much like her—before I learned to value my voice and live without regrets.
Dance was my first love. As a Caribbean kid, raised on Carnival and calypso music, it was second nature. My mom says I even danced in the womb. At 8, I discovered that two of my greatest gifts—athleticism and showing off—were rewarded in something called dance class. Formal training with Caribbean Dance Company in St. Croix offered me a sense of purpose and an official-sounding label I relished: dancer.
But by 18, after moving all over the United States, searching for teachers and feeling intimidated by other students, I grew discouraged. I replaced dance with my second love: writing. Both satisfied my deep desire to tell stories.
I studied journalism at Florida A&M University, where I danced for fun and focused on becoming a reporter. But writing articles for a daily newspaper didn’t match the spiritual experience of dance, of embodying the ecstasy of sunset or the hardship of sharecropping. I watched performances squirming in my chair, leaving feeling dejected. I longed to be onstage.
I was not much older than this college student when I made a big decision: I wasn’t going to live a life of regret. By 25, with little formal training, I applied to two competitive graduate dance programs. I wrote them heartfelt letters, hoping they would recognize and invest in my potential. Instead, they invested in first-class stamps on rejection letters telling me I wasn’t good enough.
But I knew I was a dancer. With a passion (or perhaps lunacy) that only an artist can muster, I believed in my vision despite the disappointment. Soon, others did too.
I became a founding member of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, whose director, Michael Medcalf, looked beyond my sloppy arms and single pirouettes. For three years, after working all day at a newspaper, I rushed to rehearsals. Through the frustration and fatigue, I once again experienced the transformational power of dance.
At 27, I left my journalism career to pursue an MFA in dance at Case Western Reserve University. I discovered my skill not only for embodying, but envisioning dance. I realized, through sweat-soaked hours alone in the studio, that there were stories only I could tell. As a choreographer, I learned to combine my two great loves: writing and dance.
At 30, I moved to New York to be a professional dancer. I got my big shot a year later, in a weeklong audition for Urban Bush Women. More than a hundred women competed for one slot. I got the job. I have since performed for audiences from Senegal to South Carolina, and felt the power of dance as a universal language. And my choreography has let me have my say on stages across the country.
I have become what I have always been, and more than I could have imagined. And now I dance for that student, for what she could become and for the reflection of myself in her.
So I told her my story, because when I was her age I could have used reassurance that my passion was not lunacy. I would have loved to know what I know now: Your greatest love will never let you go.
Over the past 15 years, Gesel Mason has asked 11 choreographers—including legends like Donald McKayle, David Roussève, Bebe Miller, Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, Rennie Harris and Kyle Abraham—to teach her a solo. She's performed up to seven of them in one evening for her project No Boundaries: Dancing the Visions of Contemporary Black Choreographers.
Now, Mason is repackaging the essence of this work into a digital archive. This online offering shares the knowledge of a few with many, and considers how dance can live on as those who create it get older.
The way we create and consume dance is changing every day. Now more than ever, the field demands that dancers not only be able to perform at the highest level, but also collaborate with choreographers to bring their artistic visions to life. Dancers who miss out on choreographic training may very well find themselves at a disadvantage as they try to launch their careers.
When a musical prepares to make the transfer from a smaller, lesser-known venue to Broadway (where theaters hold 500-plus seats), often there's a collective intake of breath from all involved. After all, a bigger house means more tickets to sell in order to stay in the black, and sometimes shows with even the most tenacious fan bases can't quite navigate such a jump. But what about the transfer from stage…to screen? Is Broadway ready to be consumed from the comfort of your couch?
Daphne Lee was dancing with Collage Dance Collective in Memphis, Tennessee, when she received two difficult pieces of news: Her mother had been diagnosed with multiple myeloma cancer, and her father had Parkinson's disease, affecting his mobility and mental faculties.
The New Jersey native's reaction: "I really need to move home."
It's not often that a promising choreographer gets to stage work in a world-class theater, on a skillfully-curated program with professional dancers, and with the possibility of winning a substantial cash prize. But at the McCallum Theatre's Palm Desert Choreography Festival, that's been the status quo for over twenty years.
Since Shea New, the festival's artistic director, founded the festival in 1998, she's worked tirelessly with McCallum's director of education and festival producer, Kajsa Thuresson-Frary, and stage manager and festival production manager Joanna Fookes to build a festival that nurtures choreographers, highlights high quality work, powerfully engages the local community and cultivates an audience base for dance in the Coachella Valley. The trio is backed by a strong team of professionals at McCallum and the brilliant volunteers from the local and national level who serve as adjudicators.
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Summer is almost upon us, and whether you're a student about to go on break or a pro counting the days till layoff, don't forget that with warm weather comes a very serious responsibility: To maintain your cross-training routine on your own.
Those of us who've tried to craft our own cross-training routine know it's easier said than done. So we consulted the stars, and rounded up the best options for every zodiac sign. (TBH, you should probably consult an expert, too—we'd recommend a physical therapist, a personal trainer or your teacher.)
It's become second nature in dance studios: The instant anyone gets hurt, our immediate reaction is to run to the freezer to grab some ice (or, more realistically, a package of frozen peas).
But as routine as icing our injuries might be, the benefits are not actually backed up by scientific studies. And some experts now believe icing could even disrupt the healing process.
I'm a contemporary dancer, and I'm nervous about trying to get pregnant since I can't predict if it might happen during the middle of the season. We have a union contract that is supposed to protect us. But I'm scared because several of my colleagues' contracts weren't renewed for no particular reason. Having a big belly could be a big reason to get rid of me!
—Andrea, New York, NY
When the going gets tough, the tough start dancing: That's the premise behind "Dance of Urgency," a recently opened exhibit at MuseumsQuartier Vienna that features photos, video and other documentary material relating to the use of dance as political protest or social uprising.
The groups featured in the show, largely based around clubs and electronic dance music scenes, span the globe and respond to a variety of issues—from inequality and social stratification to racial divides to crackdowns on club culture itself.
Last night, longtime theater legends (including Chita Rivera herself!) as well as rising stars gathered to celebrate one of Broadway's danciest events: the third annual Chita Rivera Awards.
The evening paid tribute to this season's dancer standouts, fabulous ensembles, and jaw-dropping choreography—on- and off-Broadway and on film.
As usual, several of our faves made it into the mix. (With such a fabulous talent pool of nominees to choose from, we're glad that ties were allowed.) Here are the highlights from the winner's list:
When you're a foreign dancer, gaining legal rights to work in the U.S. is a challenging process. It's especially difficult if you're petitioning to work as a freelance dancer without an agent or company sponsorship.
The process requires professional muscle along with plenty of resources and heart. "There's a real misnomer that it's super easy," says Neena Dutta, immigration attorney and president of Dutta Law Firm. "People need to educate themselves and talk to a professional."
Here are four things every foreign dancer who wants to work in the U.S. needs to know to build a freelance dance career here.
What does it take to "make it" in dance? It's no secret that turning this passion into a profession can be a struggle. In such a competitive field, talent alone isn't enough to get you where you want to be.
So what kinds of steps can you take to become successful? Dance Magazine spoke to 33 people from all corners of the industry to get their advice on the lessons that could help us all, no matter where we are in our careers.
On May 18, 1919, Margot "Peggy" Hookham was born. She would grow up to become Dame Margot Fonteyn, England's first homegrown prima ballerina. She joined the Sadler's Wells School in 1934 and was performing principal roles with the precursor to The Royal Ballet the next year. Fonteyn was a company-defining figure, dancing Aurora for the re-opening of the Royal Opera House after World War II, creating numerous roles with Sir Frederick Ashton and forging a legendary partnership with Rudolf Nureyev.