INTERVIEW: A Conversation with Alesia Young

Recently, I chatted with one of my former dance instructors, Alesia Young, over email. In addition to leading Windward School's dance program and dance company, of which I was a part for some of high school, Alesia is a celebrated dancer and choreographer in her own right. The works she creates are diverse and in a wide range of styles, from ballet, to jazz, to modern, and more. Her work has been recognized by several institutions; she has been the recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Outstanding Civil and Human Service, the Nancy Diers Johnson Award for Outstanding Choreography, the Jean Irwin Award for Artistic Merit, and Dance Magazine’s August Editor’s Choice Award. In addition to her prolific work as a choreographer, shehas toured with renowned dance companies such as String Theory and the Dance Construction Company, and students she has taught have been accepted to programs such as Juilliard and NYU Tisch. Enjoy!

I On the Arts: How did you get started dancing? 

Alesia Young: My mother enrolled my older sister and I in dance at the age of 5 or 6 years old. I believe for her it was a way of giving us something constructive to do while she received a much needed break. She was a mom of two who worked full-time.

IOtA: What teachers/mentors/dancers were particularly instructive or inspiring to you?

AY: The very first school I attended was Rifino's School of Dance in Dunellen, NJ. This is the place that sparked my love of dance. From my very first combination class - tap and ballet - I was hooked. Collectively, the teachers there had that wonderful blend of discipline and rigor delivered with warmth and nurturing. Later I attended the Performing Arts Center in South Plainfield and Tara Faulkner- Catalina became a huge influence. After previously many years of ballet training she introduced me to modern dance via Martha Graham technique and exposed me to the professional world of dance, offering me the opportunity to teach, choreograph, rehearsal direct, and take classes in the city (NYC), all at a very young age. Later in my college years at George Washington University, I developed a relationship with Dance Director Maida Withers that continues to be a fruitful mentorship and cherished friendship. Although I maintained a list of professional dancers I highly respected, I can't say that any one stood out. I considered myself a student of dance so I stayed up to date on emerging and accomplished dancers in all genres.
Photo courtesy of Alesia Young.

IOtA: When did you know that you wanted to dance professionally?

AY: I honestly think I knew I wanted to dance professionally after my first class at the age of 6. The way I remember it, it was like magic. The moment I put on those shoes, heard the music, and began to move, it was like I found home. Could simply be that I discovered something I was good at and received a lot of positive attention for doing well. In a child's mind I'm sure that can be a powerful motivator.

IOtA: How did you discover your talent for choreography?

AY: I have been choreographing professionally since I was 16 years old and even have an advanced degree in the subject. To this day, I believe it is one of the areas I still have so much room to grow. I'm not sure I would say it's a talent of mine just yet. Don't tell that to the people that continue to hire me!

IOtA: What has your experience teaching dance been like?

AY: Teaching is another area of my career I believe I still have so much to learn. I have tremendous confidence in the studio when teaching dance, but I have never been one to tout myself as an "expert." It's true that students teach you just as much as you teach them. I have taught everything from beginning level to advanced, pre-professional and professional, preschool through adult, etc. There are some elements of my class that are old staples because they are part of the fundamentals of technique and serve every level. Outside of that I think it's important to consistently reflect on, review, and revise my classes.

IOtA: What is your favorite style of dance to dance?  To choreograph?  To teach?

AY: Favorite style of dance to dance would have to be contemporary modern, particularly with release technique and for fun, salsa and jazz. To choreograph, classic modern (Cunningham, Horton, Graham) or contemporary ballet. To teach, modern but with a lot of conditioning work - yoga, pilates, kinesiology AND I love to teach choreography and improvisation.
Photo courtesy of Alesia Young.

IOtA: What is a project you’ve created recently that you feel particularly strongly about?

AY: The project I've recently co-created that I am most proud of is not a choreographic project, but a program. I have assisted in the development of a dance program at the American School in Japan (ASIJ) and will be traveling there in February to oversee the launch of a pilot program, a two week guest artist led intensive in contemporary and hip-hop.

IOtA: What kind of projects do you have in the pipeline?

AY: ASIJ, as I mentioned above, and as Performing Arts Initiative Coordinator for Windward helping them to expand performing arts programs across all four disciplines (dance, theater, choral and instrumental music). The initiative will eventually end in the creation of a new performing arts center. This space is intended to serve as the home for student-artists and has the potential to become a landmark venue for professional artists locally, nationally and internationally. I have also been asked to participate at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts (LACHSA) as an adjudicator for their senior dance presentations and I have high hopes to shoot another dance film with my commercial actor/director hubbie in the near future.

IOtA: How do you combine your dance with your focus in multiculturalism, as I read in your biography on your site?

AY: I received a BA in Dance and a BA in American Studies with a focus in Multiculturalism. I believe the work I've done in multiculturalism reminds me as an artist of the value of multiple perspectives. No one way is the right way, no one voice supersedes all others. This is part of why I love dance - the range and diversity is extraordinary.
Photo courtesy of Alesia Young.

IOtA: What is the best aspect of choreographing and dancing professionally?

AY: It's wonderful to be paid to do what you love even though you know you'd do it regardless of the money. It gives you the opportunity to understand the value of your time and your artistry, and demonstrates that the community/society/industry values the art form. Choreographing and dancing also remain the most fulfilling modes of self-expression for me. Any opportunity I have to share my perspective I am humbled.

IOtA: What is the most challenging aspect?

AY: I'm a self-titled rational perfectionist, which essentially means I strive for the ideal while maintaining an understanding that perfection doesn't exist. As a performer and choreographer this can sometimes leave me with that painfully nagging sensation that it's never good enough. I can usually talk myself down pretty quickly from "crazy" and allow myself to enjoy both the process and the product. I also find it can be a useful place to be in when managed properly and using a bit of self-awareness. We're dancers, it's in our nature to constantly push for more, for better, for different, for layers of experience. That's why we continue to take class. There's always something to improve upon. Mastery is endless.

Comments

  1. Awesome interview! It is great to know more about Alesia!!

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