Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson
Ep. #61 Giving Black and Passing it Forward with Eartha Robinson, Will Simmons, and Dominique Kelley
Intro: This is words that move me, the podcast where movers and shakers, like you get the information and inspiration. You need to navigate your creative career with clarity and confidence. I am your host master mover, Dana Wilson. And if you’re someone that loves to learn, laugh and is looking to rewrite the starving artist story, then sit tight, but don’t stop moving because you’re in the right place.
Dana: Hello, my friend. And welcome! This is words that move me, I’m Dana, and this episode is different than most, and I am biased, but I will also say it is better than most, podcasts period. Better, because today I’m with you. I’m the listener. I’m not the host. And when I tell you that, as I listened to this episode, I laughed. I cried. I shouted. I learned, and I hope that you do too. I simply cannot wait another moment to share. So without any further ado, I am passing the mic to my friend and guest host. For this episode, the incomparable Dominique Kelley, who will introduce you to the young and talented and wise beyond his years Will Simmons AKA big will. Along with the sensational, the seasoned, the sophisticated, the soulfull Eartha Robinson Enjoy.
Dominique: Boom. Good morning, everyone. Um, I am happy to almost Take over Words That Move Me Podcast. Uh, thank you, Dana Wilson for creating this space for us to talk. And I have two wonderful guests here today. I have Ms. Eartha Robinson and Big Will that’s what I love to call him. I’ll have them introduce themselves to you. Um, so why don’t we start with Eartha Robinson, please introduce yourself to not only the people listening to, but also to us.
Eartha: Um, okay. I am Eartha Robinson. I was, uh, raised and I trained in Harlem in New York. Uh, went into performing arts. Um, I started dancing at 15, got my first professional job at 16. Been working ever since. Um, I have a wonderful family, two amazing daughters. I’m a choreographer, director, producer, uh, dancer, actress. Um, I do a lot of things. I’m um, uh, what could I say about myself? I’m the worst person to ask me about myself. Everybody else can speak my resume, but I just like,
Dominique: Yeah, well that just goes to show how much you’ve influenced the dance community, because you have so many slashes that we can go on and on and on. I love it. All right. Big Will, do you want to introduce yourself?
Big Will: Yeah, I’ll do it. What’s up. Y’all it’s my name? Wilson. AKA big will I am 20, almost 21. So, you know, a little quick little turn up for me. Um, but I’m 20 years old. I had been dancing at the age of five and professionally at the age of 10 and then my first professional job at the age of 11. So I’ve been working ever since I’m a dancer, choreographer, actor, and social media influencer as well.
Dominique: Boom, good morning. And, uh, for those of you I’ve been on this, uh, podcast a couple of times before, but for those who don’t know, my name is Dominique Kelly and I’m just like, well, I started young I’m from Bridgeport, Connecticut. And you know, just like most people starting out with dance studio training, I was like, this is the pits. And, um, I remember there was a moment that I told my mother, I was like, you know what? I think I want to do it. And I stuck with it and I got my first job at the age of 12 and I did Black and Blue, the European musical. And then after that, I did Bring in ‘da Noise, Bring in ‘da Funk. And from then on, literally just worked my way from Broadway to TV, to film and you know, dancer, choreographer, educator. I try to do diversity seminars. I try to do all the things. So with that being said, let’s get into our first like, you know, question. So opening it up to both of you. What specifically inspired you to choose dance as a career? Because it’s different. When you get bitten by the bug of dancing, you can just, you know, dance around, but what specifically inspired you to want to do this for a living?
Eartha: Well, uh, you want to go first Will or should I go?
Big Will: I can go first. I think the one thing that made me choose dance was my older sister and Michael Jackson. My sister is five years older and she was actually born with a club foot. So she had to get surgery. And the only way for it to really fully heal was for her to take ballet. So she was really born into dance. Um, for me, I actually just ended up just watching her and I was like, you know what? Like, I can probably do the same thing as she can do. And I started dancing and I think what made me choose and want to pursue dance was I tried multiple different sports. I tried baseball for four years. I tried gymnastics for three years. I tried football for a year and you know, they all kind of failed in a way, but the one thing that stuck by me was dance. And I think after that first job, I looked at myself and I was like, huh, I can really do this for a living. Like, let’s take it, let’s just go for it. So I think that’s the one thing that really inspired me to dance is my sister overall. And then obviously watching so many other dancers that made it on So you think, like Twitch and, you know, Hok and all them. So I think that’s what really made me choose that. Got it.
Eartha: Wow. That’s something, when you said your sister was born into it, because I fought for as far as I can remember, as long as I can remember dance, I always wanted to dance, but my family didn’t believe in that. That was, it was hard work. It wasn’t dance was a hobby. So I grew up thinking that dance was a hobby until I went into PA and my first dance concert, I was just thinking about this, Uh, yesterday. My first dance concert, I got $10 and I was like, what is this for? I couldn’t believe it. That you got paid to dance. And in my co, you know, my Co- company members, they were like, girl, that’s $10. Do you know? That is nothing. That’s like tokens. So I didn’t know that, um, I didn’t know that, um, you could get paid doing that. Um, my mom started taking me once I started training. She took me to a few Broadway shows and I was like, I don’t want to do that because it’s, they do that all day, every day. And I wanted to do, you know, concert work. I wanted to be in Ailey. I wanted to do that. And then I saw Guys and Dolls with Debbie Allen in it and the backstage door was open and I got a glimpse of what was going on backstage. And that’s when I said, I’m doing that. I want to put on the costumes. I want to be in the make up. I want to do for the first time. I realized that, that’s excitement. That’s, I want to do that.
Dominique: I love that.But yeah, something like that. Um, it’s very simple for me. I didn’t understand people getting nervous or having stage fright. And till this day, till this day, I’m the kind of person that when I see a down special onstage, whether it’s different, like a sound check or a light, a lighting cue to cue or anything, I have to stand in that spotlight. And God forbid don’t let me have a hat because it is over. And from that moment on, I was like, I don’t understand how people don’t have that magnet to jump into the spotlight and on a full stage, also being tall for a good amount of my life. The stage was the only place where I could stretch my limbs totally and fully, you know, so I was like, let me be on stage. I got this open air. Let me do this. Let me swim.
Eartha: It’s nothing like moving through space. Isn’t it? It’s nothing like defying and just soaring through space. It’s the best feeling in the world?
Dominique: Definitely. Definitely. Okay. So next little question. Um, what kind of jobs did you gravitate to, and in those jobs where you othered?
Big Will: I think what gravitated me the most was mainly, well, when I was younger, it was mainly TV. You know, I grew up with, like I said, watching, Shake it Up, watching a lot of Disney channel. So what gravitated me the most was being on that television, being on Disney and Nickelodeon and ABC, those kinds of shows. And then the older I got and the more experience I had, I started seeing myself more on tour and traveling because you know, having dance, thankfully we’re able to travel the world now with it. So I was like, what’s one way to see the world on a budget. And I was like being on tour. I think that’s what really got me, especially right now. Um, that’s, what’s gravitating me, is being on that tour.
Eartha: Wow. That’s something it’s it’s I remember you as a little boy. Well, I don’t know if you remember me, but I remember you as a little kid, so it’s, it’s amazing watching you and just so grown up now. My thing was, um, I never looked at, Oh, I, um, I want to do this kind of dance or I want to go on tour, but it just, my life just unfolded that way. It just, um, because my first, the first love was concert work. I did concert and then I went on to Broadway and then I love stage. And then the next thing you know, I was doing film and then I loved that and it was just, it just kept, you know, it kept unfolding. And to me, um, it’s just it’s God, I guess. And so I just, I, I was just led doors opened and I stepped in and that’s how, so I’ve done everything from stage to television, to film I’ve choreographed, uh, artists and conceived, you know, all kinds. It’s just, you, you know, that feeling you guys, when, when it, when that creative juice just keeps flowing, it’s just like, wherever God led me, I was there, honey.
Dominique: I feel you. Sometimes I tell people that I asked God for a bus pass and I got a limousine instead and I was like, Oh, these doors are going to keep opening. Sure. Why not? Exactly. So let’s bring it back to Will, because like Eartha I met will when he was younger also. And if you know, well, when you met him, when he was younger, you also remember his mother. And I remember we did a job, I believe it was Macy’s and it was so great to see a young African-American, uh, male that was not only talented, but humble, eager for a lot of information and whatever you threw at him, he was like, sure. And then even recently, when we worked on, um, a TV show for Disney, it was great to still see the same gentlemen, but just a little bit more grown up. And it’s been a joy to watch you flourish and bloom and have everybody notice that too. I mean, Eartha, do you remember, do you remember meeting him when he was younger?
Eartha: Yes. Yes I do. And, and you know what, I think you might’ve been like nine or something and, and you were dancing and it was just so full of spirit. And I was like, wow, look at this kid. So respectful and professional at such that never left me that he was so young. And so professional. I said this an old, I remember calling him an old man.
Dominique: Yeah. And also let’s shine some light on Miss Eartha too, because I think I met you once a while ago from Keith and Sharon Young and it was a while back. And not only that, we have a lot of mutual people like William Harris loves you, just like, I love you. And you know, I’ve, I’ve known about you for years upon years upon years, and we’ve never gotten a chance to work together, but I followed your career and Leslie, and that’s why it was an honor for me to talk to you because not only to see that chocolate skin on stage, you know what I mean? Or like in the movies and just your spirit and there’s, there’s something about your movement and then not only that to, Fame because you and I did the remake in 2009. So of course I went, Oh yeah, of course. I went back to do that research.
Eartha: It’s that’s that’s show. Um, that was really something, I didn’t know, um, how much I impacted, um, a lot of girls, my color. It makes me well up now to see, you know, here, this #blackgirlmagic and Brown ballerinas and, Oh my God, it makes me. Um, because we didn’t have that, you know, you had to be, can I curse?
Dominique: Maybe we can bleep it out.
Eartha: You had to be really, really strong to, to navigate your way during that time. And then there were people before me that was even so, I mean, because they did hire black girls, but not my black, you know, so I didn’t know the impact that Fame had on so many young black dancers and girls period until, you know, after it was over, you know, I was just in work mode. You get, you know, you miss the moments sometimes when you’re there, when you’re, you know, just working, just working, just working, you just, you can’t see the forest for the trees sometimes. So, you know, always stop and look, you guys always be aware of your surroundings. Yeah.
Dominique: And speaking of that, which is, it leads me to my next little thing that I want to bring up. And Will, you know, even though you’re wise beyond your years, you’re still, still younger than we are. But what advice would you give to your younger self in regards to navigating the industry as a person of color?
Big Will: Oh, as a person of color, I would say, no, your self-worth. I think because a lot of people try to, in a way, use me to get that, Oh, I do support all races. And when I walk in the room, I’m the only person of color in the room. So I’m like, their special token. And I feel like as a younger, so just know your self worth, know that you have to work twice as hard to get noticed as, as well. And to keep that going, because at the end of the day, what I’m leaving on the table is my dancing ability, my personality, the, my work ethic, and so much more that they’re going to remember me by so they can always try to bring me back. So I think that’s kind of something I would tell my younger self for, you know, especially for people of color is to be very humble, be they’re respectful. Cause to get into this room is an honor already as it is. So don’t forget that.
Eartha: Wow, He said it all, you know, it’s um, uh, to be the only black person in the room. Um, I never felt uncomfortable. After the age of 17, I should say, because I grew up there. I didn’t, I, I didn’t mingle with white people, period. I grew up in Harlem and there were, you know, the, the teachers maybe, and then I’m from, you know, my whole family were Gullah. So on the islands, you don’t, we didn’t mingle. I didn’t get that until I went into Performing Arts. And then I had to build my, my strength and being with all these different people that not just Caucasians, but all different nationalities. And what I found after I brew and brew. I remember this moment doing Academy awards and, uh, Peter Allen was choreographing, Liza Minnelli. And it was this whole line of females and they needed one more female. And I was like I said, you know what I want to be. I want to break that color line. I want to break that — And I stood in that rehearsal. I stood in my rehearsal and Peter came over and he just looked around and he said, “Eartha come here.” And I broke that color line. He didn’t put me on the end he played me like fourth girl in. And so it was like, it was amazing. And that was something that I always wanted to do. I always wanted to show that my talent speaks first. What I do says who I am first, before you see the color of my skin. And another one real quick, you guys
Big Will: I’m loving this
Eartha: Auditions, back in the day. You know, it was black and white photos. You know the headshots. I know.
Dominique: I remember, oh I do.
Eartha: Will, you probably don’t remember, but you would go to these auditions, you’d go to these auditions and you think they’re asking for everybody. But as you, as you get down to the second call back, you’re looking around and you’re like, they just got me in here, dancing. They are not going to hire me. They get ready to hire all these white kids. They’re not going to hire me. So instead of me dancing, one more time being that jigaboo, performing, I was not doing that. So I just walked up and go, are you using any black girls at all? Cause you got two light-skinned girls over there and you got me. I got a lot of stuff I can do. So you can get me my 8×10 and I can go do my laundry. Thank you. So I did that for a few auditions, like, because they would keep you all day long, dance you to death and then don’t hire you. And then when you see the show, there’s nobody that looks like you. So why are you using this audition, got wise and was like, shut it down.
Dominique: I get it, and, and I love that. You’ve always demanded that respect because a lot of times we go into a room. So like thankful and extra thankful to be there. And you know, it’s something to be grateful. Of course you’re grateful to be in that room, but you also have to know once you’re in that room, a lot of times people are just looking at your sauce. They’re just looking at your vibe to be like, Ooh, we can get inspired by that. And they will not use you. You know? Um, one thing that I feel like I would tell my younger self is the baggage that you carry into the room is your baggage alone, but it also makes your arm stronger. So, so a lot of times, um, you know, when you come in as the quote, unquote token you, the weight of your community in the world, on your shoulders, you feel like you have to do you feel like you have to be the best one, you know? And that’s just what it is straight up and down. But what I also realize is I’m the only one carrying these bags because sometimes I walk into those rooms and the people are not expecting that of me. So I realized my baggage turned into my super power because I feel like, myself and maybe you both might agree with me. That becomes what keeps you going that drive to be that, that drive to be in them, splits that drive to make sure you can effectively communicate what you want to communicate, whether it’s with dance or your mouth, you know? And, and I felt like that’s what I would tell my younger self. Like the very thing that you think is, is weighing you down is the thing that’s making you stronger to rise above everybody else.
Eartha: Yes. And that in a work, you know, start that as soon as you possibly can building yourself up, talking to yourself, look in the mirror and talk to yourself. I made that a habit and it’s worked for me, you know, to, you have to stand strong in your power. You have to, because it’s just, you, really. So you must work hard to preserve you and be stronger in whatever you do.
Dominique: Yes, exactly. No, I mean, that makes the most sense in, in turning it on his head. Sometimes it’s literally just, you like. Who is bring all this madness causing all this drama. Its just you. So you have to shut all of that and just be like, I just want to be my best self today. That’s what it is. Speaking of speaking of best self, a hundred percent agree, go for it. Will, do you have anything to add before?
Big Will: I mean, I was saying was that like, you know, taking care of yourself, especially with, you know, mental health, you know, being such an issue recently with COVID and you know, not having that, that extra source of dance nowadays and you know, that human connection, I would say, just making sure it’s okay to take a break sometimes as well, because we always become so stressed with, you know, the type of work we’re putting ourselves into, like you said with, okay, I have to be the best in the room. I have to get everything right. And if you don’t, you actually burn yourself out a lot faster. So it’s okay to take a step back, breathe a little bit meditate or whatever you need to do and say, nice little prayer before you head into rehearsal again, and step in like a new man, you know.
Dominique: Exactly. And I feel like a lot of times as dancers, we don’t take care of our dance injuries. And you know, now we’ve been better about body maintenance, but I like to think about, we need to take care of the injuries on the inside too, because we’ll stop rehearsal. If somebody sprains their ankle or if you’re out and you need to do rehab. But a lot of times we don’t work on the inside to be able to stay in those rooms, and to fight those giants. Because you know, a lot of times whether it’s just black community or, you know, dance community, the trauma response is to be yelled at into greatness or to be berated into greatness. You know? And a lot of times I just refuse. I said, the trauma stops with me. I’m not going to pass it forward now, Motivational screaming different. Yes you can do it. Anything, anything beyond that? I’m not going to scare you into greatness. I want you to be so great that it slips out.
Eartha: But I am going to tell you if you’re lazy,
Dominique: for sure
Big Will: We will call you out. Yeah.
Eartha: But I, that whole thing of degrading dancers and tearing up apart, I was never into that because you build them up better because they want to please you, they want to be there for you. They’re there in the room. So why strip them apart like that? Those shows and those people that do that just make me so uncomfortable because nothing in the world deserves that it’s all, if you come from love, you can imagine so many things that you can accomplish together. If everybody just came from a loving space, that’s how I feel. If you came from a loving space and your approach to getting someone to hit that Arabesque or to, to hit that combination, the more love that you put into that and support, it’s going to be much better than just strip somebody apart, burn them out and then toss them to the side. You know? So, and I would say to every dancer, find a strong center you have got to. And just for, for your life, just like how you trained and just piggybacking on what you said Dom. Just like how you trained for this moment. You have to train your insides. You will have to find a core. You gotta believe in something other than all the external stuff, because that is, what’s going to take you through that. You believe there’s a core in you that you are not swayed by all this other stuff, because darling, that’s what a lot of mental issues come in because you’re being pulled to and fro you’re all these things on social media. People are saying this about you it’s. Have a core honey, find a belief in something. If it’s out a P or a pair of glasses, I don’t know, honey. Find your life, and hold onto it. You know, that is a must
Dominique: You better preach Eartha and catch a mean step on this podcast real quick. But no, that is, that is the truest statement of all statements and keeping in the love sphere. What do you enjoy most about living in your body, as this being as this Brown being, as this person who walks about the earth, being able to change other people’s lives through dance and speaking love into everybody, and this I’m just going to open it up. W what, because a lot of times we talk about the trauma and the bad and the obstacles, but let’s talk about what we love about ourselves
Eartha: Life experience, the knowledge that I’ve gotten and who I am right now. And that Will, I am like three times your age, baby. So my, so I look at you big with that little face and I go here to be a beast when he’s 60 because your, everything comes from that. And that’s in my skin right now. I could, I, I feel like a queen because I lived through, I’ve gotten over, I’ve crossed so many bridge, birth, none. And I’m like, I know who I am even more so now I’m good to people. I support people. I’m- I’m so comfortable and so happy in my skin. And I’m, you know, I had a hard time when I was coming up in this dark skin, a very hard time, but I am loving it. I wish I was three shades. Even darker.
Dominique: Come on now. Come on.
Eartha: So, no, I feel because of all of that, I’ve been through because of my experience, this pot that I carry underneath the skin, I feel joy. I feel good. Even through the COVID and all of that has gotten to renew. I am, and I just feel really good right now. That’s a great question. And I love it. I feel really good in my skin.
Dominique: She said I feel good all over. I wish we had that queued up All right. Will, same question.
Big Will: I think the one thing that just like, like she said, with like the history and everything that she’s gone through, I think what that makes me feel good within my skin, as well as seeing the people I’ve looked up to, you know, and seeing them, you know, make a pathway for people that are in my generation. Like Eartha, we probably wouldn’t have caught as far if it wasn’t for people that were in your generation, I’m a hundred percent thankful for that. I think that’s the one thing that I love so much about it is that there’s, we have so much history, so much history that, you know, I’m always in the room willing to learn. I come in there, I’m never a teacher. I’m always a student. I think that’s my mindset I have, because I don’t have the many years that you guys have. So that’s the one thing I love is that we have so much history and I feel like one day I’m ready to be a part of that history. And that’s what I love about myself. I love about my skin is that I know within 20 years, I’m going to be having the same conversation to the next team.
Eartha: Passing it, always passing it forward, always giving back and passing it forward. You know? And that’s the thing. This young man is talking about the history and it makes me feel like. It makes me know that there is hope, that there is hope because I see kids have no clue of what, what, before them, no respect of who went before them. Don’t know ’em, don’t care and just going on with life. But it’s the ones, the ones that care, the ones that research, the ones that know you’re always going to have more on it than the rest. And those people usually, you know, fade out because they’re not, they’re not keeping in alignment with what is true. And that’s an issue.
Dominique: A big issue. So this question, um, let’s go superficial. I like that. I can wear any color and make it look good. I like the fact that I can change my hairstyle every single day If I wanted to. I like that. If I comb out my hair, it stands up to try to meet God,
Eartha: The sun.
Dominique: I love that whenever I step into the room, just because of my skin tone people automatically think I’m the hottest thing and the coolest thing at the same time. But on a, on a deeper level, I love that the blood coursing through my veins, um, is built with rhythm and it’s built with strength and it’s built with being grounded. And it’s built with a language in a spirit that is only oral traditions. I love being Griot. I love being able to do a simple nod and everybody knows what that means. I love that. The way I clap my hands commands people to pay attention. I love how deep my voice is. And when I’m on the phone, I guess people automatically know I’m a black man. No, but more importantly, I love spaces like this because this is what the African-American community does. This is family. This reminds me of talking to my family members. It reminds me of talking to my aunts and my cousins and my grandparents and my younger brothers and sisters, and, you know, new family members to literally pass on and to give love. Because a lot of times people don’t have mentors. You know, they don’t have somebody they can go to, they don’t have somebody that they can pass on things to. And I love to have mentors older than myself, because I love to just go to people and go like, Hey, have you been through this before? And then I also love having people who are younger than I am to be like, look, this is what I went through. Let me, let me help you out. So you don’t go through that same thing. And, uh, you know, speaking of that,
Eartha: The young ones and the young ones are because I have no clue Will about how this whole social media, it gets on my damn nerves. So when you guys, you know, because my daughter, Élija, I, you know, she comes in and she’ll help me mom know that you don’t want to say that you want to take that out. So, you know, and just to see the power and the strength, it only, it takes me back to look at you guys and go, damn, did I have all that energy, did I just keep moving all the time? And my older ones, my mentor say, yeah, we used to say, could you sit your ass down? We’re on a five Eartha, take your 5 Eartha! so you know that it keeps me, um, energized your, your generation. When I say your, I would say, most of your generation, you, and a couple of other people that I’ve met so strong and so fierce and so committed and knowing, have intention on where you’re going, I love that, you know, and then I look at some others in your generation and I go, why, why is this happening? And who’s not helping them. And there’s no guidance there, you know? And I want us, I want to help everybody, but you can’t because they can’t be 9 million of you Will because then nobody will know what the other side looks like. So, but I want 9 million of you.
Big Will: I will say. It’s hard from my, from my perspective is growing up in this generation, I’ve seen so many people come and go. I’ve seen the different transformations of people. And I even had a moment when I was 16, 17, and I lost myself. And I think that’s what makes me so grounded and so humble. And so, you know, straight forward it’s because I’ve seen it all. I’ve seen people a hundred percent get lost and never find their way back, or they lose their passion for example, within dance. And they can’t find it again. And they’re only doing it for the money or only doing it for the views. And they know it hurts to see that. And there’s times where I have to call certain people out and be like, Hey, what you’re doing, isn’t right. I just want to make sure, are you good within yourself because you’re not posting like how you used to, or you’re not acting the way you used to, or, you know, just a simple, Hey, I haven’t seen you in a while. Let me, let me talk to you just because we kind of get lost in that social media world. And I just have to make sure, like, especially with my friends and my closest people around me, that everybody that I know is so career driven and so focused because it’s so easy to just lose track of that.
Eartha: Yeah. And, and, you know, um, water seeks its own level and the cup, this is, I’m just getting this from my grandfather, the company you keep, birds of a feather flock together. The company you keep is what they see. So you want to always surround yourself with people who are going and who are like-minded. They call it equally yolked. You know, some people aligned yourself with the people who are doing what you want to do, because it’s so easy to be, you know, go off the path. You know, you gotta stay on that path.
Dominique: Yeah. It’s extremely important. Especially when you go into a situation saying, this is exactly who I am, and this is what I’m doing. And you get met with some challenges where people go, okay, so we want you to either choose this or choose that. What are you going to do? And in those moments are when you really realize that you’re made of the good stuff and really what you’re made of and go, okay, well, I can do this and do that. Or I can remain who I am. And a lot of those moments, I think people have to remember that the business will test you. And it is good to have people around you who have either been there or are supporting you through it, you know? Boom. Okay. So, um, maybe a last little question here. Um,
Eartha: I wanted to ask something really quick.
Dominique: Sure. Go for it.
Eartha: Um, um, how do you guys feel about, um, uh, say a film comes up and it’s African dance or it’s, um, Lindy Hop or something like that. And someone not of that culture gets the chance to work on that project. And no one of that culture is on that project. How do you guys feel? Have you ever experienced it? I know it happens. So say, um, say I’m doing The Village and it’s all African and Dunham dance and they get someone that is not of that culture of that race or whatever, to choreograph or direct this thing. And it’s, how do you feel about that? Um, do you think it’s just an art artistic choice, or do you think that, you know, that
Dominique: I can jump in here? Um, I’ve had, I’ve been torn between both of those things because, um, a lot of times the things that I choreograph, I wouldn’t say a lot that’s alive. Let me bring that back. Things that I choreograph did not start with my culture, but sometimes I like to see it through the lens of my culture. Like for example, I choreographed Oklahoma, the all black version of Oklahoma at Denver Center for the performing arts. And what was nice was it was a golden age musical, but I saw it through the lens of the African-American community at that time. So the difference is of course, I put things that the African-American community did in that choreography. Um, but then I also came back and choreographed a play that was, um, mainly about Jewish the Jewish community. And it was very interesting because people were asking me like, what does it feel like to choreograph for something that’s not a part of your community? And I had to really A. put my wig back on asked that question and I had to go well with the, the story that’s being told. I can only do the parallels from the African-American community. I know joy, I know transcendence. I know what it feels like to be beaten down. So the only thing I can do is do my research with that culture, then try to parallel the human experience. Now, on the other hand of that same argument, I feel like if it’s not in you, pass it to the side to somebody who’s going to kill the game. Because a lot of times when it comes to certain art forms, um, or certain jobs that are, that are passed to me, I will gladly pass them to somebody else because I feel like, the way that I felt choreographing for Oklahoma, everybody should feel that way. Everybody should have a chance to choreograph where they step into themselves to go. I can’t make the wrong choice with movement because it is so inside of me that there’s nothing I can do wrong. I can step here. That’s something that would happen. I can do that. That’s something that would have happened. And, um, it, it rubs me the wrong way. Sometimes when I see jobs that people get where it’s like, you know, you didn’t respect the culture, you didn’t research the culture, you didn’t, you know, nothing about it. At least in that moment, bring somebody on of that community to be co choreographer or somebody of importance to open that door instead of just taking it for yourself. And then looking up on YouTube and being like, I think I can do this. You thought wrong. Now it’ll get done. It’ll get done. But at the end of the day, what will get done with such gravitas as that would take for somebody from the community?
Big Will: Yeah. A hundred percent agree with that. Well, they get done with such grace with such effort, you know, with the right intentions of it. And there has been jobs where, especially for me being the dancer, if it’s someone from that community that knows the art style and the art form, and really knows how to teach it, then I’m learning at the end of the day. For example, I didn’t know much of Lino, the African movies when it comes to like Gara Gara and like the shotgun and all that kind of stuff. I didn’t know anything really about it. I’ve seen it, but I didn’t know how to like, not perfectly do it, but I didn’t know the techniques of it and the form of how to do it correctly. And I was thankful that there was a choreographer named Sherrie Silver, who was the choreographer for This is America with Childish Gambino, You know, and when I tell you, we had maybe a four hour rehearsal on just the movement alone, not even the choreography, just the movement, because she was like, if we’re doing this, you need to make sure you’re doing this right. And that’s a main reason why I say that you have to have somebody that knows that art form that knows that art style, because you’re going to, at the end of the day, they’re teaching it and they’re bringing down that knowledge to somebody else. And if they’re teaching it wrong to you, that means that you’re going to perform it wrong and bring it down to the next person. And it’s just going to keep getting worse and worse and worse.
Eartha: Watered Down.
Big Will: So I’ll keep getting watered down
Dominique: and lost in the sauce.
Eatha: Yeah. And it’s like, it’s, you know, we have to make sure that, um, we have to speak out because, um, our culture is shrinking because so many people have appropriated it. So many people have taken it and it’s, it’s being taught and being watered down. So we have to be, um, we have to be, uh, more mindful on how much we get at, this is me speaking. Um, how mindful of how much we give, because they’re taking so much that now we look at it and we don’t even, it doesn’t even look like our city
Dominique: And Profiting greately and they’re profiting.
Eartha: Oh, yes. Oh yes. I mean, I’m looking at, take one, for instance, twerking, it’s called it’s twerking, but it’s African movement. It’s Africans, it’s all African, all of that stuff. It’s African, and now I see other people doing it and I’m like, okay, well there’s goes another step.
Dominique: Well, good. Well, this leads me. This leads me to another thought that I randomly had. Um, because I know what steps I’ve been taking. And, you know, a lot of times, especially with everything that’s happened in 2020 and a great awakening for a good amount of groups of people, even though, you know, other people have known for a while, um, what steps are you taking or are we taking personally to decentralize white supremacy in the dance community? Like what, what different ways of thinking have entered into your brain that you would like to share if it’s anything new or it could just be what you’ve been doing?
Eartha: I think it’s what I’ve been doing, you know? Um, it’s just what I’ve been doing because I’m going to call it as I see it, you know, I’m just, I, you know, and that goes for anything like that goes for anything. Um, I just finished working on this project and, um, Bob Fosse inspired. There’s no way that I’m going to take Bob Fosse’s work and do Bob Fosse’s work without getting the proper consent from the right people. The man is gone. We have to respect the legacy of what he’s left behind. So I reached out to Valerie Pettiford,
Dominique: Who we all love and know
Eartha: Valerie and I were in the same class and performing arts. So we were partners going across the Memorial. So I reached out to her and she introduced me to Nicole. When I talked to the Verdon Fosse Legacy, sent them all the tapes that I was doing, Valerie came into rehearsals. And I knew when I did Frug, as soon as I went into Frug, she said, I said, I know, I know, I know I was just thought I could get away with it, but I’m constantly going to respect, um, other people’s, uh, the integrity of their work. I’m constantly going to say, you know, that shit came from somebody else and you are dreadful to use it. That is not, you know what I mean, if you’re going to do it, say that you’re inspired by someone who, you know, you got that piece of work from, I was inspired by, but you’re not going to do that step verbatim. You’re not going to do the exact choreography that, that man did 50 years ago, just because he’s gone, does not mean that his legacy is still not alive. And that should be for anyone. You respected that the Jewish community, because you were so close to that, you know, you know what that is. So I just ask that people do the right thing, you know, give credit where credit is due and just do the right thing. Stop stealing from people. Yeah. You know, and let people know where you got it from or who inspired you, or, you know, just respect the culture of people’s, um, work, the body of that respect, you know, it should go just, it should be that across the board. So yeah, I’m constantly on the lookout for that. That’s like,
Big Will: I, a hundred percent agree on that because of social media. There’s so many ways people would try to get away with it by not having that choreo credit or saying, Oh, I really got this choreography from the music video but I’m going to act like it’s my own and people on the internet when they don’t know their own research, they see it. And usually you don’t, you don’t see a post and then you go on YouTube and try to find it. You just see the posts, look at it and say, Oh, this is cool. And you expect it’s their choreography. So if they don’t say it, you assume it. And it’s really just a few words like, Oh, that’s the only thing I have to do is just add a few words. It’s really that careful that can change the entire input of the video. So I understand that point of view, and I think it’s also, at least for me is, you know, whenever I see a quote or a dance quote, like for example, uh, one of my friends posted a whole essay for about dancers and about, you know, when it comes into teaching, are you really taking the right class? That’s going to help you upgrade yourself and elevate yourself, or you’re really just taking the class because of the views or taking the class because of this. And I love reposting it because it’s going to get my viewers in the right mindset and kind of like in a way, inspire them to say, okay, make sure they’re doing the right thing rather than it just saying, Oh, okay. He’s just an Instagram person. And I just happened to follow him. No, he’s an Instagram person. I want to follow in his footsteps. I want to follow in his, his pathway. I want to be inspired by him. And I think that’s the one thing I can at least do for my part is doing everything through social media.
Dominique: Yes. Great, great. I love it. Um, I’ve talked about it on this podcast before, but one main thing I’ve been trying to do lately is, um, keep asking questions and keep asking why and digging and digging. Uh, one thing I talked about with Dana was ballet and how I’ve had some minor tiffs with people who wanted me to teach. And their philosophy is ballet is the foundation of every dance style. And I had some pushback because I said ballet is good for what ballet is good for. Ballet is the foundation of derivatives of ballet. But if it’s African dance or if it’s salsa, or if it’s anything dealing with any, uh, Bollywood, or if it’s, you know, any indigenous dances that has nothing to do with ballet. Not a thing, like even if you tap and you’re a hoofer and you do all these other things, ballet may not help that, at all, not at all at all. So then if you dig a little bit deeper, it’s like, why does the White art form have to help the Brown art forms? You know, especially with all of that stuff, you know, it’s, it’s, it’s just, you know, mind boggling. And then sometimes you have to relearn and unlearn things that you’ve put out there, because there were many times where I would watch a hip hop dancer and go, Oh, if they only had ballet technique, no, they have a technique. They have hip hop technique. That is something totally different from ballet. Ballet will not help that. Now, if anybody wants to broaden their horizon, sure. By all means, take everything. But as much as I’m telling you to take ballet, I’m telling you to take modern and I’m telling you to take African too, you know, because a lot of things came from those dance styles. So that’s one thing that I had to do to decentralize white supremacy for me in, in my thinking.
Eartha: Yeah, that, that ballet run is a great one because, um, I’m not calling names, but I have, um, there’s one school that I keep saying. This child is not going to be a ballerina. She’s in the class, she’s crying. She hates it. But she’s major in African. She kills modern, tap outrageously why to make her suffer five hours a week doing this. She’s got the booty, she’s got the boobs, you know, but this has got to be good for her. This is what she needs is. I said, she’s never going to do that. She’s never going to go into SAB. So why make the child suffer. They don’t hear it. They don’t see it because that’s really good Dom because that is not the core and the end all for a lot of our techniques for a lot of the things that we do.
Dominique: And I think it’s just being mindful of that too, all the way around all the way around.
Big Will: I’ve never, ever seen it like that. So I’m happy. You you’ve even brought it up in this podcast because my whole entire life, a lot of people have always told me, ballet is the core of everything, ballet’s the core, all styles. And then the older I get, the more realize we have Chicago footwork, we have light feet. We have all these other styles within the hip hop world. We have, you know, Bboy, what does that have to do with ballet?
Dominique: They both have a B and that’s it.
Big Will: They’re completely different. I’m like, what does that have to do with ballet? And I’m learning these styles. You know, I was training in Chicago footwork for about a few months before the choreographer went on tour. And I was like, what does this have to do with ballet? It always boggled my mind. So I’m really happy you brought that up because I wasn’t aware of that.
Dominique: Yeah. It’s just, again, it’s just something, if you keep asking the why and keep digging with a lot of different things, I think that’s what leads you to the gold. And the goal is the, the digging and the digging and speaking of digging, I’m glad I’ve dug into both of you too, because you’ve just made my day speaking to both of you. Um, I appreciate both of you for this, this talk. Hopefully we’ll have many more on the podcast and off the podcast and we encourage everybody to do that too, because this is how you learn. This is how you grow. This is how you learn your community. And again, I want to give a special, special thank you to Eartha Robinson and Big Will Simmons and a special thank you for opening up the space to Dana Wilson, with the Words That Move Me podcast. Um, yeah. So thank you very much. Or is there any partying thing?
Eartha: Thanks for inviting me. Thanks for inviting us onto the podcast. It’s just been absolutely amazing. The time has gone by so fast. So we know we have more to talk about and another.
Big Will: Yes. Well, thank you guys for all of your knowledge and your wisdom within just an hour. I know I can talk to you guys for way longer than we can get into depth about it, but in reality, I just want to say thank you for my generation to yours for just, you know, paving the way of the way we are now within our dance industry and, you know, creating so many roles that are now opened up to us. We want to say thank you to both of you.
Dominique: Thank you. I appreciate it. I appreciate it so much. And on that note, we’re going to stop it here. Remember Words that Move Me Podcast
Outro: Me again. Wondering if you ever noticed that one more time. Almost never means one more time. Well, here on the podcast, one more thing actually means two more things. Number one, then if you’re digging the pod, if these words are moving you, please don’t forget to download, subscribe and leave a rating or review your words, move me. Number two things I make more than weekly podcasts. So please visit thedanawilson.com for links to free workshops. And so, so much more. All right, that’s it now for real talk to you soon. Bye.
Brought to you by Dana Wilson of Words That Move Me with Dana Wilson