My background started with me being a major cry baby. I cried about everything on any given day, even while on stage. Based on my actions as a dancer back then, no one would’ve predicted dance to make it this far in my world. My mom even stated that my dance teacher told her not to bring me back until I was ready. At a slightly older age when I was ready to return, I had blossomed so much that my instructors would switch me to another area of the ballet barre to use me as an example of proper body placements.
When I became older, I started dancing with a couple of dance companies (at different times and in different states when I moved), auditioning and dancing for several productions and excelled in my training and craft. I began teaching and enjoyed pouring back into the dance community. Thinking about my background reminds me of my dance instructors. Many were nurturing and the reason why training was important and still respected.
Although dance has been a part of my everyday life, I had still worked in Corporate America for a long time. I was corporate by day and dance by night. Corporate America wasn’t a bad thing. I was already a dancer and instructor however, Corporate America taught me how to be a better leader. It taught me how to deal with people, personalities, behaviors, and how to dismiss others who may not believe in order or rules without me engaging in painful attachments if they decided to walk away. My background in both dance and the corporate world has propelled me into who I am today!
When did you decide to take up dance as a profession?
Before I left Corporate America, I was heavily seeing the fruit of my labor in many of the dancers that I’ve had the privilege of teaching. My heart began to yearn for more of that fruit and I noticed that my sacrifices for the arts had increased even more. I felt more respected for my work in the dance community than I did in Corporate America. I felt as if I was allowed to build & make bigger impacts while utilizing my work and vision without as much pushback. I still felt a sense of joy and gratefulness on days when I didn’t feel like doing it and days when I did it for free. I still felt joy even when dance brought long days, missed dinners, and shorter bedtimes. The comradery that dance provided even when dance days were exhausting was still worth the fight. I sat in traffic for it, people who I loved hurt my feelings and made me cry about it, took long drives for it, and did right by it even at times when there was no one to impress.
You are known for teaching your students not only how to dance but to live life through dance. Any comments?
Physically we arrive for dance classes to train and dance. I am a stickler for dance education and technique. While growing up, I was disciplined to know my craft whether on paper, at the ballet barre, center floor, and across the floor so I will never allow the representation of my instructors who paved the way for me to crumble or condone anything other than excellence on stage. My motto is, “Where technique is the key to grace & excellence.” It is imperative that their minds & bodies are healthy and their technique & choreography is clean and understood by all who watch their craft unfold. Not only do we dance but my job is also to prepare all students for their future whether their chosen path is dance or a different path. Dance classes expose them to life lessons and how to work independently or as a team. It teaches them how to listen and understand the importance of finding queues in the details. It also teaches them how to celebrate a victory and how to pick back up when their performance in an audition or interview isn’t to the standards of their leaders in the future.
Which one of your choreographies is the closest to your heart and why?
I’m a storyteller and entertainer! I love to touch everyone through dance, including the dancers. Every student that is chosen to make a story come to life or entertain a crowd has to understand the storyline and have a level of confidence to execute the work. I choreographed a dance for a group of little ladies with the vision of a song that was healing for me after losing so much after Hurricane Katrina. I had a choice of a couple of studios to choose from but I ultimately picked the one where I felt it would work. Initially, it didn’t. I had given up and my response after watching it was, “Not in this season.” I was asked to try again a couple of years later, it worked.
It told the story, it was clean, it was mature for them to handle at their level, it won a World Dance Championship and awarded me a World Dance Championship Choreography Award. The awards are not the reason it’s very close to my heart. It’s closest to my heart because it told a story, my story. I didn’t see it as a competition piece. It wasn’t choreographed to get paid to give little girls a costume, flaunt make-up, showcase the “Cute Factor”, nor for likes other than what it was for. It wasn’t even for all the credit as it should remain with the dancers who did the work, however, giving myself respect for my time, sacrifices, and energy is what kept me motivated even when there were times I wanted to throw it all away. Sometimes I had regrets and other times I was glad that I kept going. But with all that, we did to see the girls blessed and what it meant for me, it will always be one of the closest choreography moments to my heart.
How would you describe your leadership style and what has made it so effective?
I describe my leadership style as somewhat of a Visionary. Visionaries are known to create and articulate clear visions. I’m not very spontaneous but can be prepared to adapt as necessary. I value order, inspire creativity, unity, and base my leadership, decision making, & choreography on habits and skills that enhance future endeavors. Choreography is usually well thought out and marketed to the audience or event. I won’t arrive with the intent of only what I like or will throw something together. I would decline an invitation before putting dancers in a position to appear disorderly. Our goals are clear and outlined to equip everyone from the instructor to the dancer. Everyone will know what’s expected of them.
For example, unity is important when you’re working with a team. My dancers are encouraged to lift one another up. Laughing at mistakes or slip, trip, and falls while dancing or even laughing or passing judgment when attempting a skill isn’t an option. We clap to unify & encourage them to get back up. When working with other instructors my visions are shared visions to provide meaning & purpose. It shows in character, choreography, work ethic, and motivation.
What’s your advice for all aspiring dancers/choreographers?
There is room for anyone in the world of dance. For aspiring dancers, my advice would be to ensure that dance is something that you really want to do. You’re held to a different form of accountability when it’s more than just a hobby so make sure you’re clear on what your aspirations are. I would also offer advice of readiness. Comparison to whom you and your parent may think is the best or the worst compared to you can become very damaging. Like school, some people have natural abilities that others may have to study or train harder for and it’s not a bad thing. We train with only you in mind, not you and a clique of friends. Some of your friends may bypass you or you may bypass them. Be your own competition first! I’ve witnessed dancers stop the entire class to tell me that dance is their passion, only to quit and give it all up because they couldn’t stay with their friends.
For aspiring choreographers, not all are created equal. As an instructor that has been respected for her choreography and presented with choreography awards, my only advice would be to choreograph according to their current training. I’ve seen several dancers on stage falling out of skills, doing them incorrectly, and developing injuries to hips & tailbones. Never fail the dancer by putting in skills that are presented incorrectly on stage. Repetition is one of the greatest keys to growth. You can still choreograph the cleanest and greatest pieces with a beginner to the advanced dancer if you choreograph according to their level. Many already know that, however, some new/aspiring choreographers usually choreograph a full piece based on the dancer’s greatest potentials as opposed to what they have actually mastered safely & correctly. Keep your dancers encouraged, keep it fun, keep them working harder every day and continue to challenge those greatest potentials, but remember to choreograph from the proper place. You can still push them in class but it’s also okay to offer clean and simplified choreography as they continue to grow into strong and powerful dancers.
What have been your greatest challenges?
One challenge is watching dancers fight for high self-esteem, self- love, and endure insecurities that are sometimes brought from home, school, and/or peers. Mental Health has been on a major downfall, especially since our country has been plagued with disease, division, strong political differences, and lots of pain. I have seen more trauma come into the studio than I have ever experienced when I was their ages. I refuse to allow trauma to take over the greatness that’s in them and that awaits them in my classes so I have had meetings with dancers and their parents so that we can continue moving forward in a healthy and loving fashion. Because mental health isn’t as taboo as it was in the past, I am able to reach out to a few mental health advocates to ensure that I have what’s needed to enhance mental health in studio spaces.
Also, the pandemic has been the current challenge ever. Understandably, several parents are afraid to release their kids back into the wild with an invisible beast. I too have to protect myself so I am totally understanding of the reality of everything happening in our country. I hate that this has happened but I am very optimistic of what’s to come. My heart goes out to every business owner that has put their life savings on the line and lost their career, money, and energy. I know how it feels to have a great income, a low income, and no income. This season has been one of the most devastating challenges ever. However, being optimistic and a woman of faith keeps me going.
If you could go back in time and share some advice with your younger self, what would that advice be?
My advice to my younger self would be to shine own self be true. It’s okay to acknowledge feeling sad and disappointed when others aren’t as excited for you and your ventures as you care for yourself. When they sleep on you, tell them goodnight.
Remember to serve the girl that looks back at me in the mirror every day before serving others. Some people won’t have boundaries and may question your loyalty when you have to take time to pour back into your own cup. It’s okay to watch them walk away. Just make sure you’re full when they do. Feeling fulfilled, no matter the behaviors of others is a better feeling than feeling failed.
Fly Queen, even if you fly alone…Fly.
How is In the Key of Dance Performing Arts Inc. an organization that fosters individuals?
Fostering individuals means teaching them life lessons & values that will not end inside of a dance studio setting. Every dancer that I have the privilege of serving, must dance and represent with 3 core values in mind. They are Structure, Accountability, and Respect. Dance is not a core value it’s a given and the reason why we assemble. However, the core values are what takes them further. As they grow and blossom beyond the studio, whether it’s dance or Corporate America, they have to remember these values. Why? Because no one would be comfortable with a talented yet uncoachable individual. Some people assume that they should be top priority in life because they are good at their craft, however, if they aren’t trainable to have structure, accept accountability even if it’s to themselves, and respect even if you don’t like or value someone else, then many won’t make it far. The world is built with different cultures, different opinions, different backgrounds, and different environments. Everyone should be able to adapt and become a strong, confident, and fulfilled individuals even if they disagree with their leader or their peers. These are extremely important foundational grounds that begin in the studio. There are life and a real-world outside of their own bubble!
Where do you see In the Key of Dance Performing Arts Inc. in 10 years?
I see In the Key of Dance Performing Arts Inc. being a more acknowledged and well-respected entity beyond its current status. I believe that several large corporations, small businesses, and individuals will pour more heavily into donations whereby we can provide scholarships and travel to allow everyone to experience dance, life, and life lessons. Everyone will also become even more well-rounded and can adapt to any leader, any choreographer, and peers that they don’t know as they continue the opportunities to engage outside of their four walls.
The power is in giving it all that I have so that everyone will feel comforted knowing that they would’ve poured into an organization that can offer wonderful opportunities to help grow others into a huge success. I will also be able to gather a set amount of kids from outside organizations to provide 8 to 10week ballet/ tap programs (including wellness packages) every fall and offer a little holiday cheer to put smiles on their faces because of them not being able to have a wonderful holiday with a loving family. Cash Donations or ordering leotards, tights, & shoes on their behalf would be welcomed along with their own holiday show included for their loved ones. The greatness will be endless in 10 years.
See more of In The Key Of Dance at https://inthekeyofdance.com