“No complaints and no regrets. I still believe in chasing dreams and placing bets. But I have learned that all you give is all you get. So give it all you got!” Shirley Horn – “Here’s to Life”
It’s amazing to see how far I’ve come. Many falls, pain, and challenges, but as you can see I got up each time, healed, and became more knowledgeable about my surroundings. We all possess something in us to keep going no matter what. The key is identifying your purpose.
I identified myself as a dancer before ever taking a dance class or knowing any concrete history about it. At a young age, I loved the way music allowed me to express myself through movement and escape the world around me. It was the enjoyment of music and family gatherings that gave me happiness. The balance of these gatherings, however, was far between, forcing me to escape to my personal studio (my bedroom) and mimic figure skaters. During this time, they were the closest I could get to observe prodigious movement and music on television.
The question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” whether it was asked verbally or as a school writing assignment my response was always the same: A Dancer! As a male growing up in the south, where becoming a dancer wasn’t even a thought or career option for most, I was not ashamed to express my passion for it. I knew how it allowed me to feel, and that it would be the one thing that I could learn from while traveling.
It was my mother’s wise decision to place me in a school where I had access to an array of arts. The school was determined in its efforts to ensure that we (students) learned the fundamentals of music theory, creative writing, poetry, singing, and more. There were also teachers who were performing artists in their own right. It was at this school that I met dancers and was given the opportunity to learn proper dance techniques. Upon graduating eighth grade, I was asked to choreograph my first piece due to the level of which I’d grown so quickly in dance. Another accomplishment, which I owe to the power of the arts, is that I graduated Salutatorian of my eighth-grade class.
The Journey to Bliss
My journey as the artist I’ve only dreamt of becoming continued to manifest while in high school. A circle of friendship developed (still strong today) in which our foundation was/is performing arts. We supported and motivated each other to reach for the stars. During high school, I studied and performed with the school theater group and with a theater group outside of school, One Plus Productions. It was in eleventh grade when I auditioned and became a member of my first professional company, the N’Kafu Traditional African Dance Company. I toured with this company whenever it was possible. As the youngest member, I couldn’t help but be attentive, and absorb the artistry that surrounded me. Traveling, and attending dance conferences and workshops by guest artists along my journey also validated my purpose and yearning to be a performing artist.
It had soon became a mental tug of war between devoting my energy to the world of performing arts or attending college. A part of me wanted desperately to finish college and be a role model for younger family members. The other part of me was occupied with the desire to take my talents to the next level. Therefore, I decided to enroll at the University of New Orleans, continued as a member of N’Kafu, freelanced, and taught with other groups. After a year of this mental battle, I was convinced to live the life I’ve always wanted and therefore became a full time professional dancer.
Beyond Age 30
My path to a college education has been filled with bumps and detours. The signs often read, “yield” and “do not enter.” The path has not always been clear, but I’ve kept my eyes opened and focused on the road ahead, and the experience has made all the difference.
The knowledge acquired in my beginnings along with my passion and dedication for dance has given me countless experiences, some of which I only dreamt of having. These experiences proved that hard work does pay off. I used this knowledge to broaden my horizons, which led to a steady and fruitful career of twenty-one years.
The year before I (presumably) retired from the stage in 2013, I began to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. By reflecting on the proficiencies developed as a performing/teaching artist, I was able to discover that I’ve gained more than the techniques of becoming a good dancer. Those pieces took shape and gave me vision to the next chapter of my life. Communications skills, leadership, personal presentation, mental and physical dexterity, self discipline, creative problem solving and time management, to name a few, were all acquired through my training process. I realized that I had already done the work. It was time to put it on paper.
In the fall of 2012, I uprooted the signs, researched for the best program that met my needs, and enrolled back into school. Since then, I’ve completed my undergraduate degree in Community Arts Management, and was accepted into NYIT’s M.A. Leadership in the Arts and Entertainment Industries program.
Yes, I will continue to sing Here’s To Life along with Shirley Horn! I will continue dreaming and helping others reach their dreams.
“Try, Always Trying” Katherine Dunham