#CreativeInnovative with Lee Su-Feh: Yielding, Dissolving, Fighting, and Dancing Within Inquiry

Lee Su-Feh on Creating, Communicating, and Encountering the Humanity of Others

This is the sixth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Lee Su-Feh, Still from the film Migrant Bodies, Dir. Laura Bari

Lee Su-Feh, Still from the film Migrant Bodies, Dir. Laura Bari

Lee Su-Feh is a force of nature. Until December 2017, we have been two ships passing in the night in the “real world” but we operate in some of the same circles. I avidly follow her online and come to her for advice. I am lucky to consider her a mentor and friend. In December, we finally had the opportunity to sit down together and our discussion ranged over the personal, the political, the artistic, and several other topics we won't divulge here.

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"The notion that you can make a go of anything all by yourself is a capitalist myth. You are who you are because of others" 

 

 

Photographer: Joerg Letz

 

F: Lee Su-Feh, you has a remarkable background in children’s theatre, traditional Malay dance, contemporary dance, contact improvisation, and martial arts, and your career is a neverending cycle of shows, projects, accolades, and collaborations. You have also recently been touring your latest show, Dance Machine. This work consists of a kinetic sculpture, formed by sticks of bamboo suspended from a copper disk, creating an immersive space in which the public is invited to work with the artists, becoming collaborators and mindful participates in cause and effect, play and rest. Oh, and you are an Instructor in the Theatre program at Simon Fraser University where you teach voice.

LSF: You should write my bios from now on!!!

F: Well, I try my best! Now it's your turn to tell me a bit about yourself - what about your training in the arts?

LSF: I did Chinese martial arts as a kid, when I was 11-12. Not a lot. But enough to awaken something in my body, something about the pleasure moving my body, training. When I was 15 or 16, I joined a children’s theatre class led by Janet Pillai, who is now an award-winning arts activist, recognized for her work in cultural mapping. We learned traditional South-East Asian forms like Pencak Silat (martial arts), Wayang Kulit (shadow puppetry), and became part of a larger questioning of what it meant to create contemporary Asian performance out of the debris of colonialism, half-remembered traditions and sitting in the interstices of multiple cultures and languages. We created work and toured across the country. Through this experience of Teater Kanak-kanak, I met my first dance teacher, Marion D’Cruz, from whom I learned traditional Malay dance as well as Western contemporary dance. These lessons took place in the basement of a place called The Temple of Fine Arts, which was a temple honouring Krishna as well as a school for Indian classical dance and music. So I was immersed in Bharatanatyam, Odissi and Kathak, even though I never studied those forms. My first performance in public with Marion D’Cruz and Dancers was a dance from the East Coast of Malaysia called Timang Burung; and we performed it amid a show filled with Indian classical dance with The Temple of Fine Arts. All this is to impress upon you the plurality of approaches, aesthetics and culture that surrounded my entry into the arts. Janet, Marion and Krishen Jit, Marion’s late husband and a notable theatre critic, historian and director in the region, were my teachers and mentors; and they eventually founded, along with others, Five Arts Centre, which remains a provocative arts organization in Malaysia. This hotbed of cultural activity which also grappled with post-colonial politics really set the foundation for me as an artist. I think how I see the world and how I approach performance has been formed by this period. I eventually left Malaysia to go to Paris to study contemporary dance. And eventually ended up in Vancouver, where I continued learning new skills (more Chinese martial arts, more dance, contact improv), but always, always wrestling for my sense of self while being acutely conscious of how power structures play on my body.  

F: How Has your art/training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?

LSF: Lots of places. Lots of complex relationships to different places. Two examples: Paris for being an incubator of my western contemporary dance ideas, and where I awoke to being othered by white society. Manitoulin island recently for showing me a glimpse into Anishnaabeg ways of being and artmaking as an alternative to settler-colonial ways.

Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre, Body Scan, 2010

Lee Su-Feh and Benoit Lachambre, Body Scan, 2010

F: Many of your projects are collaborative and call on your ability to communicate. What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration? 

LSF: Collaboration invites you to expand your knowledge - of yourself, of your collaborators and of the form you are engaged in. Any kind of growth is often also painful and involves judgement, a dissolving of who you think you are, a constant question of whether you yield to new knowledge or to take a stand and fight for your (tenuous) beliefs.   

F: How did you decide to take your art in this direction?

LSF: I’m not sure it was a decision. The notion that you can make a go of anything all by yourself is a capitalist myth. You are who you are because of others - humans and non-humans. I usually choose to work with people who I think I have something to learn from. 

F: Did this require you to take on additional training or did you encounter any learning curves?

LSF: Choreography requires communication skills - listening deeply, speaking honestly, while taking care of everyone’s humanity. Maybe my history as a marginalized, racialized person has contributed to my skills in this department. But as I encounter new knowledge and new areas of my ignorance, I also become inspired to learn new skills. Contact improvisation, voice, new ways of dancing...

F: What drives you in your work?

LSF: My questions. About myself, about my relationship to the world, about my relationship to the sacred.  

F: How do you create? From where do you draw your inspiration?

LSF: Usually, the spark of a new project comes from the unfolding of the previous project. For example,  the beginning of my current project Dance Machine was 8 years ago and began as simply an inquiry into the energetic relationship between the human body and inanimate objects. This question came out of working on a piece called Body Scan with the Montreal choreographer Benoit Lachambre, where we worked a lot with fabrics and texture and sensation. I really loved the energetic quality of the costume designer we worked with, Alexandra Bertaut and proposed to her that we explored some things together. I proposed that she do my physical practice, which was deeply informed by Qigong and martial arts, and then see if she could respond by making objects. I would then live with those objects for a period of time and see what came out of my body as a response to those objects. It was during this period of living with the objects - which were fabric based, with personal objects of mine knitted and woven into them - that I went into the studio with my friend and colleague, the choreographer and dancer Justine Chambers. For about a week, we hung the objects up with fishing line, made very shoddy pulley systems and the beginning idea of an environment that was attached somehow to the dancer emerged. After that, I invited a designer/architect Jesse Garlick to help us actually build it. Along the way, I also started to want it to address a whole bunch of concerns - political, social, and underneath it all, my questions about what it means to dance. Anyway, this is a long story. But the gist of it is that works don’t usually pop out of anyone’s head fully formed. I’m usually looking to ask the most interesting question possible and then to construct a process that can lead me to an even more interesting question at the end of that process. Repeat as often as necessary.

You can follow Lee Su-Feh and her work through her company website, Battery Opera, her blog, and on her Twitter page.

 

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Claire Ogden: Entrepreneur and Professional Acrobat

Claire Ogden on Navigating the Political Circus and Changing Culture One Student at a Time

This is the fifth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

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Claire Ogden is a business owner, circus performer and activist. I first heard of Claire and her acrobatic duo Scrambled Legs in 2013 through her performance partner, Shane. I was putting on monthly showcases at Brisbane Square Library and looking for performers who would bring something unique and wild to the library.

Born in Canberra, Australia, Claire lives in Brisbane, Australia and represented the Queensland Greens Party in the Lilley district. In their performances, the interactions between Claire and Shane were a hoot and their performances a big hit with audiences. Earlier this year, Scrambled Legs went on a hiatus. Understandable, as both have moved on to other projects.

I am especially excited that Claire agreed to answer my questions because of her diverse life as a performer, teacher, and politician.

Claire Ogden pictured with Larissa Waters, former Senator for Queensland  representing the  Australian Greens , and Richard Di Natale, Australian Senator and leader of the Australian Greens.

Claire Ogden pictured with Larissa Waters, former Senator for Queensland  representing the Australian Greens, and Richard Di Natale, Australian Senator and leader of the Australian Greens.

F: Tell me a little about your training in the arts.

C: I first became interested in the arts in primary school through participating in choirs and school bands. My parents didn’t have a lot of money but I was able to borrow and learn musical instruments through the school instrumental music program. In high school I got the opportunity to participate in drama and I went on to study drama at university.

After graduating, I got a job in the office of a contemporary circus company. I didn’t know anything about circus but I was inspired by the company’s performers and circus trainers to start learning some circus skills. I participated in the circus classes for adults run in the evenings and on Saturdays. Before long I was obsessed! That job changed my life. I am now in my eighth year of business, performing circus professionally and teaching circus classes for children and teenagers.

F: Has your art/training taken you to other places? 

A few of Claire's students at the end of the year show

A few of Claire's students at the end of the year show

C: In 2012 I went to Indonesia and taught some circus workshops with children living in the slums and in orphanages. It was a great experience. 

F: What drives you in your work?

C: Empowering young people and changing culture. I feel strongly that we can all be a part of changing culture and those shifts are vital to create a better world. I try to be a role model for my students to show them an alternative, fun and creative way of being an adult.

The acrobatic duo Scrambled Legs, Claire Ogden and Shane Smith

The acrobatic duo Scrambled Legs, Claire Ogden and Shane Smith

F: To what extent have you been able to make your creativity work an aspect of all of your jobs?

C: I make all my income from either teaching circus skills or performing circus. I feel lucky to have entrepreneurial abilities so I have been able to earn enough money from a fun and creative path. I am in my eighth year of business. 

F: That is incredible! What are some of your accomplishments of which you are you proudest?

C: I am most proud of generating my own income for nearly eight years. I am also proud of getting a good work-life balance that allows me to engage in the world around me and the many aspects of my personality. 

F: How do you manage burnout/feed yourself creatively?

C: I’ve streamlined my life so I actually have quite a bit of free time. I often consider what I need to be focussing on and that helps me to cut out the things that aren’t really important. I’ve become good at maximising the things that I enjoy and minimising the things that I don’t enjoy because I know that life is short and I’ll be more effective in the world if I am doing the things that bring me peace rather than frustration. 

Claire Ogden ran for the federal seat of Lilley in the election last year

Claire Ogden ran for the federal seat of Lilley in the election last year

F: My work is underpinned by the belief that an arts education not only makes people better citizens, but that training in movement and performance gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills. 

C: Yes. As an environmental activist and Green party political candidate, communication has been very important. There are many people in the world who come up with great ideas and innovative technologies but I feel that we already have many of the solutions to a happier and more sustainable life like for example, embracing the minimalist lifestyle and considering the impact that our diet and purchases have on the environment. I think one of the biggest challenges of our time is communicating the solutions and helping people to see how they can be part of a more sustainable and compassionate world. I’m grateful for my public-speaking skills which I have developed over the years.

F: What adaptable skills have you gained through your art form that you apply in other contexts?

C: When I was younger I watched circus with the belief that I was a mere mortal and the people on stage were somehow super-human. I realise after years of circus training that everyone can learn and practice to become good at what they do. This has been very empowering as I realise that nearly anything a person has passion and interest in can be learned to some extent. This has been particularly useful as I become more involved in politics. I see politicians talking with such confidence and I remember that I could also do that if I practiced all day, every day for years. Speaking to the media is a skill that can be learned and practiced like any other skill and I think that concept has helped me to take up challenges outside my comfort zone like running for parliament which I have done three times now. 

F: That is incredible, particularly as you perform, and run your own business teaching circus!

C: Yes, I work with children, teenagers, and adults who want to learn circus for fun and fitness.

Students at Claire's Circus School

Students at Claire's Circus School

F: What values underpin your pedagogy?

C: I believe that choice is ultimately very important and I like to run classes where students have a lot of choice over their focus. I think people will get a lot more targeted and efficient progress if they  are experiencing a state of creative flow. If they are lost in the moment that means they are so engaged in what they are doing that time moves in a different way. This is what happens when children are playing so I try to make my classes with children very playful.

F: That's a great approach, and people often lack agency in their own learning. It requires a lot of work on the part of the Teacher to give options and be responsive to students' needs. How would you describe your dream student?

Performance at MCF hula hoops low res.JPG

 

C: Someone with a willingness to learn and a commitment to persevere

F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

C: In my third year of studying drama I had a crisis of creativity. I thought, "Oh no! Maybe I’m not very creative.' I realise that this is nonsense. There are many ways to be creative like having a fascinating conversation that goes on all sorts of tangents or merely choosing to make a change like walk home along completely different streets. I also think the way a person lives their life can be a creative act. Simply questioning and being conscious of the forces at play in the wider world is a creative way of being. We can all be creative in our thinking and work on having the courage to let that take hold in our lives. 

Hoops performance at the Mullum Circus Festival

Hoops performance at the Mullum Circus Festival

F: How can voice, performance, training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be an artist/musician/performer?

C: Nearly all of the people I teach at Claire’s Circus School won’t go on to be performers or even work in the arts but I am passionate about helping people to see the value of the arts for our society. In a world that is increasingly corporatised and polluted, it is imperative that people can think for themselves and question things. We humans are living in a time of shocking waste and we are actually resourceful beings who can imagine and create a better future if only we have the willingness, courage and strong communities to do so. At a more personal level, circus training can help a person grow their brain and improve their posture - two things that are very important for a long and healthy life. 

F: Did you have any teachers who were pivotal in your learning? 

C: I have sessions with a kinesiologist and she has one of the best teachers I could ask for. The sessions help me to identify and get rid of subconscious beliefs that hold me back in life for example the belief of not being good enough etc. I think we are all making decisions based on subconscious programs that don’t necessarily help us and working on some of mine has been a truly profound, humbling and life-changing experience. My kinesiologist always helps me see the world in new ways and open my mind to new possibilities which has helped me more than I can possibly say. 

You can follow Claire Odgen's work through her website here and her circus school site here.

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Emma Dean: Leading From The Heart

Emma Dean Reflects on Forging A Unique Creative Path And Using The Healing Power of Music to Build Community

 

This is the fourth in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Born in Brisbane, Emma Dean is Australia's best-kept musical secret. A genre-bending powerhouse with a heavenly voice, she garners accolades and conquers the hearts of audiences and critics wherever she performs. In 2013, she lit New York's off-Broadway scene on fire and the New York Post named her “one of 10 artists to know." 

Returning to Brisbane, Emma fell in love with music all over again. While her work has always been ethereal and electric,  this latest phase of her career is a whole different level of musical magic - new creative collaborations, a community choir, and a business collective.

Emma Dean's many contributions to the communities in which she comes into contact are immeasurable. She is someone who lifts up and inspires others simply by embodying what it is to be a creative entrepreneur who leads with her heart. 

Note: "Tall Poppy Syndrome" refers to an aspect of Australian culture where people who are seen as aspiring to excellence are targeted, resented, criticised. It is often contrasted with the way America tends to celebrate those who work hard with the dream of attaining success.


F: You have spent a lot of time in Australia, but also have worked in New York. 

E: Yes, Brisbane is home. Though, I have lived in both Sydney and New York. Both of these places were vibrant and alive, but I have found I need somewhere smaller and quieter to create. 

F: How did the New York scene compare to communities in Australia? 

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

E: Both Aussies and New Yorkers are a friendly bunch. The thing I loved most about New York was the non-existence of ‘tall poppy syndrome’. If you were talented and good at what you do, people would WANT to work with you, not find a way to cut you down. What I missed about Brisbane, in particular, was space and time. Everyone in New York was so busy, juggling multiple jobs, sometimes just to get by. I missed having the space (I lived in a shoebox) and time to invite friends over to eat and jam and drink wine. 

Working in New York taught me about what I didn’t want. I saw firsthand what I needed to do in order to climb the ‘ladder of success’ as an original musician and I realized I wasn’t cut out for it. So, I had to redefine what ‘success’ meant for me. I continue to redefine it’s meaning all the time, but I always come down to a few simple things: Success, to me, is to lead a rich life, full of adventure, earning a comfortable living from musical pursuits, working to create a supportive and thriving musical community, helping people find their unique creative voice, and always nurturing my own. 

F: What skills served you in these different places?

E: In New York I was often asked, “So, are you any good?” As an Australian with a long history of dealing with ‘tall poppy syndrome’, my ‘humble’ answers often sparked remarks like, “Oh stop all this false modesty!” I found that really challenging. I was also told, at the age of 29 that I should lie and say I was 24. New York certainly taught me how to hustle, took me to my edges, and brought me out of my shell. I still struggle with confidence, but I do believe the experience of living in New York made me prove to myself that I am tougher than I think! 

F: You have released EPs with an American label. What has it been like engaging with companies in America and Australia?

E: I had a really positive experience with Candy Rat Records in America. One of the owners – Holly - I now call my ‘US Mum’! They were very nurturing, which I think is a quality lacking in a lot of music companies these days where the emphasis is to keep churning out new material rather than nurturing and growing raw talent. Nowadays I don’t have much experience dealing with companies at all, as I am 100% independent. If I met someone who wanted to work with me, I would need to feel nurtured and safe and that they were as passionate about my work as I am. 

F: Tell me a little about your background in the arts.

Photographer: Kate Davies @ KD Photography

Photographer: Kate Davies @ KD Photography

E: I started at a classical ballet school when I was 2 and a classical music school when I was 3. By the age of 6, I was learning classical violin and a few years later, a horrible dance teacher told my mum that my bum was too big to be a ballerina, so as much as I loved dance, an emphasis was placed strongly on music. In late primary school I began learning piano, though I was a terrible student and only wanted to write my own music rather than learn the pieces my teacher had given me! I was terribly shy growing up, so I used to lock myself away in my bedroom and compose songs, kind of like a diary entry. When I was 13, I started my first band – Halo. We performed my biggest gig to date, at The Brisbane Entertainment Centre in front of about 7000 people, when I was just 14. Band politics and hormonal teenage girls did not make for a good mix, so the band broke up a couple of years later. Though it sparked my love of singing, so I auditioned for the school musical – Little Shop Of Horrors – and got in as the lead character, Audrey. After school, I had a gap year and completed by AMus A in classical violin and then went on to audition successfully for the Queensland Conservatorium Of Music in Jazz Voice and completed my Bachelor Of Music. I have also trained with Brisbane physical theatre company, Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre, which gave me a brilliant insight and awareness of my body and made me remember how much I love to move, beautiful big bum and all! 

F: Your projects often involve collaboration with other creative professionals and incorporate music with dance. What are the benefits and challenges of working this way?

E: I have tried to ‘go solo’ and I just get lonely. One of my favourite spaces is the rehearsal room, bouncing ideas off other creatives. It’s a space that can open your mind to new possibilities; things you might not have thought of before. As previously mentioned, I grew up studying dance, so movement has been an important part of my performance history. As much as I adore music, I have been equally as intrigued with the physical interpretation of it, and adore pieces with both music and movement. I suppose it is a natural progression to merge the two art forms in my work. 

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/album/dr-dream-and-the-imaginary-pop-cabaret

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/album/dr-dream-and-the-imaginary-pop-cabaret

F: How did you decide to take your art in this direction?

E: I actually wanted to get into acting so I contacted Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre and they so bravely asked if I wanted to audition for one of their productions – The Tempest. I got the role as Arial and this is where I met my dance collaborator, Jamie Kendall. The rest is history. 

F: Did this require you to take on additional training?

E: Yes! I began training with Zen Zen Zo and was in a number of their productions. I had to increase my fitness and get reacquainted with my body. It was life-changing. 

F: What drives you to be a musician?

E: It is when I feel most in flow, and connected to myself and the world around me. 

F: Am I correct in understanding that you have managed to make music an aspect of all of your jobs as a performer and teacher. How did you make that choice?

E: Yes, you are right! This has been the case for a number of years now, and I am blessed to have this reality. I perform, write songs, teach, arrange choir music, hold workshops and conduct my community choir – Cheep Trill. I made that choice because I’m not good at anything else. Ha ha! 

F: How do you create? From where do you draw your inspiration?

E: It depends. I used to really completely on the creative force to strike me down. Then things got busy. I am sometimes part of the I Heart Songwriting Group which encourages members to write one song in an hour each week. When it comes to my arrangements, I have to be very disciplined as I’m usually on very strict deadlines. 

F: When I look at your biography, I don’t know where to start, you have performed with Amanda Palmer and the Dresden Dolls, been nominated for a myriad of awards, played sold-out shows, and, above all, are known for creating moving and innovative performances. When you consider your career thus far, of what accomplishments are you most proud?

E: Starting my community choir, Cheep Trill, which is now 150 singers strong and in two locations in Brisbane; writing a vocal arrangement of You’re the Voice for John Farnham to sing with 2500 choristers, singing out about domestic violence; moving to New York and giving it a red hot go; and the work I am currently doing with my brother – our upcoming EP and Cabaret, Broken Romantics A Vicious Song Cycle… 

F: How do you manage burnout/feed yourself creatively? 

E: Wine. 

F:  Part of the Vibrance philosophy is that some training in voice, movement, and performance gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills that enable them to excel at whatever endeavours they choose.

E: Yes, I agree! I think voice/movement/performance skills train you to listen, to adapt, to compromise, to negotiate, to work alongside other people who have similar beliefs AND different beliefs. I also think training in these ways gets you in touch with who YOU are – with your body, your mind, your soul. 

F: Yes, exactly! And in your own experience, what adaptable skills have you gained through your training that you apply in other contexts?

E: My singing training has helped me with public speaking. My jazz and improvising training has helped me to create work on the fly, under pressure. My movement training has helped me to be more at peace with my own unique body. Working in performance teams has taught me how to work alongside other humans in a respectful way. 

F: Then how do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces?

E: I am an incredibly private person and live alone. However, I also teach and work from home so I am constantly having to invite people into my personal space so I can work. I try to set boundaries around work times, however, this is an ongoing process for me that I am constantly refining. 

 

F: Do you use intuition and aesthetic to help you manage this process?

I am trying to listen to my intuition more when it comes to work. I am trying to embrace Michael Leunig’s JOMO (the joy of missing out) mentality, as my tendency is to take on too much work, even if it doesn’t feel right. I think as freelance artists we get used to saying YES to everything for fear that the work will one day dry up. I’m trying to shift this and feel into my decisions more. Is it a F*** YES or just a YES? 

F: Your work involves you being involved in several communities - the music community, theatre community, and wider community. What drives you to do this? What do you get out of this engagement?

E: I feel like I am mostly connected with communities I have built myself, such as Cheep Trill community choir. The reason for this is because I have never really felt like I fit in a box or been part of the music or theatre communities. Instead I have lived on the fringe of all of these worlds. 

F: That's one of the incredible things about you, the entrepreneur in you creates something unique and the artist in you fills it it magic! Tell me about your community choir Cheep Trill. How did your idea to form it originate?

E: The idea was born from loneliness and a lack of community when I was living in New York. I decided I would move back home to Brisbane and I wrote a facebook status asking if anyone would be interested in joining a singing group. The next day I opened my email and facebook and had approximately one hundred inquiries. The choir has grown exponentially and we now have two locations and 150 members. 

From our humble beginnings rehearsing on a verandah in Everton Park, we have expanded into two locations. This allows us to keep growing but also keep an intimate feel at rehearsals. We have a north and a south side location to also cater for people’s many a varying locations. 

F:  What are your proudest accomplishments?

One of my proudest moments was arranging ‘You’re The Voice’ for 2500 choristers (including Cheep Trill) to sing at a Queensland Music Festival performance, singing out about domestic violence. John Farnham made a surprise appearance and sang the arrangement with the choir. It was the only different arrangement of that song that John Farnham had ever sung. 

Another proud moment was singing at Queensland Performance Arts Centre concert hall stage and ROCKING OUT! Also, seeing the female Cheep Trill members accompany Deb Conway, Clare Bowditch and a bunch of other amazing female artists at The Tivoli, singing my arrangement of Hymn To Her by Pretenders. 

F: That's remarkable - and in a comparatively short time. It also strikes me that Cheep Trill integrates your skills as a composer/arranger, teacher/conductor, and singer/musician. You have been teaching private lessons for several years. What first drew you to teaching?

E: At first, it was quite simply the need to fund my art (and being a bad waitress). 

F: Who do you teach?

E: I have actually quit my teaching job in 2017 because choir work was getting too busy. I was teaching beginners or people with naturally good voices but limited experience, mostly between the ages of 20-40. 

F: Wow, that's really exciting! What approaches have you developed to work with choirs or individuals?

E: I put emphasis in finding my students’ unique voice and working with that, rather than teaching a particular technique or telling them how they should sound. 

I try to make each lesson fun as well as informative and challenging

I value wo rds, so putting strong emphasis on story telling as well as technique 

F: Describe your dream student

E: Someone hungry to learn, able to take constructive criticism, someone who practices, who listens, who is excited to try new genres and who is interested in song arrangement and writing! 

Source: Emma Dean's YouTube channel

Source: Emma Dean's YouTube channel

F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

E: I’d probably say ‘B******t’. Then I would try to create something with them and prove them wrong. 

F: How can musical training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be a singer or musician?

E: Listening skills, confidence, connection, storytelling, public speaking, controlling nerves and breathing, fun and play, creative release, a sense of belonging, a sense of achievement…and the list goes on. 

F: What are the moments that reward you as a teacher?

E: When someone walks away from a lesson feeling happier and more connected than when they walked in. Simple. 

F: In your own learning, did you have any teachers who were pivotal ? What qualities or actions made them so influential? 

E: My high school music teacher, Narelle McCoy! She is a firey, passionate, highly intelligent red head and she forced me to audition for the school musical after I had been in hospital with depression. She believed in me and showed me that I could do more than I ever imagined. She was the reason I realised I could become a singer and probably the reason I had red hair for so long too! 

Source: https://www.tigercommon.com/

Source: https://www.tigercommon.com/

F: What is your business?  What is unique about it/them?

E: The Tiger Common is my music school. We are different because we place emphasis on community and try to connect our students as much as we can, through choir, workshops and other informal events. Our mission is to encourage creativity, human connection, self-love and respect through the magical and healing powers of music.

F: How did you get into starting your own business?

E: I had already started Cheep Trill and I was working with Tony Dean (my brother) and Corinne Buzianczuk and we were looking to ‘formalise’ what we did and include our teaching work and workshops. It was a natural progression. 

F: Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones’s business is so personal?

E: It is certainly harder to not take conflict personally when you run a heart-based business. But I have learnt that the bigger we get, the more likely it is that we will not be able to please everyone. 

F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced?

E: The toughest thing to do so far was splitting the choir in two. We were responding to so many location requests and we thought the best idea would be to have a north and a south side location. However, many of the choristers believed this meant we were splitting up the family. Another tough learning curve was to figure out what to do when we would receive gig requests for a choir of 50 people. We have 150. We are still figuring this out! 

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/track/feed-it

Source: https://emmadean.bandcamp.com/track/feed-it

F: What are the most useful strategies that support your business and work?

E: Honestly, the key is communication. Tony, Corinne and I have a whatsapp thread that has been invaluable and we have regular in person meetings. Knowing where all our different strengths lie has been incredible. 

F: What performer skills have come in useful in your business?

E: Standing in front of a choir for two hours two nights a week and trying to teach as well as entertain is a performance in itself. My career as a performer has been invaluable! 

F: Is there a tension between your career as an artist and your business?

E: Only when it comes to scheduling!  In terms of the creative stuff, the business feeds into the artist stuff and vice versa! I feel more balanced than ever before because both itches are being scratched. The business also helps to take the pressure off needing to make a certain amount of money from my artistic pursuit! 

F: How do you go about networking/promoting your business?

E: Word of mouth has been the most valuable thing alongside performing in front of new audiences! 

F: What challenges does your business experience?

E: Community choirs have TAKEN OFF here in Brisbane (and perhaps everywhere!) which is a wonderful thing. Recently we had an experience where we had an idea to expand the business and reached out to a venue with a proposal. We didn’t hear back and then next thing we knew, an acquaintance was doing the exact idea we proposed at the same venue… This might have been a coincidence, but it took me about six months to emotionally recover. Now I keep things closer to my chest and instead of comparing our business to others, I focus on making our business the best it can be. 

F: Yes! I have definitely seen that happen a few times in a city like Brisbane, unfortunately. When I get excited, I like to share or bounce ideas off others and I have to remember to stay quiet. Where do you see your business going?

E: I actually don’t want it to get much bigger, because the sense of community is lost when it gets too big. I am being contracted to do a lot of other choir work outside of Cheep Trill which is keeping me busy without disrupting the preciousness of my own choir community. 

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

Source: http://www.emmadean.com/

F: What is the most draining aspect of your business?

E: It involves constant, time-consuming  music arranging and having to be somewhere in real time to actually make money.  So there is no passive income, it’s just a bit of a long hard slog. A slog which I love and enjoy, but a slog nonetheless! 

 

F: And how do you manage maintain your enthusiasm for this work? 

E: As mentioned, I don’t manage this very well. Wine? 

 

You can follow Emma Dean through her websiteInstagram, FacebookTwitter, YouTube channel or on Candyrat Records. You can read further interviews with Emma Dean and articles about her career here.

We didn't have nearly enough time to cover everything! I invite you to learn more about The Tiger Common, a collaboration between Emma Dean, Tony Dean, and Corinne Buzianczuk offering creative workshops, musical coaching, and the community choir Cheep Trill in order to build a community united by a love of music.

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Gabrielle Leah New: Passion Is Creating

Gabrielle Leah New On The Healing Power of Connection and Being An Artist Who Doesn't Paint

This is the third in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

Bystander. Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Leah New

Bystander. Copyright © 2017 Gabrielle Leah New

Gabrielle Leah New is a practicing performing artist and a senior Occupational Therapist (OT). She runs her own theatre company, The Space Between Performance Collective, and has traveled around the world for numerous residencies, performances, and exhibitions, which can be read about further here. Her OT work, blended with her surrealist costume, installation, video, and live performance works means that Gabrielle is rarely ever still - and never bored!

I had the privilege of meeting Gabrielle in 2010 when we were both interns at Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre Company in Brisbane, Australia. I performed in her butoh show Creature, and I have been following her work ever since.

Stair. Costume by Camilla Gough. Image by Tony Banks

Stair. Costume by Camilla Gough. Image by Tony Banks

F: Tell me a little about your background in the arts. 

G: I grew up in Melbourne Australia. I studied art at high school then went on to do a degree in Occupational Therapy. I have traveled extensively living in the UK, New Zealand and India. I feel like I’m a citizen of the world.

My training is quite unusual. I have always had an arts practice but it wasn’t until I was 30 that I began my formal training post high school. I went to the Conservatorium of the Arts in Lismore where I studied dance. I was particularly interested in Butoh (Japanese contemporary dance) which I had discovered the year before by attending community classes. I went on to study Butoh with teachers around the world and working with MAU Dance Theatre in New Zealand. I then returned to Australia and studied 3D Art and did a directing internship with Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre in Brisbane.

My main art form was dance and physical performance for many years and I still train and attend classes regularly but over time my practice has developed to be more of a multi-arts practice. This particularly changed after completing a Masters in Fine Art a few years ago and since then I have been exhibiting more in the gallery space than theatres. I now consider myself a multidimensional performing artist, as performance and the body always underpin my multi-arts practice.

F: Your art has taken you to lots of interesting places. What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced?

Working with MAU in the early 2000s took me to the 4 yearly Pacific Arts Festival in Noumea, New Caledonia. Here I had a major identity crisis as a white Australian performing Japanese dance for a pacific Island dance company and delegation from the Aotearoa, New Zealand. I have danced in Fjords in Norway, In storms painted gold in Japan, in creeks and the ocean in New Zealand and in a city park in Vancouver, Canada. I love making work in/for extraordinary spaces.

Most recently I exhibited and had a residency in Lisbon, Portugal and am on my way to India and Sri Lanka to make work.

Blue. Image by Karsten Muhlhaus

Blue. Image by Karsten Muhlhaus

F: You have created many collaborative creative works. What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration?

Collaborating with other artists is my favorite way to work and I’ve been lucky enough to work with some amazing people. One of the challenges is finding people you gel with and can create a shared vision and language with, this can take time. The benefit for me is having someone to bounce ideas around with and I think that the outcome always benefits from collaborating if people are clear on their roles. Sometimes it’s been tricky when creatives disagree but a resolution has always been possible through listening well and respecting each other. I have been collaborating with sound artists Norman Skipp for over 15 years now even though we live on other sides of the world.

Working in theatre, collaboration is a necessity. You need other people to do the things you don’t have the skills for, like sound and lighting for me. I usually have a lot of input and discussion with collaborators but ultimately I trust them to do what they do best. In my extended arts practice I still work with other people who have skills in areas that I don’t. for example I have made two projects with a videographer/editor, I WANT… and ‘States of Being.

F: Did this require you to take on additional training/learning curves?

G: No, as a therapist I had already developed good communication skills. I’m a team player as well as being really comfortable to share my ideas and opinions so collaboration works well for me. 

F: What drives you in your work?

G: I have a passion to create. I constantly have ideas forming in my mind. My main interests, that all the content for my work comes from, are from my therapy practice and a deep desire to understand people. Archetypal stories and myths as a reflection of the human condition alongside current contemporary dilemmas such as Greed, a project I created that had a number of components including two video installations, an internet group and a live, participatory, site-specific performance. My work often externalizes internal worlds making the invisible visible.

Bird. Image by unknown

Bird. Image by unknown

F: To what extent have you been able to make your creativity work an aspect of all of your jobs? Do you have other (non-creative) work that you engage in? How did you make that choice?

G: I feel that creativity infuses all that I do. In my work as a therapist, I integrate creative activities (which is par for the course for OT’s). I have developed movement therapy groups for people with serious mental illness and a creative art based group for people with mental health and substance use issues. I use it in my work with individuals and with making dinner in the evening when I get home.

F: How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?

As a group facilitator and therapist, I need to be able to perform, improvise, listen and respond. My ongoing training allows me to be constantly developing these skills. I think a lot of my training is about being present. In my work I need to be present with people who are in psychological pain and also be available to them authentically but without my personal shit interfering with the process. I think my practice as an artist and therapist feed and support each other.

F: Yes! Your ability to be seamless between Artist and Occupational Therapist had a profound influence on my own career.

What does your creative process look like? 

G: My creative process is a lot of thinking to start with. I create things in my head before making them in the real world. I tend to create in bursts and I work best under pressure, when I have deadlines. Also if I make dedicated time and space. Physical training and writing are important ongoing elements of my practice. I flood with ideas; I’m never short on them. It’s a process of sifting through them, which ones stick, which are practical and achievable and starting them and seeing where they go.

F: Gabrielle, you have such an impressive list of endeavours, performances and exhibitions. What are your proudest accomplishments thus far?

N: I think my biggest accomplishment is supporting people to move through mental and emotional difficulties to create a better life for themselves. It’s a real privilege to be able to work with people at their most vulnerable and see them rediscover their personal power.

I am also immensely proud of making CREATURE- a shapeshifting journey in butoh wonderland with the company I directed - The Space Between Performance Collective.

More recently, it has been my solo exhibitions, residencies, and receiving an award for my video performance installation Persephone 7 of which I am proudest.

Free. Photo by Shelley Wilson

Free. Photo by Shelley Wilson

F: What role does communication, performance, and using your voice and body to connect to others have in your life? Why is it important?

G: I believe one of the key elements in healing trauma and addiction is connection. Often verbal communication is difficult initially so having other ways of communicating through movement or drawing or other creative forms can be great initially and I use these creative tools a lot in my work. OT is about healing through doing. I think that doing, action, being in the body allows one to find their voice. We all have multiple and individual ways of expressing and as a therapist, it is important for me to be able to offer a range of meaningful alternatives to my clients. My job is to be creative in what I can offer my clients and not to be stuck in one way or one thing that I offer. When working with trauma clients memories are often stored in the body (differently how regular memories are stored) moving in new ways can help move clients through these stuck emotions and give them more options for responding to events and their environments in the future.

F: Working so intensively with people, how do you prevent burnout? 

G: By not working 9-5, 7 days a week and taking lots of holidays. Having a balance between my personal, creative and work life. Having a supportive partner. Staying healthy.

Porcelin Face, SJD Music Video

Porcelin Face, SJD Music Video

F: My own work is founded on the belief that an arts education not only makes people better citizens (heck, better human beings), but that training in art gives individuals concrete and adaptable skills. 

N: I definitely agree. I think anything that makes you more tuned into your own creativity gives you more options on how you respond to situations, we break out of habitual patterns and understand ourselves better,

F: What skills have you gained through your art form that you apply in other contexts?

Improvising. Trusting my instincts. Listening (half of communicating). Self-reflection. Giving feedback to others generously. Being grounded in my body. Facilitating groups. Creating activities to meet a particular investigation. Trying new things. Dealing with failure. Persistence. Acceptance. Intuition is a daily part of my life. Everything is based on my intuition. It is strong. I trust it and I listen to it. My aesthetics are present in my home environment, how I dress and the art I make.

F: How do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces?

G: I’m not sure that I do. They often merge. I have really clear personal boundaries and sense of self which helps me to create balance in my life. My boundaries often blur but I don’t have a problem with it and I don’t question it. I think it’s difficult when we compartmentalize our lives. My life is my life it’s messy and not in little boxes. I don’t separate my creative skills with my life skills. It’s all blurry. I am what I am not what I do.

F: Do you have to behave “differently” depending on the environment you are interacting with? 

G: Yes and no. I’m always just being me but at the same time using Improvisation Skills and Being present to the moment, the person, the situation so what I do is different and individually tailored.

F: Tell me a little about your teaching.

G: I teach butoh when I’m asked to do so. This includes performance/art professionals and novices. I also facilitate groups for people with trauma, mental health and addiction issues of all ages and stages. It's rewarding when students discover something new in themselves and they change habits. Or as one of my teachers used to say ‘Find another way.’

F: Do you have an "ideal student"?

G: I’m not sure I have one. I suppose one that challenges me, one that I also learn from.

Baby Bird. Image by Aven Darling

Baby Bird. Image by Aven Darling

F: With such diverse teaching work, what values underpin your approach to teaching?

G: Growth, trust, exploration, risk, adventure, self-reflection, challenge

F: And what do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

G: I think everyone is creative but they have a narrow definition of what creative is. People are often injured in their school education by being told that. I try to help them to see all the ways that they are creative in their lives that aren’t being able to paint or draw or sing. Living is a creative act.

F: How can art, music, or movement training benefit someone who doesn’t wish to be a performer?

G: This is the key question. The answer is ‘In so many ways!’ They are kind of elusive and magical and amazing but include; confidence, self-esteem, personal power, better communication, passion, fun, community, mind expansion, connection with others, self-reflection, self-expression, new friends, using new parts of the brain, new skills, spiritual development, etc, etc.

When I went to dance school I had no interest in being a performer. I went because it was something I liked to do. Over time it grew and grew and grew.

I’ve been lucky enough to have many amazing teachers. I think my favorites have a generosity of spirit and they are always learning from their students and refining their practice through their teaching. They do their job but don’t put themselves above you. They are very positive people and have so much to give that is truly authentic. The training is physically and mentally hard but they remain soft. They are fun.

F: Tell me about your business.

G: I’m not really that interested in business. I do what I do because I love it. I don’t fit the mold and I don’t do things the way others do. I’m just making it up as I go along. I follow my intuition and my passions and dreams. I am unique so what I do is and how I do it is. I like making stuff and helping people find more joy in this difficult world.

I started my business because it was something I needed to try. It’s hard and a lot of it is pretty boring. I’m not sure it’s for me. I don’t see myself as an entrepreneur. I’m not that driven by money or business more by what interests me and challenges me and creating a life where I can utilize my skills and develop them and support others as I do that. It’s about following my passions. I’m not cutthroat and I don’t think that actually serves anyone. I think we all need to work as a community and support each other where we can in whatever way we can. 

Fear, States of Being. Image by Robert Spillane.

Fear, States of Being. Image by Robert Spillane.

F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced in running a business?

G: Early on I realized that the hardest times were the times of biggest growth. I relish them and use them as opportunities for my personal growth. I always trusted my instincts and faced my fears trusting that things would work out. Never do things that make you feel terrible for too long.

I think self-doubt is part of growth and moving outside of one's comfort zones. Growing is uncomfortable but soooo rewarding. I think my arts practice and training has taught me how to do this and know that it’s safe. It has also taught me how to fail and manage rejection. Being an artist you really need to know how to manage constant rejection and keep going.

F: Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones' business is so reliant on you? How do you manage these?

G: Yes. I think this is my biggest obstacle as I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe. I find it hard to stay in the same place doing the same thing for too long which makes it difficult to develop my own business. I also find it hard to do things I’m not interested in likes tax and plan for more than 6 months in advance which you need to do as an artist and with your own business. 

The environment constantly changing. I’ve been in the therapy business for over 25 years and in 3 different countries. In Australia, customers are wanting more choice. 

In my private practice, getting clients is difficult as I often don’t put much energy into promoting my business. When working for others, it's key to find support to take creative risks. And in my arts practice, the challenge is managing rejection as well as finding time, space and resources to continue.

I just keep on trying to do the best that I can do.

Jump. Image by Robert Spillane

Jump. Image by Robert Spillane

F: What are the most useful strategies to support you through these challenges?

G: Having good regular supervision. Having great supports and mentors. Getting other people to do the stuff you don’t like or aren’t good at.

F: Is there a tension between your career as an artist and running a business?

G: Mostly time and splitting my attention but I have made peace with this and do both to my best ability as I know that I need both in my life. Both are of great importance to me. Tension is Ok. I think I could be much better promoting my business. This is one side of the business that I feel I’m not great at. I need a Personal Assistant. There is so much documentation and form filling and rubbish that needs to be done now.

F: Where do you see your business going (eg. is it about consolidation/growth/transforming services)?

G: Currently, I’m not sure. I’ve taken 8 months off to travel and work on creative projects but I want to head more into Community arts and engagement with a healing focus. 

 

You can follow Gabrielle Leah New's work through her websiteInstagram, FacebookLinkedIn, or Redbubble

 

We can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: 


#CreativeInnovative with Natalie Schneck: Dancing the Bottom Line

Natalie Schneck On Bringing Dance to Every Body, Building a Business, and Achieving Balance

This is the first in a regular series of blog posts in which I speak with exciting artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs exploring how their creative skills have enabled them to do incredible things in their personal and professional lives.

You can find all of these interviews by searching for the tag #CreativeInnovative.

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Natalie Schneck is a performer, dancer, choreographer, teacher, and entrepreneur. She is the Founder and Owner of the dance company 123 Steps Ahead. As 123 Steps Ahead's first American partner, Vibrance is very excited to bring this program to the Atlanta area in 2018. Stay tuned!

F: We first met each other in 2004 and were in the same theatre ensemble at Simon Fraser University’s School for the Contemporary Arts. While we remained friends, our lives have taken us in different paths. However, what is remarkable is how our complementary underlying values have directed our lives. This has led to an exciting new chapter, a partnership allowing us to foster and support each other professionally. 

N: Yes, you and I ended up in quite an eclectic ensemble at SFU and what was great about the group was the collective work ethic we created. I feel like that work ethic combined with a strong inclination for innovation and creativity has absolutely brought us to this new and exciting chapter! 

F: To start with, tell me a little about your training in the arts.

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N: I’ve been involved in creative arts since preschool. I was born in Edmonton, Alberta. As a teenager I performed in several musical theatre shows both in and out of school, and took some dance lessons. I went on to complete a BFA in theatre performance from SFU followed by a year intensive of contemporary dance technique and choreographic training at Concordia University in Montreal. Throughout my training, I was often creating and performing in my own theatre and dance works or in the work of other artists. One of the highlights of my performance career was my very first professional dance contract in French choreographer Jerome Bel’s international hit piece, The Show Must Go On. I also had the pleasure of dancing in a creation by Catherine Gaudet for the 2015 TransFormation program.  I have been lucky to have my own work shown across Canada, in Calgary, Montreal, Edmonton, and Toronto. Recently, I created and performed a show in Vancouver with musician and composer Elliot Vaughan, under Iffy South, his band's name.

F: Has your training taken you to other places? What are some of the most interesting locations you have experienced? 

N: Yes, I took a trip to Berlin and Poznań, Poland a few years ago and spent time in the underground dance clubs moving to industrial music, eurodance, and dubstep. I also saw shows at small theatres and cabarets. I’ll never forget witnessing the woman dancing alone in a park in Poland, the park was idealistic in its landscaping while she was totally disheveled in her movements. These images and experiences continue to be very inspiring and informative for my artistic work. 

More formally, I took dance workshops with Polish and American artists in Portland as part of the TBA festival and I found that city energetic and also soothing, especially during festival time. I also took classes in NYC and that was cool, being taught by former Russian ballet stars in Manhattan and then learning from a contemporary company in Brooklyn, it was a good experience to get both types of work in my body. Then, being chosen to work with Compagnie Marie Chouinard in Montreal for an répertorie intensive of The Rite of Spring. I loved that! So imaginative and open, a lot of release and breath work and you can see this softness and responsiveness in the bodies of her dancers. 

F: You have created some incredible projects, many of which are collaborative and call on your ability to communicate. 

N: Thank you! Yes, communication really is a skill. 

F: What are the benefits and challenges of collaboration? 

N: The benefits are that you are working with people and the challenges are that you are working with people! Haha. But in all seriousness, when you collaborate you are able to work with another perspective, another skill set and another sensibility, this can be such a strength if it aligns well.  The challenge is separating the actual work from one’s own personal projections and what I call “stuff” while still expressing a sensitivity and openness – it is quite delicate and requires a lot of presence. I always think about laying the most fertile and fun ground for someone else to flourish and for his or her ideas to come to fruition - for each person that looks quite different. A good question I like to remember is, “what does this person need right now?” 

F: Yes, I find myself asking the same thing! It’s a totally different mindset when you make it about where the other person is “at” and use that awareness to shape your communication with them.

N: Yes, communication has to be flexible because connecting with other people requires flexibility, people come to the lunch or coffee table with a lot of their own stuff and it’s complicated. Flexibility and knowing when to actively listen is important. 

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"communication has to be flexible because connecting with other people requires flexibility, people come to the lunch or coffee table with a lot of their own stuff and it’s complicated. Flexibility and knowing when to actively listen is important."

 

F: For you, what are some of the accomplishments of which you are most proud?

N: First, I am developing a life for myself that is true to who I am (this is ongoing), I have lived where I want to live, I have allowed myself time and space to become and evolve as an artist, I have met amazing and inspiring people from all walks of life. 

The second is in creating the 123 Steps Ahead program and seeing the positive impact it is having on people, it really is a feeling like no other. 

Third is my education. I think education is so important and I really do have mine to thank as a gateway to a different and beautiful life. 

F: How did you decide to take your art in the direction of creating 123 Steps Ahead? 

N: I started working in education in Montreal and I saw the benefits of physical educational programming. I also Loved the kids and wanted to be able to take my training and experience in the arts into a program that would benefit them long term. 

I am passionate about dance being for everybody and I fundamentally believe in this. This does not mean that I think “democratizing dance” is better than say training intensively in ballet since the time one was three. Rather, it is a different way of seeing a possible dance training trajectory for someone. I have an innate sense of justice I think the 123 philosophy really is an extension of this.

F: Did this require you to take on additional training/encountered learning curves?

N: I did the additional year of training at Concordia in Montreal as a mature student and then it was many workshops and ordering books on fundamentals of creative movement for children and youth that I would draw from in my research and creation of a curriculum, it was also consulting OT’s such as yourself, Educational Psychologists and RCC’s. All of this was necessary for where I am now. 

F: Are you able to make your creativity an aspect of all of your jobs?

N: My creativity and rigour is always present. Sometimes it comes out in my ability to hyper-focus and concentrate on a task, or in ow I collaborate on a new idea or come out with innovative solutions to problems big or small. Or just dipping into my sensitivity when I see that a colleague is needing something different from me in terms of communication. 

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F: Do you have other (non-creative) work that you engage in? How did you make that choice?

N: Yes – I work in development at The Cultch, a contemporary arts theatre and gallery in the city; I chose this particular job because it required a solid combination of skills I already have along with the opportunity to sharpen new skills such as running campaigns and copywriting. 

F: And that dovetails with your business education, another way to combine that with the arts and support you own business. 

How do you use your performance skills in undertaking “non-creative” jobs?

N: I am an active and present listener with coworkers and clients. I also can read situations quickly and respond appropriately. I am skilled at problem solving quickly, at reading situations and the emotional tone quickly and adjusting. Emotionally intelligence is immensely valuable; reading between the lines of communication and responding appropriately, or knowing that if something seemingly negative happens it is almost always not personal. And also awareness of other cultures, when I am in Montreal I do my best to speak french, stuff like that…it goes a long way.

F: How do you create? From where do you draw inspiration?

N: It really depends. Sometimes ideas come to me quickly and intensely and I have to respond and then sometimes there is nothing for a little while. My inspiration is not consistent but I do know that when I feel inspired I am committed to that feeling and it is almost like I have to respond to it – I have to express something put of it. Lately, it has been music, a lot of music, which aligns well with my program and with my choreographic work; I love how words in a rhythmic form such as a song can fit so well with movements.  

F: What role does communication, performance, and using your voice/body to connect to others, to create an impact have in your life? 

 N: It plays a huge role on a daily basis, my work really only manifests through other people so clarity of communication both physical and verbal is vital and necessary. Also, you can’t do it alone in this world so earning how to connect genuinely and in the present with other people is key. 

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F: You're juggling two jobs and still creating work! How do you prevent burnout? 

N: I take a day off – a true day off and I let myself flow, just do whatever I want in no order and in no set rhythm, this is usually quite nourishing creatively. 

F: Oh my goodness! I do the same I need a day or two that isn’t run on the clock, where my brain can just idle and process as it needs to.

Do you set boundaries with regards to managing your personal from your creative spaces? 

N: Good question. Personally I am actually quite introverted. I need a lot of alone time and I enjoy being alone. So I suppose that’s a boundary in itself. It’s like when I collaborate it’s social time and I enjoy that, but I know at the end of the night or day I am going home alone and I need that. I also work to keep relationships in the context they are in, if it’s work it’s work, if it’s friends and business then it’s friends and business, if it’s intimate then it’s intimate. However, I think adapting and compartmentalizing too much is not good – it means I can’t be my holistic and genuine self. I am aware that my ability to compartmentalize can be an impediment so I practice flexibility with these ideas as things always change.

F: Yes, I like people and I like finding those who collaborate well, but I also find myself “on” around others and know that I recharge alone.

What roles do intuition and aesthetic play in your personal life?

N: Intuition has come more and more into play as I get older. I just have feelings about situations, both work and personal, and I have started to trust those feelings more and respond or make decisions in accordance. I am always drawn to creating a certain aesthetic; I am really sensitive to space so I like things minimal for the most part. Although one of my dreams jobs is doing window displays! I think it would be fun – maybe 123 Steps Ahead will have a window display one day. 

F: Can you give us an idea of what some of the communities with which you are identified?

N: I connect to the artistic community, families and youth, the business community, the philanthropist community, the legal community. I think it informs me in the sense that I take on projects that are both creative and pragmatic. I love meeting new people and I am forever curious about people. Before I go to dinner or coffee with someone I often think “I can’t wait to hear this person’s story!” This excites me. I love people and I am fascinated by where they come from them, all the experiences they’ve had, and how all this has shaped their perspective and what’s important to them. 

F: Has your community activism evolved?  What lessons have you learned along the way?

N: It really has. I am proud of bringing 123 Steps Ahead to so many people so far and leaving a positive and empowering experience with them. What have I learned along the way? To get really comfortable with failure, to make friends with the idea – when you try something new there’s growing pains, there’s iterations, and there’s problem solving, all these things are OK and necessary. 

F: What type of students do you teach?

N: Right now we teach children, youth and adults from 18 months – no limit …we want to pilot a senior’s program and we are currently looking at PEI as a starting place. At all levels. Just be open and imaginative with a sense of humour. 

F: What values underpin your teaching approach?

N: I believe in the value of 123 Steps Ahead because our program is graded to meet each client, child or adult, at his or level, developing functional and efficient movement in a creative and fun environment. 123 Steps Ahead is about the democratisation of dance, creating opportunities for children and adults regardless of their circumstance, to experience a dance class and to receive dance training. The 123 Steps Ahead kids are not judged on technique or by living up to a coded dance standard; they are nurtured and encouraged to grow from the level they are at. With 123 Steps Ahead, there is space for everybody, and every person is a valuable member of the class. This ideology works to create confidence in each child that his or her presence and ideas are worthwhile, and regardless of background, everybody has a voice and a valuable contribution to make. This way, we build confidence and social skills.

We have grown throughout Canada, offering our program in community centres, schools, and daycares. Recently,  in partnership with March of Dimes Canada, we have been able to offer our program to children who have special needs. This year, we started offering private sessions with children and adults. Now it is time to begin expanding this program into the United States.  

Image used with parental permission

Image used with parental permission

F: What do you say to people who claim to “not be creative”?

N: I just don’t agree! I think creativity is a human quality and yes there are varying levels but I believe that everyone has creative ability, it just comes out in different forms and on different scales and that’s actually really cool. 

 F: What are the moments that reward you as a teacher?

N: When a student take a concept and tries it autonomously; when he or she is able to fully integrate a movement pattern; when we work together to see that “failing” at something actually just created another movement that is more beautiful in it’s authenticity.  

 

F: How did you get into starting your own business? 

N: I was in Montreal. I was lonely, uncomfortable, and felt challenged by being an outsider and at a transitional time in my life. Making art in theatre and dance didn’t hold the same meaning for me anymore. I started leaning towards teaching more so then performing and I found this aligned passion working with kids. I loved seeing the positive impact I could bring to them. This started with teaching a sports program to several public and private groups in Montreal, then, because schools and daycares wanted me to stay on board working with the kids, I proposed a creative movement program that I had begun to create - 123 Steps Ahead. 

F: What was the toughest learning curve that you experienced? How did you tackle this phase? 

N: My very first class of 123 Steps Ahead in Montreal was very difficult, it felt like I was continually failing and it almost caused me to not take a much larger contract which would have been such a mistake! My program ran so well at Garderie Papillon. What got me through was my ability to problem solve and then to incorporate solutions that worked into my next contract. Also being aware that personalizing the situation was not useful. 

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F: It’s all that creation process isn’t it, not everything works out the first time. The wheels fall off and you think either, “Oh now I know what to do” or, “I have no idea what the solution is but that isn’t it!”

Do you feel that there are unique challenges when ones’s business is so personal to you? 

N: Yes I feel highly responsible, which is true – I am, for many things. I think practicing boundaries is crucial. Otherwise it is easy to become overwhelmed. I am also interested in having a business partner; it just needs to be the right fit. I suppose we are doing a sort of model of this, and I like it! It feels right (there’s that intuition!)

F: What are the most useful strategies/tools/devices/programs that support your business and work? 

N: Definitely our lesson plan manual and the website. I am actually in the process of transitioning over to Square Space. And then there are our partners, March of Dimes Canada, CPE terre des Enfants to name a few…Vibrance Center soon as well!

F: As an entrepreneur, what creative skills come in useful?

N: Knowing when to be extroverted, bringing form to the chaos, problem solving, emotional intelligence, sensitivity to other people, also knowing when to let go of an idea or a possible contract or partner

I have a sense of humor. Also personality wise I am innately practical and work with “the bottom line” but I also allow myself space for creativity. When I feel myself becoming severe or falling into the anxiety of the high stakes I practice self care, maybe it’s a movie, maybe a bath or a dance class, this always helps. 

F: How has the landscape of your sector changed? Have customer’s expectations changed? 

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N: I think now more then ever parents are looking for programming that will instill confidence and social skills in their children along with physical literacy that will be with them for the rest of their lives. I can speak to the huge benefits of exercise and physical activity as a healthy regulation and coping tool 

As my program doesn’t teach traditional coded dance such as ballet and some schools really want defined dance programs – hip hop, ballet, etc. That is just not 123, and it’s crucial that we stick with our branding and our value system, even though it means losing some contracts. 

F: Where do you see your business going?

N: Eventually 123 Steps Ahead will be global for children, youth, and families. We will also expand to adults and seniors. It’s really going to open up a “I can do it” attitude in learning dance and break down the notion of elitism. I think we will have a whole new global generation of dancers that are amazing just the way they are. I am excited for this!

You can follow 123 Steps Ahead through the website, Facebook page, and Instagram

Whatever your aims, we can aid you in achieving your goals with our individualised approach and flexible sessions. Contact us: