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Interviews with three young male dancers

Posted: Nov 23 2013

Greetings, everyone!

I do apologize that this blog post took so very long—well over a month!—to come after my first blog post in which I promised this round of interviews with three friends who are all young adult male dancers. If you (or your son or student) wonders what it is like for someone not so much older than yourself to embark on their professional career in dance, the voices of these three friends of mine may help illustrate what it's really like. 

My friend A.J. recently graduated from Wichita State University with his BFA in Dance and Choreography and now is working as an independent choreographer in New York City. 

Scott moved to NYC on the other hand to finish his college education and is from New Mexico; he is also of course pursuing dance in NYC—which was the primary reason for him to transfer schools. 

Aaron is in Philly at the University for the Arts as a freshman starting his BFA program in dance. He comes from Portland, Oregon and from the well-regarded Jefferson Dancers high school company there. 

I asked each of these three gentlemen the same questions and these are the complete interviews. Enjoy!

 

A.J. Pflumm:

 

When did you start dancing? How did you first get interested in dance?

I first started dancing when I was three years old.  One of our neighbours was a dance teacher at the time and I would go over to her house to play.  Her daughter and her would teach me dances and I absolutely loved it and begged my parents to let me start classes.  One my third birthday, they started me up at Kay Lyn’s School of Dance until the studio closed.  Then I moved to Miller Marley School of Dance and Voice where I stayed until I graduated high school.

Did you, as a guy, feel that you were ever bullied or picked on by other students at school, other kids? How did you cope with that, if so? (As I’ve gotten back involved in dance myself, I’m hearing from an alarming number of teachers that male students often are teased and bullied: I had really hoped things had improved since I was a teen but I guess not so much.)

Most the bullying I got was in middle school, which I feel is quite normal for most people.  That’s the time when kids are trying to mold themselves into what they think society expects of them and they tend to lash out at things they think are “out of the norm”.  I can really only think of a few people who teased me for being a dancer (all of them being other guys), but they were more focused on how feminine I was as a child instead of the fact that I danced.  They treated dancing like fuel for the fire that was my homosexuality.  By high school, I had surrounded myself with enough people who thought my dancing for so long was cool that it didn’t matter if I had a few dissenters.  I had carved a niche for myself as “that boy who dances” and people would take that as they would.  I didn’t really care if others didn’t like me dancing because I knew I was doing something that made me feel whole and made me feel like I was doing something important with my life and for the world.  That matters so much more than a bully calling you a “fag”.

Has your family been supportive of you in dance? When you decided that you were going into dance seriously enough to pursue a career in it, did you find them to support that choice?

Both of my parents were 100% supportive of my dreams from the get go.  I am very fortunate to have been born into a family where the philosophy is “Let your children utilize their talents and dreams to the ends of their abilities”.  I was also lucky enough to be born into a family that could afford all the dance classes that I wanted to take.  That, sadly enough, is another component to success and support.  They knew that I wanted to be a dancer from the time I was three, so my parents went about my life teaching me that I needed something to fall back on in case dreams don’t come true.  That’s a lesson that I’m very thankful for because it made me well-rounded as a person.  I wasn’t just studying dance, but creative writing and sociology as well.  Ultimately, all that I learned informed my dance career but I have these lessons and these skills to fall back on when I retire from performing or when I need to glean some extra money.  Some young dancers need to remind themselves of the harsh lesson that very rarely will dance pay for all your needs.

What areas of dance are you most interested in, that you’ve studied the most, and what areas do you wish to study more? 

My degree has a focus in all techniques, but my choreographic voice and my performance voice is based heavily in modern, contemporary, dance theatre, and mime.  Having a musical theatre background lent itself naturally to mime and dance theatre.  Modern and contemporary drew me in because of how natural it felt on my body and how I found myself flowing into the movement rather than trying to force myself into it.

I would love to study more tap and Alexander Technique.  I used to tap all throughout my studio career, then I stopped during college.  I miss it quite a bit, but I rarely get a chance to perform as a tapper without having to audition for a musical.  I want to get my certification in Alexander Technique at some point because I feel it’s a very beneficial thing to learn for all types of people.  I have found it to be very healing to my body and it has informed not just my dancing, but my way of life in many different ways.  I want to share that with others.

What do you want to accomplish in your career? In this I mean, as immediate and long-term goals both? 

My immediate goal is to carve a name out for me as a freelance choreographer and to dance for a company that will pay me.  My long-term goal is to be the artistic director and perform in my own touring company.  So far, I have a very very very small by-project platform company called CaptiveFlow Dance.  We can be found on Facebook and Instagram.  On the performance front, I have been performing in a friend’s company recently called If/Then Dance Company.  I have also been doing a couple of improvisational collaborations with a musician friend of mine, Josh Martin.  I could always use more work though.

Each of you have moved to a much larger city (NYC or Philly) from a smaller one. What has that experience been like? How is the dance scene where you are now? What do you like most and like least about it all?

Sometimes I feel like the cliché of the young Kansan moving to NYC to make a dream come true and sometimes I feel like this was the natural progression of things.  I have been back and forth between NYC and Kansas City since I was 13, so moving here wasn’t much of a change in terms of “getting used to the city”.  I more had to get used to the idea that I was there to stay for longer than a week.
The dance scene here is pretty good.  There are tons of small companies as well as larger ones.  Sometimes I feel like many of the dancers are off doing their own thing rather than helping each other find success as well, but I think that’s the norm in a city like NYC.  Everyone has tunnel vision, which is not necessarily a bad thing.  I do wish I felt more of a sense of community with other dancers here, but I have only been here for a couple of months.  Those sorts of things come with time.  I do love the work I’ve seen here though, and I love feeling like I have a larger amount of stellar dancers to choose from for future works of mine.

Who are some male dancers working currently whom you admire? (This could be someone very well-known or even a classmate, it’s just important to say who and why you admire them.)

This is where I feel like an undereducated dancer because I never know dancer’s names, just the choreographers.  I do love Doug Varone and his work.  His intensive was actually what really pushed me into wanting to be more of a modern dancer and wanting to be a choreographer, so he has a little piece of my heart. All of the boys currently dancing for Trey MacIntyre are all so wonderful and beautiful and very nice and very tall. So they all appeal to me as well.  They have such fluidity that I would love to utilize in my own works and in my own body.


I also really love and admire Doug Nielson.  He is so insightful and has helped me think of my choreographic voice in ways I never thought I could.  We share poetry with each other from time to time and he always has something so profound to say.  I deeply cherish that. Nick Johnson, of course, needs a shout out.  He is the director of dance at my alma mater and a stunningly beautiful mime.  His classes were want got me into mime and his guidance and unending support are what gained me the choreographic successes I have today.  He will always be a second father to me and one of my dearest friends.


Finally, I am so very inspired by my dear friend Roy Lightner.  He is a fellow choreographer who went down a similar, yet different path than I did.  He has such energy and a constant flow of work that I constantly pick his brain for ideas on how to go about my own path.  If I could have the sort of momentum he has, I would be set for life.

 

Scott Shaw:

 

When did you start dancing? How did you first get interested in dance?

Technically speaking I started "dancing" my senior year of high school and by dancing I mean I was asked to join my high school band's color guard team for their winter season. It was a little bit of dance, but mainly tossing flags and rifles and sabers around. This wasn't what actually piqued my interest though. One of my best friends in high school had been dancing her entire life at a small studio in Albuquerque, Fishback Studio of the Dance. Every year she had invited me to go see her recital, but sadly, I was always to busy to go. So I made an agreement with her that I would go and take two classes over the summer at Fishback after I graduated, these two classes being ballet and modern. Honestly, I never thought dance would become my main focus. When I first started dancing I enjoyed it, but only considered it as a hobby. I started as a music performance major in college, but when that first year proved to be too stressful I sought out the dance department at the University of New Mexico and that set me on the path I'm on today.

Did you, as a guy, feel that you were ever bullied or picked on by other students at school, other kids? How did you cope with that, if so? (As I’ve gotten back involved in dance myself, I’m hearing from an alarming number of teachers that male students often are teased and bullied: I had really hoped things had improved since I was a teen but I guess not so much.)

I got lucky honestly and never really experienced any sort of bullying, because I danced, but the reason for that is because I started when I was out of high school. When I did color guard for my senior year I was teased a little bit by the "jocks/popular" kids of our school, but it was nothing crazy or anything that I couldn't handle. I would just roll my eyes and continue on my merry way. I was honestly teased more for being gay when I was a freshman/sophomore in high school, but that really tapered out towards my senior year. So, being mildly teased about being in color guard in high school was really nothing and didn't bother me in the slightest.

Has your family been supportive of you in dance? When you decided that you were going into dance seriously enough to pursue a career in it, did you find them to support that choice?

Honestly, I've found mixed support when it comes to my family not just when I chose to do dance as a professional career, but also when I wanted music to be my professional career. My mother always wanted me to be a doctor or a lawyer so I would be making the big bucks or as she would say "So you can support me in my old age!". My parents want me to be happy, but also they don't want to see me struggling my whole life working three jobs to support myself living and dancing in NYC. Even though I've started dancing with a professional company here in NYC, The Indie-Ballet Collaborative, my dad is still less than supportive, even though he says he is. I think I've been able to calm my parents down though by telling them that I plan on having a "normal" job in the future, hence the sociology and psychology degrees.

I decided that I wanted to pursue a career in dance seriously when I switched majors to dance my sophomore year of college, back home. Even though the dance world can be ridiculously stressful, I found it a different more enjoyable stress than what music did to me.

What areas of dance are you most interested in, that you’ve studied the most, and what areas do you wish to study more?

The areas of dance that I'm most interested in and have studied the most are ballet and modern. I would say contemporary, but that word has become an all encompassing term which for most people brings to mind So You Think You Can Dance rather than what I enjoy doing. I have always had a strange love-hate relationship with ballet, like most people have. I had early dreams of dancing with the Royal Ballet in London, just because they did EVERYTHING and they're my favorite company, but that dream was squashed when I realized that A) I'm far too short and B) my body just really isn't built for ballet, which is okay. I will almost always take a ballet class over a modern and contemporary class when going to Steps on Broadway or Peridance, just because ballet really is a true base to work from. Even though I love ballet, my true passion really does lie in the modern/contemporary-modern area.

Areas that I would like to study more actually fall under the modern dance field as well, but are pretty specialized. I've always been a huge fan of Merce Cunningham's work but have never gotten the chance to take any of his technique classes or perform any of his works. Sadly, with the closing of his company with his death it has become much harder to find studios that still offer his classes. Similar to Cunningham, and excuse me for sounding like every other modern dancer out there, I would love to study Gaga more. I can at least say that I had a professor back at the University of New Mexico who would go every summer and study with Ohad Naharin and bring back his teachings to us, but, because of my departure to NYC and Joffrey I was unable to get a true training in the Gaga form. It's very interesting to me to hear my views of the style and to hear some of the older generation of dancers view on it. Obviously, mine is much more positive, theirs not so much. Haha.

What do you want to accomplish in your career? In this I mean, as immediate and long-term goals both?

My ultimate goals, like I wouldn't know how to react if this happened, would be to ultimately dance for Wayne McGregor in his London based company Random Dance or dance for Angelin Preljocaj in his Paris based company Ballet Preljocaj. I would also love to start my own company here in the future. After taking a number of composition classes I fell in love with creating works and what better way to do that than to start my own company! I've currently been looking into various choreography festivals to submit work to, to get my name out there.

Each of you have moved to a much larger city (NYC or Philly) from a smaller one. What has that experience been like? How is the dance scene where you are now? What do you like most and like least about it all?

Moving to NYC from Albuquerque, New Mexico has been a major change especially when it comes to the dance scene. There isn't really a dance scene in New Mexico and one thing I had to get used to was the fact that I'm no longer one of 10 boys in the dance scene, I've become one of hundreds, more likely thousands. I love that the scene here is so vibrant and there is so much going and so many shows, workshops, and classes to take and see. The only part of it that I really dislike is that, because of the current economy and loss of funding to the arts it's extremely hard to get a dance job without having a solid connection with a company. I remember auditioning for a small company when I had been in the city for about 4 or 5 months and being told "Oh there's about 300 of you auditioning and I plan on taking only 2 maybe 3". It was definitely a slap in the face and a moment of I'm really going to have to work my ass off. It's extremely challenging, but I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Who are some male dancers working currently whom you admire? (This could be someone very well-known or even a classmate, it’s just important to say who and why you admire them.)

I know he isn't currently working, but he did have a major career in Brazil dancing with Cisne Negro, and that is my old professor Vladimir Conde Reche. He's been the biggest influence in my dance career. Like me, Vlad starting dancing at the age of 16 in Brazil and then went on to Julliard at the age of 18.If he can do it, so can I! A lot of my admiration also comes from how supportive he has always been and how hard he has always pushed me in class and I can't even begin to tell him how thankful and how appreciative I am of that.

 

Aaron Cryer:

 

When did you start dancing? How did you first get interested in dance?

I started dancing my freshman year in high school back in Texas. I started because I auditioned for the dance team and didn't make it so I had something to prove to myself!

Did you, as a guy, feel that you were ever bullied or picked on by other students at school, other kids? How did you cope with that, if so? (As I’ve gotten back involved in dance myself, I’m hearing from an alarming number of teachers that male students often are teased and bullied: I had really hoped things had improved since I was a teen but I guess not so much.)

I was never bullied because I danced because people already bullied me for being gay so they didn't really care about the fact that I danced! But the bullying never really bothered me I just brushed it off and went on with my life. I always told myself that I have bigger and better things to do with my life then waste it trying to get back at the people who put me down!

Has your family been supportive of you in dance? When you decided that you were going into dance seriously enough to pursue a career in it, did you find them to support that choice?

My family always supported my dancing. Some of them more than others. They have always been there to help me and push me to my fullest potential! I can honestly say that I wouldn't be where I am today without my family.

What areas of dance are you most interested in, that you’ve studied the most, and what areas do you wish to study more?

As far as style goes I love contemporary jazz modern and ballet. Most of my training has been in contemporary jazz and that is where I'm most comfortable but I love being pushed outside of my comfort zone. I tend to spend a lot more time in ballet just to better my technique and refine my skill in that style.

What do you want to accomplish in your career? In this I mean, as immediate and long-term goals both?

I want to get through school to start and then dance with a professional company for a while. That would give me the opportunities to see the world and experience different cultures. Long term I want to open my own studio/school and eventually develop a company of my own!

Each of you have moved to a much larger city (NYC or Philly) from a smaller one. What has that experience been like? How is the dance scene where you are now? What do you like most and like least about it all?

I live in Philly now and it's a crazy change. I have moved 2400 miles away from everything and everyone I know including my family, but I have had the chance to grow into my own person and live independently and I love it! Dance in Philly is awesome. There is always something happening here and if there isn't then NYC is just a bus or train ride away and there is always something happening there. I haven't really had the chance to take classes anywhere but school but there are endless options of styles and places to learn and grow here in Philly!

Who are some male dancers working currently whom you admire? (This could be someone very well-known or even a classmate, it’s just important to say who and why you admire them.)

I would have to say Steve Gonzales the artistic director of The Jefferson Dancers in Portland Oregon! He has thought me helped me grow advised me and inspired me to do what I do today. He dance professionally with my dream company MOMIX and has trained meany accomplished dancers. He is my roll model and I thank him so much for everything he has done for me!

 

***

 

I thank AJ, Aaron, and Scott all for taking the time to be interviewed and expect great things to come from all three of them. Next blog post, which I promise won't take so long to produce, will look at a couple examples of really strong dance programs at the high school-level and what makes them great.

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