Dancers explain how they see the world…

Jennifer Jackson

Being an artist makes you see the world around you in a very special way. One might even say that it allows you to really see.

Every individual artist goes through the journey of owning their triumphs and finding their voice, as it is a profession and lifestyle that keeps you humble and full of gratitude.

You have to work very hard to make it in this field, and even harder to help the world around you appreciate it. With that, you become much more attuned to your surroundings, almost as if thinking artistically allows you to open an extra sensing capability. This affect impacts our daily interactions and how we approach life and art.

For those of us who dance, we know there are few bonds stronger than those of artists, and no connection more instant when artists come into contact with one another. We understand the meaning of unity in terms of choreography and in terms of humanity.

When we approach a person, situation, or problem, we see it in a multi-dimensional way. Thinking creatively pushes us to see in all shades of grey. We see the whole person, the whole picture, and it inspires us to create work that provokes people to see in layers.

We are driven to constantly break down barriers within ourselves, society, in our personal lives, and in the dance world. To do this, and to even make the choice to be an artist takes a tremendous amount of courage, because we already know we are choosing a harder path.

Having a unique mindset that affects our perception of life, the world, and approach to daily interactions is another commonality that creatives have beyond the shared passion of what we do.

I have reached out to artists I have crossed paths with along my journey in the world of dance to ask them one simple question:

How has being an artist shaped the way you perceive the world?

“Being an artist has shaped my life, world and interaction with others in an interesting way.  Right now, we are living in world full of anger, disappointment, confusion, social anxiety, and discrimination. Recently, I was faced with discrimination & instead of reacting in an angry and hurtful way, I remember what Michelle Obama said: “When they go low; we go high!” So, even in those ignorant and arrogant cases I had chosen to take such negativity and made it a positive result for my peace. I am someone who truly wants to be of service. I bring laughter,optimism, clarity and inclusiveness to any and everyone around me. My vulnerability is my STRENGTH! And I use that as my light! This allows me to shine and soar through life, the world, and especially my interactions with other people. ”  – Nijawwonn Matthews, Choreographer, Teacher at Broadway Dance Center, NYC

Nijawwon Matthews, photo by Jeff Collier
Nijawwon Matthews, photo by Jeff Collier

“It has made me more aware of the need for creative outlets and methods of expression – I feel like art is a way to communicate and express what is super important and could be a way for people to let off steam, idea share, or be heard in a way that words don’t always offer.

It makes me wonder if people who make poor choices, speak too loudly or too soon, or who lead lonely lives could find meaning or relief through art and if it would lead different choices.” – Sarah Wildes Arnette, SWADanceCo Artistic Director, Associate Professor of Dance at Valdosta State University

Sarah Wildes Arnette, SWADanceCo, Associate Professor of Dance at Valdosta State University
Sarah Wildes Arnette, SWADanceCo, Associate Professor of Dance at Valdosta State University

“I care more. My eyes are opened to life. I am constantly reminded of individuality and how we as humans are different; how we think and react differently. I am sensitive to subject situation and expression. Art has helped me break boundaries, titles, limits, the list goes on. Art is freeing, and I get to live life freely as well.” – Anthony “Tony” Rhodes – Dancer/Choreographer for Eleone Dance Theatre and Reveal Movement, Philadelphia, PA

Anthony “Tony” Rhodes – Dancer/Choreographer for Eleone Dance Theatre and Reveal Movement, Philadelphia, PA
Anthony “Tony” Rhodes – Dancer/Choreographer for Eleone Dance Theatre and Reveal Movement, Philadelphia, PA

“Being an artist has impacted the way I see the world in the way that my eyes are wide open. Being an artist has always allowed me to see my environment as funny, beautiful, or poetic. I think that I am able to look around myself and take out inspirational stories and visuals more so than I would if I was not thinking creatively.” – Olivia Wingerath with Bridge & Olive Dance NYC/Vermont

Tara Lynn Steele, choreographer/performer, AbunDANCE Company, NYC
Olivia Wingerath, Bridge and Olive Dance, NYC

“It changes my every day. Art can be found in simple gifts as well as large gestures. The way I approach walking through my day is discovering new ways my body can experience life. I love people watching because it helps to inform character development (the way someone leads with their hips when they walk vs. someone else who leads with their nose). Being an artist also provides me with insight into people’s stories around me. It helps me be more empathetic. Those of us lucky enough to call art our passion and job have a unique outlook and responsibility to share that expression and outlook.” – Tara Lynn Steele, choreographer/performer, AbunDANCE Company, NYC

Tara Lynn Steele, Choreographer/performer, AbunDANCE Company, NYC
Tara Lynn Steele, Choreographer/performer, AbunDANCE Company, NYC

“Being an artist, you view everything in the world differently. Specifically, as a dancer anything physical I would make be either effortless or graceful. For examples: walking down the street on beat, jumping over a puddle seamlessly, squeezing through tight spaces easily or dodging someone you are about to run into. Everything I do becomes art. Daily I am able to maintain being physically fit, my brain is constantly being put to the test to remember multiple 40+ minute ballets, I get to look in the mirror and actively work to fix my flaws, as well as access a variety of emotions that most of the world put aside. No other job out there requires this much patience, attention to detail & knowledge of self-worth with the addition of looking graceful, effortless & ideally perfect.” – Addison Ector, Dancer w/ TanzCompany Innsbruck, Austria

Addison Ector, Dancer w/ TanzCompany Innsbruck, Austria
Addison Ector, Dancer w/ TanzCompany Innsbruck, Austria

“It has made me more sensitive to the causes that are passionate to me; homelessness, poverty, and equal opportunity. I pay more attention to the way that higher government works and how little attention is paid to the less fortunate. This causes me to channel in on my own opinions and beliefs, and how I can create a voice for those that are unseen.” – Lauren C. Smith, Dancer, Cleo Parker Robinson Dance Company, Denver, CO

Sarah Hilmer, ImmerseATL Founder, Atlanta GA
Lauren Smith, Dancer, Denver CO

“As a young male of color art has saved my life in many ways. It has made me stronger, more understanding, it pushes my boundaries every day and it makes me love the energy I get when helping others. Art has taken a lot from me but has given me so much to be thankful for. It teaches you how to be grateful and gives you discipline. I have learned how to problem solve. Being a well-rounded artist who loves acting, singing, creating new choreography, writing poems, and much more I can us each skill that I learned from each art form to build and break down a series of projects or problems at hand. It taught me how to become a leader with the tools to still be a friend to the arts that works with me.” – Da’Shown Rawl RawArts Dance DC

Sarah Hilmer, ImmerseATL Founder, Atlanta GA
Da’shown Rawl, Raw Arts Dance, DC

“Being an artist has me tap into the human experience on a very intimate level. I spend my days challenging dancers to be more sensitive, listen deeper, and respond intuitively. These things I ask for bleed into my everyday life. It challenges me to see into the world behind a person, to listen to what is not said in words, and to see the layers behind an action. It makes me more sensitive to the story not being told at first glance, and hopefully this translates into a more generous response to people, in any situation we are in.” – Sarah Hilmer, ImmerseATL Founder, Atlanta GA

Sarah Hilmer, ImmerseATL Founder, Atlanta GA
Sarah Hilmer, ImmerseATL Founder, Atlanta GA

“Working in artistic communities has broadened my perspective of humanity. I have met and created with people from all over the world. I have learned to cooperate, connect, resolve differences, and to lean in to those differences for a richer experience. I have a looser grip on the need to be right and a strong desire to explore and learn. In speaking with friends with different occupations, I am generally the more helpful in the bunch. I am proud of this.” – Tracie Stanfield, director of SythesisDANCE NYC

Tracie Stanfield, Director of SythesisDANCE NYC
Tracie Stanfield, Director of SythesisDANCE NYC

“As a movement-based artist, I am more drawn to how a person physically reacts than what they say. “Actions speak louder than words” takes on a deeper truth for me than it does for others. It is much easier for a person to sensor what they say than it is to sensor their body language.” – Shannon Reynolds, Director, eSKay Arts Collective NYC

Shannon Reynolds, Director, eSKay Arts Collective NYC
Shannon Reynolds, Director, eSKay Arts Collective NYC

“Through my work, I can process, share, and communicate my experiences. I feel this has made me much more in touch with myself as well as my community, and it allows me to connect with people on a deeper level. In relating to the outside world, I feel I am much more sensitive and aware of people’s emotions and reactions because it is my job to create work that impacts them. I see that I am just a small fleck in a huge space but not in a bad or sad way. I am realistic but also have huge dreams. I am raw, and I want everyone to be raw with me.” – Ariel Grossman, Artistic Director of Ariel Rivka Dance in NY/NJ

Ariel Grossman, Artistic Director of Ariel Rivka Dance in NY/NJ
Ariel Grossman, Artistic Director of Ariel Rivka Dance in NY/NJ

“Throughout my artisitic journey, my art has been a reflection of the world around me in order to either question, reject, or celebrate certain areas of life existing at that time. Through this, I have experienced how many people truly care about the lives of others and the desire to progress communally. Art has given me a voice that has in turn allowed me to meet many people who wish to better society and the importance of letting our voices be heard.” – Meredith Olivia, Artistic Director of Modco Dance Company LLC, Atlanta, GA

Meredith Olivia, Artistic Director of Modco Dance Company LLC, Atlanta, GA
Meredith Olivia, Artistic Director of Modco Dance Company LLC, Atlanta, GA

“I believe that it may be because of the way I see the world, that I became an artist. My memories seem to be filled with physical sensations from emotional and profound moments in my life. These moments existed beyond anything I could describe in words, but I knew they were potent and substantive. It is because of feeling deeply that I chose to make work steeped in these feelings. In turn I feel even more, I sense more, I also believe I perceive others more clearly.

I feel that whether it is optimism or pessimism, I connect to a pulse that underscores many situations. I now choose to participate in, witness, and be part of things that I suspect will move me in ways that I cannot put into words. I prefer to be shaken – I want to have experiences that live in the untouchable and indescribable parts of my mind, emotions and imagination. Although I have difficulty calling myself an artist – because to me it is such a noble title, I recognize how much more valuable living on this planet is. I find beauty in truth, and truth in beauty. I don’t know if that would have been the case if I had a different career trajectory.” – George Staib, Director of Staib Dance, Professor of Dance at Emory University, Atlanta GA


George Staib, Choreographer and Professor, Atlanta GA

“Art can be biased, and studying dance and art in grad school has caused me to be more aware of my biases as a black person in the US, pushing me to broaden my audience. I am constantly checking my biases, and art pushes me to admit when I am wrong. It has also caused me to be more inclusive in terms of perspectives of color, gender, socio-economic status, etc. I am reevaluating what kind of work really does provoke change, specifically for cultures that are oppressed. Dances about pain, suffering, and slavery have been done over and over, and I realize that my experience as a black person is very different than some others. If I am only speaking from one perspective, is that really changing the narrative?” – Kamali Hill, Choreographer, Atlanta GA

Kamali Hill, Choreographer, Atlanta GA
Kamali Hill, Choreographer, Atlanta GA
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