Interview: Jo Troll

Today we’re joined by Jo Troll. Jo is a phenomenal dancer who has recently branched out into what they term artistic intervention. They do a lot of Irish dancing and they have danced contemporary styles in the past. They’re currently focused on tackling cisnormativity in dance. It’s clear they’re a passionate and dedicated artist with an important message, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to them for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a dancer/choreographer that’s branched out into installation art and other methods of “artistic intervention”. I’m originally an Irish step dancer who strayed from the path and got really interested in contemporary dance. After a year at a conservatoire, I got really fed up with the value system in a lot of contemporary dance worlds and have been moving back towards Irish dance. I say Irish dance because that includes contemporary (but not competition) Irish step, older styles of step dancing, and sean-nos, an improvisational percussive dance form. Recently, a lot of my work has centered around my trans identity and trans visibility, and I’m currently at a point of transition where I’m trying to figure out how to tackle other concepts while continuing to challenge cisnormativity in dance.

What inspires you?

Anger. Anything that makes me even the slightest bit angry. I even made a whole piece about anger inspired by the respectability politics I was managing at my school at the time (I’m also super petty and may have built an installation based on how to most inconvenience someone that was being transphobic). It’s hard to exist in the world without being angry and it’s even harder as someone with multiple invisible identities (nonbinary, trans, asexual, aromantic…) who is usually read as female because anger is so much more likely to be invalidated by people in power. Performing is my chance to express my anger and make people listen. If you pay to go see someone, you’re a lot more likely to listen to them than if they try to challenge you in the middle of a conversation. Even if you should probably listen in both circumstances (this is a very general you).

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Jane 3 [photo taken by an audience member]
What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

So, when I was ten, my mom was really sick of driving me to soccer games and bribed me out of soccer with Irish dance lessons. That’s the main story. I’ve had a lot of beginnings in dance, but I’ve probably known since I was eight or so that I was going to be a dancer. Since ten is actually a late start for dance, I’ve had a lot of insecurities which kept me from voicing that for a long time and gotten in my own way a lot of the time, but it’s always been knowledge that this was what I was going to do, not a wish or a desire.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

Well, everyone that knows my work (i.e. the wonderful friends that help me workshop things) claim that it’s distinct. I’d say that’s more because there’s not a lot of non-competitive dancers doing work around queer identity than because there’s anything particular to me. The most signature thing that stays true between pieces is costume – I always wear a hat and I almost always wear a skirt. The hat is just because I like hats and feel vaguely naked without one. The skirt is a very specific form of protest – people struggle to see feminine FAAB nonbinary people as nonbinary because we don’t fit the standard “androgynous” look deemed acceptable for FAAB folks. So, when I do have all the power to make people listen, I want to look as feminine as possible while I do it.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

If a system isn’t working for you, that’s not your fault. It’s always fine to leave, say “no”, or even make your own system. This is very true for dance – it took me a long time to learn that if a ballet teacher made me feel icky, I didn’t have to go to their class – but I feel like it is probably true for other forms of art too. There are infinite ways to make things. If something doesn’t work for you, there’s always another way.

Also, surround yourself with people that care about your work. I have a great list of people I trust to give me both encouragement and constructive feedback. It is impossible to make work in a complete vacuum (there are artists who have tried, I know), so be picky about who you work with, and find the people who truly want to make your art as strong as it can possibly be, because that is how you will find support and growth.

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Photo by Olivia Blaisdell Photography / halfasianlens, courtesy of Dancing Queerly, 2018

ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

Aroace. Probably.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

Hehe. Quite recently, I was speaking on a panel on queer dance and I was responding to a question about asexual dance when I was interrupted mid-thought by another panelist who went on to talk about how they would never apologize for putting sex into their work. There’s a habit in dance, especially in queer dance, to focus on the sexual and see the nonsexual and the asexual as restrictive, backwards, and uninteresting. I can make work about transness and be brave. If I make work about asexuality, I’m regressive and “hurting the cause”.

I haven’t found my answer yet, but I’m working to really figure out what it means to dance asexually. I can make statements and comments as much as I’d like, but the most important thing is to keep owning the work that I make and who I am. If someone feels the need to go on the defensive about it, that’s their problem.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

Heh. I think the biggest thing I see in dance, especially in queer art circles, is that somehow or other, asexuality threatens or denies the ability to claim and own other sexualities. Or, in other terms, that asexuality desexualizes other sexualities. I understand the threat for queer artists queer sexuality of all forms has been under attack for a long time, but it becomes a problem when this is used as an excuse to silence asexual voices. The possibility of asexuality does not negate the possibility of other queer sexualities, it is simply an expansion of what queer sexuality can be, which I find super exciting. I don’t have as much patience or understanding when allo, cis, straight dancers get up in arms about this too, but it does tell me that sexuality brings up lots of feelings for everyone. We just have to slowly untangle them. I would prefer it if all allo dancers would bother to look up the definition of asexuality before getting defensive though.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

It’s OK to struggle. These things aren’t always easy. All you can do is own where you are right now.

Surround yourself with things that make you feel good. Books with characters you relate to. Music that speaks to your heart. People that make you smile and feel like you are worth something. There are loads of recommendations out there for the young acespec and that can be helpful if you don’t know where to start, but don’t feel guilty if the thing that’s right for you isn’t in the ace community hivemind, or even explicitly ace-related. Take what’s right for you.

And make art. Art is a powerful tool for self-care and self-expression. Find the way it works for you and use it.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I’ve got a website: jotroll.wordpress.com
And I blog a lot: jotdancing.wordpress.com
You can also find me on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/jotrolldance/
And on Tumblr at: https://jotrolldance.tumblr.com/

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Photo by Ray Bernoff

Thank you, Jo, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Phoebe

Today we’re joined by Phoebe. Phoebe is a phenomenal dancer who both dances and choreographs. She has danced regularly throughout school and with companies, but lately has mostly been dancing for herself. Phoebe has also recently taken up cooking and baking. She cooks both for baking and presentation. It’s clear she’s an incredibly passionate artist who loves what she does, as you’ll soon read. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I am a dancer and choreographer, mostly just for myself these days, but in the past I have choreographed and performed with college dance clubs and teams, and companies affiliated with my dance studios before that. I’m not amazing, but I don’t think I’m terrible, either. When I’m not dancing, I love cooking and baking, both in terms of flavorful and presentational aspects.

What inspires you?

Is it cliché to say that music inspires me most of the time? I have what I affectionately call a “bad habit” of dancing to just about anything, especially if it’s something I hear often, including but not limited to TV show and podcast theme songs. If you pull up next to me at a stoplight, there is a 90% chance I’ll be choreographing to the radio. I love getting hooked in by a beat or a lyric and seeing what my body comes up with, or how I can express a feeling evoked by a song.

I am also constantly inspired by other dancers, both my friends and on YouTube, though I avoid watching any one video repeatedly when choreographing in an effort to avoid plagiarism. I am also inspired by figure skaters, especially since I took skating lessons myself for several years.

Alternatively, sometimes it helps me to start with an overarching theme and go from there. To give an example, my senior year of college my dance composition class put on a concert where the theme was The Four Seasons, and I was in charge of Autumn, so I was inspired by images of falling leaves, harvest, the idea of transition and change, folksy-sounding instrumentals, and a general Halloween-y spookiness.

What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

My parents put me in dance classes when I was three, because I would dance all over the house. To the best of my knowledge, I started choreographing when I was around eight, and since then I’ve always loved putting a dance together and seeing it come to life onstage. For a long time I wanted to be a professional dancer, until it became clear for multiple reasons why that wasn’t going to work out.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

If it’s a solo, there’s a 90% chance I will either: a) forget my own choreography and have to make something up on the spot, or b) realize about 2/3 of the way through that I made this too hard on myself and I have reached the limit of my endurance, but must power through anyway.

On a more serious note, I think that I tend towards big, more dramatic movements in my choreography. I also like incorporating visually interesting formations in my choreography whenever possible.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Keep practicing – even if you think you suck! Chances are you don’t suck nearly as much as you think you do, and you can’t improve unless you keep practicing. It also helps you stay in shape, so that when you finish a dance and want to record it, you can look your best doing it.

Also, do it for yourself, even if you’re not doing it for anybody else. Find studios and companies and communities where you feel supported and welcome, and that you genuinely love both the dances you choreograph and the ones you’re just a dancer in. Don’t try to imitate anyone else too closely, but make sure your dancing and your choreography feels true and authentic to you.

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ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I identify as asexual. I haven’t totally figured out my romantic orientation, but demiromantic is feeling like a good place for right now.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I haven’t encountered any because I haven’t been out to many people yet, and even fewer among people I’ve danced with. I have felt personally uncomfortable performing more overtly sexual choreography, so I’ve handled this by being selective about the choreographers I work with, and if an explanation is necessary, I’ll just respectfully say that while I like their style, I just don’t think it’s for me. So far, no one I’ve danced with has been offended.

I do worry that sometimes I use movements that I might see as sensual, but others might see as more sexual. The best advice I can give here is to be comfortable with yourself and your body, do what feels right for you, and remember that whatever behavior you decide to engage in in your personal life doesn’t have to be reflected in what you decide to do onstage.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

That just because I’m not sexually attracted to someone, doesn’t mean I can’t love them deeply, or that I hate sex/would treat it as a commodity or something to be “earned” in a relationship. This mostly stems from past relationships.

What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

I don’t know that I’m the best person to be giving advice on this, but I will say this: you know you best, and you’re the only one who can decide what labels work best for you, or if you want to have labels at all. And anyone who doesn’t respect your orientation and what you are and aren’t comfortable with isn’t worth it.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

I have a small YouTube channel where I occasionally post videos of my work. It’s very sporadic because I’m no longer part of a studio or a company, but I upload when I can. This is my favorite solo project I’ve done so far, this is my most popular dance that I’ve ever choreographed, although I don’t dance in it, and this is my personal favorite group dance that I am also dancing in (kind of my baby from that year).

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Thank you, Phoebe, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.

Interview: Bridgett Cains

Today we’re joined by Bridgett Cains and she’s the 500th artist interviewed by Asexual Artist (YAY!). Bridgett is a phenomenal dancer from Australia who dances in a variety of styles. She has been all over the world, dancing with various troupes and in a variety of venues. She also teaches dance and choreographs too. Bridgett loves to share her passion for dance and I could not be happier to feature her on this blog. My thanks to her for taking the time to participate in this interview.

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WORK

Please, tell us about your art.

I’m a freelance dancer, choreographer and teacher working in a range of styles, but generally fusing contemporary dance, belly dance, and contortion. I’ve been performing and teaching for the past fifteen years without any real plan other than to take chances and make opportunities wherever I can, which has taken me on some unexpected adventures. I’ve worked in Australia, the US, and Europe in a range of contexts including performing in dance projects, arts festivals, outdoor events, music videos, belly dance troupes, circus cabarets, experimental theatre shows, burlesque shows, body art competitions, fashion shows, and corporate events.

Although I’ve pushed myself to become confident in improvisation, I’m a choreography geek at heart, and as a teacher I love nothing more than to give my students the skills to create their own original choreography.

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What inspires you?

I find inspiration in people who haven’t followed straight paths, or who put their own spin on their genre. People like Garry Stewart, Marion Motin, Cera Byer, April Rose, Henry Rollins, Mike Patton, Amanda Palmer, Tim Minchin, Rachel Brice, Noel Fielding, Martin Martini, Diana Vishneva, Tom Waits, Tanja Liedtke, Philippe Petit, Aya & Bambi, Heston Blumenthal… (I keep a running list here). When I’m looking for inspiration for a specific project, I try to look outside of dance so as not to accidentally steal anything, and instead turn to circus, sideshow, music, theatre, books, stand up comedy, film, visual art, and whatever else I’m surrounded by at the time.

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What got you interested in your field?  Have you always wanted to be an artist?

I took my first ballet lesson when I was three and continued in regular classes well into my twenties, but never dreamt of being a professional ballerina, instead alternating between wanting to be a librarian, a scientist, a teacher, and an author. When I was fifteen I saw a contemporary dance performance that permanently shifted my focus to dance, and I started taking my training much more seriously. A few years later while I was recovering from a hamstring injury during full-time training, I took up belly dance and contortion which have taken my work in directions I’d never dreamt of, and introduced me to some of the most incredible people.

Do you have any kind of special or unique signature, symbol, or feature you include in your work that you’d be willing to reveal?

With over twenty years of ballet and ten years of belly dance in this body alongside all the other styles I’ve dabbled in, I’ve accidentally developed a signature style that’s mangled them all to the point where I definitely don’t look like a ballerina or a belly dancer. Whenever my work is reviewed or audience members comment on my performances, they always mention my hands, my flexibility, and my lines, so I guess they’ve unwittingly become a signature in my choreography.

What advice would you give young aspiring artists?

Try to explore things that challenge you to question your understanding of your artform. For me, setting foot in a belly dance studio for the first time after only ever having trained in ballet, jazz, and contemporary taught me entirely new ways to approach my work. It was terrifying at first, but now I’m hooked on taking classes in styles I’m not familiar with, and going through the humbling experience of being a beginner over and over again.

Being open to new things has taken me on so many adventures, including volunteering at a circus school in the Hawaiian jungle, running the dance program at a summer school in the UK, teaching at a performing arts camp in New York, working with burlesque performers in London and San Francisco, learning flamenco in Seville, taking belly dance lessons in Albuquerque, and taking Butoh and Irish dance lessons in Dublin. None of these things would have happened if I’d followed the plan of my fifteen-year-old self; to get a degree in dance and perform with a local company for the rest of my life, and I’ve since developed an aversion to long-term plans.

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ASEXUALITY

Where on the spectrum do you identify?

I’m aromantic and asexual. I flirt subconsciously and regularly develop crushes, but I have no interest in sexual or romantic relationships.

Have you encountered any kind of ace prejudice or ignorance in your field?  If so, how do you handle it?

I usually work alone, but it’s never come up when I’ve worked on collaborative projects.

The only issue I’ve faced is in marketing my work, because I’m uncomfortable with the idea of anyone finding me attractive, but simultaneously love the way I look and need to promote the idea of people watching what I do with my body. It’s definitely a struggle to present myself well and with confidence without people projecting sexual undertones.

What’s the most common misconception about asexuality that you’ve encountered?

I’ve had a few people insist I’m just going through a phase, or I’ve just not found the right person yet, and that they’re willing to wait for me to change my mind or grow out of it. I also find a lot of people assume that asexuality stems from some kind of fear or a traumatic experience, and that I must be an easily offended prude.

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What advice would you give to any asexual individuals out there who might be struggling with their orientation?

Build yourself a network of supportive people you can trust. Talk to people, keep a journal, and even make art about what you’re feeling if you need to. It’s difficult to understand and process it all when you’re in the middle of it, but if you can get it out of your head it’s a lot easier to step back, start making connections, and understand what it is you’re experiencing. I’ve only recently (in my thirties) realised that asexuality and aromanticism explain so much of who I am and what I’ve experienced, and I came out to close friends and family who generally seemed to have figured it out before I did, even if they didn’t know that these things had names. Most importantly, know that you’re not alone, you’re definitely not broken or dysfunctional, and that working on being comfortable in yourself is a very important thing.

Finally, where can people find out more about your work?

BridgettCains.com
Facebook/Twitter/Instagram/Pinterest (at) BridgettCains
bridgettelizabeth.tumblr.com

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Thank you, Bridgett, for participating in this interview and this project. It’s very much appreciated.