Tag Archives: RIFF

Q&A: Avery-Jai Andrews

Avery-Jai Andrews (bottom) in Notturno with Keyhole Dance Project. Photo: Mario Squotti

The Dallas native on coming home and starting Don’t Ask Why Dance Company, which makes its world premiere this Friday.

Plano — As in any industry, the Dallas dance market has seen its fair share of highs and lows since I moved to the city almost a decade ago. In the two years following the opening of the AT&T Performing Arts Center in the fall of 2009, the Dallas dance community saw an impressive rise in the number of professional dance companies in the area, including Avant Chamber Ballet, Dark Circles Contemporary Dance, Danielle Georgiou Dance Group and Bruce Wood Dance. The dance scene’s next noticeable growth spurt happened around 2014 with the influx of more local dance festivals such as Dallas DanceFest, Rhythm in Fusion Festival and later, Wanderlust Dance Project. Since then the dance market has plateaued, with many dance companies and organizations struggling to find cost effective ways to increase funding and ticket sales without disrupting their bottom lines.

Now, the Dallas dance market is about due for another growth spurt and I believe it will come in the form of fresh talent like Avery-Jai Andrews, who grew up in Dallas but left to pursue dancing elsewhere and is now returning home to start her own dance company. Like many serious dancers here in Dallas, Andrews attended Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts (BTWHSPVA) before being accepted into New York University’s (NYU) Tisch School of the Arts. After graduating from NYU in 2014, Andrews decided to move overseas where she danced professionally with artists in Italy, Israel and Germany.

In 2016 Andrews made the decision to come home to Dallas and start making her own work, which is how her dance company, Don’t Ask Why, came into existence. The company’s first performance is this Friday, with performances at 6:30 and 8:30 p.m., at the White Theater, part of the state-of-the-art facilities that make up the new Dance Industry Performing Arts Center in Plano. Titled GESTALT, which is a German word meaning an organized whole that is perceived as more than the sum of its parts, the 45-minute piece features Italian-based contemporary dance company Keyhole Dance Project.

TheaterJones talked to Avery-Jai Andrews to find out more about her European contemporary dance style, the lessons she has learned abroad and what viewers can expect to see at Don’t Ask Why Dance Company’s premiere performance.

TheaterJones: What made you decide to come back to Dallas to form your own dance company?

Avery-Jai Andrews: Dallas is such a vibrant city, and I know for me and my dance friends when we come back home there is always something new happening in the dance community, and I think that is what’s pulling a lot us [professional dancers] back to the area. With that said, I have spent the last three years traveling between New York, Europe and Israel, and I finally had enough of that and wanted to come back to Dallas with the intention of settling down and creating my own work. So, in October 2016 I made the decision to start changing things so I could start to create my own non-profit.

Avery-Jai Andrews. Photo: Courtesy

How has your perception of the dance scene in Dallas changed since leaving for college in the fall of 2010?

I remember we moved into the new section of Booker T. at the end of my Freshman year, so I really got to experience the changes happening in Arts District first hand, but by the end of my Senior year I was ready to leave home and experience being a college kid. I feel like when I left that dance wasn’t something that I wanted to do here in Dallas. I thought that I needed to be in New York in order to make it as a professional dancer. My mind wasn’t opened up to the idea until I left America and I started seeing what was happening dance-wise in other countries and as my own voice started to become more clear. During this period of time I started to have more desire to share and to create, and I think that’s when the urge to find a place to settle down and start choreographing began to take over.

I mean when I went to college I had no idea that I really wanted to create and start my own company. I was just ready to be a dancer, join a company and to be living that New York fast-paced life. Now, don’t get me wrong. I absolutely love New York City, but I have started to realize that you are limited there. Everything is very expensive there, so when it comes to creating your own work in the city, you know outside of working to make money to pay your rent, you also have to find the free time and the money to be creative and I felt that would be more possible here. I just feel like Dallas is asking and wanting the young, different voices too. They want different flavors and there are a lot of people who want to support the arts. It’s so great to go to shows here and see an audience that is excited to be there and I feel like sometimes you miss that in the big cities where there are always dance performances happening.

Why did you chose to pursue a dancing career abroad after graduating from college?

I was blessed to study abroad over the summer to Salzburg Experimental Academy of Dance in Austria and that was my first taste of dance outside of the U.S. and more specifically the European contemporary style. It showed me a whole other world. I mean, just the way they use the space, sets, lights and costumes; it’s such an integrated feel that I think sometimes I’m missing out when I’m here in America. The experience opened my mind up to all that dance can be. That dance can be something more than I already see and so, when I got back and entered my last year of school I knew that I wanted to go back and felt like I needed to immerse myself in dance outside of the U.S. So, as soon as I graduated I ended up going to Israel to Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company’s Dance Journey program for five months.

Even with all the conflict that was happening between the Palestinians and the Israelis during this time, I still had a great time and the program helped me acknowledge that I have the tools and skills to be an artist and that I could go forth and be a professional. And because it is an international program I got to meet so many wonderful people from around the world and it is actually where I met Matteo Zamperin from Italy who started Keyhole Dance Project. I also met Elise Cleaver there, and I was in Hamburg with her in 2015 creating a new work. So, I still kept in contact with a lot of those people and that has afforded me the opportunity to travel more just from that program. The Dance Journey program really set me up to continue this deep desire of whatever was brewing in me to get out and explore the world. And just being in other cultures and living there, not just visiting or being there a week or two, but living in other countries has really expanded me as a human and had me questioning a lot about who I want to be and how I want to live my life.

As of today, how would you classify your movement style to audiences?

I am definitely not classical and I wouldn’t even say modern because I even see modern as a bit more classical so, I would say I am within the realm of European contemporary dance. What I like to focus on as a creative is, the dancers have to be physical and dynamic with their bodies but yet still relate to the people who are watching them. How can we still show that we are human, but then also be more expressive within our own bodies? So, I definitely put in those lines and we have big movements and we take the space and travel, but then I want us to be able to transition into just being human and being a body at the same time.

Can you explain Friday evening’s program to me?

The program is 45 minutes long with no intermission and I would describe it more as a performance experience.GESTALT is a collaboration with my friend Matteo and his Italian-based company, Keyhole Dance Project. He and I formed a good rapport through Kibbutz’s Dance Journey program and I knew that I wanted that again so, when I decided to produce my own show as a premiere for Don’t Ask Why I immediately reached out to him.

The theme of the show comes from its title GESTALT, which basically means the perceived whole is more important than the individual pieces that make up the whole image. That has served up very well in the creation process because Matteo hasn’t been here this whole time and just being a start-up we have been rehearsing here and there and so we were literally creating in pieces. And some of the material we worked with had been planned a year ago so most of our collaboration came into play when we started putting all these pieces of movement together. GESTALT is a very dynamic and layered piece and I’m personally enjoying that each of the seven performers is having an experience of their own throughout the work.

What is the inspiration behind the name Don’t Ask Why?

Well, when my mom came to my shows she would tell me ‘that was great, but why did that happen?’ and I would say, ‘Mom you don’t need to fully understand what I was thinking. I just want you to experience the movement.’ In my mind, as long as the show made her feel something then the job was done. I just want people to feel something when they see my work and that’s one of the reasons behind the name. The other is more personal and goes back to when my best friend Micaela White passed away right before I went to college and a year later I was in another scary situation with a close friend who was in the hospital and these experiences made me started questioning why me? Why am I in this place? At that time this felt like a very dangerous place psychologically to be in and so, I told myself that I was going to stop asking why and just keep moving forward. I have taken this philosophy with me since then and it has been a very productive thing for me to live by.

> This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com




Dance Council of North Texas Honors returns to Dallas Black Dance Theatre

The Dance Council Honors has thankfully split from Dallas DanceFest and will return to its more intimate setting at Dallas Black Dance Theatre.

Me at the 25th Dance Council Honors Sept. 30, 2012 at the Dallas Black Dance Theatre in Dallas.

I know I am not the only person happy about the fact the Dance Council Honors (DC Honors) will no longer be squeezed into Dallas DanceFest (DDF). For the last few years the DC Honors has occurred in conjunction with DDF and unfortunately has suffered as a result with the main complaint being the length of each evening’s program.

The presentation of the awards also lacked the comradory and celebratory atmosphere that has always been a part of the DC Honors, which is why I am glad that the event has split from DDF and will be returning to Dallas Black Dance Theatre on Oct. 29 for some food, fun and fantastic dancing. And, of course, we will hear from this year’s DC Honorees, which include Kathy Chamberlain, Stephanie Rae Williams, Patty Granville, Alpana Kagal Jacob and Malana Murphy.

Over the last couple of decades, these incredible individuals have made huge strives to better our local dance community thanks to their passion, dedication, knowledge, cultural awareness and above all love for the art form of dance. Because God knows we are not in it for the money!

Kathy Chamberlain. Photo courtesy of Chamberlain School of Ballet

I know I will be there to watch Kathy Chamberlain as she receives the Mary Bywaters Award for her lifetime contribution to dance.

I met Kathy one day at Sandy’s Shoes and Dancewear back in the summer of 2009. I had just moved to Dallas from Cleveland and knew absolutely no one in the local dance community. She took me under her wing and she and I had multiple phone conversations about the ins and outs of the Dallas dance scene. She is the one who lead me to local dance writer Margaret Putnam. I started off by reading a lot of Margaret’s reviews, which at the time were published in the Dallas Morning News and TheaterJones.com (TJ). This eventually lead me to contact TJ where I have now been writing dance previews, Q&As and reviews for the last six years.

Kathy was ultimately the one who jump-started my career here in Dallas and I will forever be grateful to her. And her willingness to help me is also one of the things I like most about our local dance community. Although everyone is technically in competition with one another they are always willing to lend a helping hand and offer up support when needed. So, I recommend offering your support to the dance community by coming to this year’s DC Honors. Even if you don’t know any of the honorees you should still come. I did when I first moved to Dallas and it taught me a lot about the city’s dance culture and the wide range of work being made here as well as the wealth of talent being fostered in our city schools and studios. You should definitely check it out!


I have included the official press release below:


For Immediate Release:

WHAT:  Dance Council of North Texas 2017 Honors 

WHEN: Sunday, October 29, 3:00 P.M.

WHERE: Dallas Black Dance Theatre, 2700 Ann Williams Way, Dallas, TX 75201 in Dallas Arts District

Dance Council of North Texas is pleased to honor five people within the area dance community who have made a significant contribution to world of dance.

 2017 DCNT Awardees:

Kathy Chamberlain is receiving the Mary Bywaters Award, which recognizes a person who has made a lifetime and significant contribution to dance. Dance Council of North Texas is delighted to join with Chamberlain School of Ballet, (CSB) Plano, as itcelebrates its 40th Anniversary. Chamberlain School of Ballet is the supporting school for Chamberlain Performing Arts, a leading North Texas pre-professional dance company founded by Ms. Chamberlain. She received the prestigious Ford Foundation Scholarship for study at the School of American Ballet, NYC.

Stephanie Rae Williams. Courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem

Stephanie Rae Williams is the recipient of the Natalie Skelton Award honoring a person who is currently performing. Ms. Williams was featured in Dance Magazine’s “On the Rise” in 2013. In 2005, she received the South Dallas Dance Festival Scholarship from DCNT. Stephanie was a Fellowship recipient at the Ailey School, a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Winner as well as a 2006 Youth America Grand Prix Finalist. As part of DC Honors, Stephanie will perform My Funny Valentine, choreographed by Darrell Mourie. She appears through the courtesy of Dance Theatre of Harlem, NYC.


The Mary Warner Award for service in dance recognizes Patty Granville, who exemplifies

Patty Granville. Courtesy of Garland Center for the Performing Arts

the individual whose vision is essential to the dance community. Ms. Granville has been the Director of the Garland Center for the Performing Arts since its opening in 1982. As one of the founders, she has served as producer for Garland Summer Musicals since 1983. In 2003, the Garland City Council unanimously voted to rename the Performing Arts Center to the Patty Granville Arts Center. Patty provides countless opportunities for performers, musicians and craftsmen to participate in musical theatre.


Larry White Educator Award recognizes Alpana Kagal

Alpana Kagal Jacob

Jacob for her inspiring and innovative contributions to her students’ development. After her Arangetram and graduation, she has been teaching Bharata Natyam to young children and adults. Alpana has been a guest lecturer at both UNT and TWU and has served as choreographer and teacher for Dallas Theater Center Summer Workshop projects. Alpana has taught at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Brookhaven College and Richland College. She is a disciplined  and loving teacher to all her students.

Malana Murphy. Courtesy of Next Step Performing Arts


Buster Cooper Tap Legend Award celebrates the exemplary contributions of Malana Murphy to America’s original dance form: tap. Malana began her professional career at the age of 14 while performing in the production of Calling All Kids, choreographed by Gracey Tune. In addition to graduating from Booker T Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, Malana has performed commercially and in industrials. Malana’s love for tap dancing has inspired her to share her passion and knowledge with students locally and across the United States. She is also the head of the local tap dance festival RIFF, which stands for Rhythm and Fusion Festival.


DBDT: Encore! will perform as well as Dance Council 2017 scholarship recipients.  The opening number is generation# (sic) choreographed by Tammie Reinsch of Ballet Ensemble of Texas. Doug Voet of Uptown Theatre in Grand Prairie will serve as the event’s emcee with Dallas Black Dance Theatre veteran Nycole Ray providing production assistance. Reception, refreshments and a silent auction will complete the afternoon’s agenda.


$35 – ADULT 

$30 – MEMBERS, Dance Council of North Texas

$20 STUDENTS, ages 13 through 18.  

STUDENTS, ages 12 and under: Free when accompanied by an adult

Tickets available: www.thedancecouncil.org  or by phone 214 219-2290

Tap Diva: Chloe Arnold

Chloe Arnold. Photo: Courtesy
Chloe Arnold. Photo: Courtesy

Professional tapper Chloe Arnold on her fly foot work, tap dance in the 21st century and participating in Dallas’ first Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF).

Dallas — Savion Glover. Debbie Allen. Desmond Richardson. Beyoncé. Only a handful of dancers can say they have worked with these incredibly talented artists. And even fewer can say they have impressed them with their poignant and zealous tap dancing. By 10 years old Chloe Arnold knew tap dance was her calling. From that moment on she did everything she could to hone her skill set with the hopes of one day becoming a professional tap dancer. She sought out the best in the tap world to train with, including Savion Glover, Gregory Hines, The Nicholas Brothers and Ted Levvy. She continued her training while in college at Columbia University in New York City at the Broadway Dance Center and at backstage jams with the cast of Bring In ‘da Noise, Bring In ‘da Funk.

Arnold knew in order to make it big in a field largely dominated by men she would need to bring something fresh to the table. Ironically enough it was Arnold’s all-female tap group, Syncopated Ladies, that would catapult her career and catch the attention of celebrities such as Beyoncé and hit T.V. shows like So You Think You Can Dance, America’s Got Talent and Dancing with The Stars.

Arnold is also committed to sharing her technique and professional experiences with other aspiring tap dancers. In addition to being seen on film, television and stages worldwide, Arnold is also the co-founder of DC Tap Festival and co-director of LA Tap Festival. She has taught at studios across the nation, including Broadway Dance Center, Ailey Extension and Debbie Allen Dance Academy and also tours with New York City Dance Alliance. It was at a Tap Festival in Houston a few years ago when she met Katelyn Harris, artistic director of the Dallas-based tap troupe Rhythmic Souls. Harris and Malana Murphy are the co-producers of Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF), Dallas’ first tap festival, where Arnold will be teaching and performing. The event feature master classes, improv jams, tap battles and a performance showcase, and also features other percussive dance forms, such as Irish step dancing, flamenco and folklórico. RIFF takes place Jan. 16-19 at The Majestic Theater in downtown Dallas. You can see a full schedule below this interview.

TheaterJones asks Chloe Arnold about honing her skills, creating Syncopated Ladies and what she hopes tappers will take away from her classes at Dallas’ first Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF). There’s also a faculty performance at 8 p.m. Sunday, for which tickets are $35.

TheaterJones: How did you hear about the Rhythm in Fusion Festival (RIFF)?

Chloe Arnold: I met Katelyn at a Soul to Soul Festival in Houston back when she was a part of Tapestry Dance Company. I heard she was moving to Dallas and teaches at a studio where I also teach master classes and attends New York City Dance Alliance (NYCDA). It was cool because I met her in the festival world and then I met her again in the convention world. I have seen a lot of her work on our stages at NYCDA and it’s always phenomenal. So, it was cool to meet someone who can transition between both worlds and has such a wonderful voice in dance and in tap.

What are the main differences between festival tapping and convention tapping?

The primary difference would be that in the world of festivals the focus is on musicality and technique and getting these to their ultimate proficiency. Improvisation is also a big part of the festival setup. In the convention world they focus more on the performance aspect of tap dance. But what I have seen is that there are now more dancers from the festival world entering into the convention world by way of teaching at a convention or a studio like Katelyn’s, which has increased the skill level of these studio and convention tap dancers. My hope and vision is that through events such as RIFF we can bridge the gap between these two worlds so the art form as a whole can be elevated.

What motivated you to pursue a professional tap career?

I have always loved tap dance and when I was 10 I had the incredible experience to meet and work with many of the masters of tap. So, I got to see firsthand people having a tap career and living as a tap dancer and for me that was enough just knowing it was possible. So at age 10 I started to assert this dream of becoming a tap dancer. I have studied other styles of dance, but I knew I wanted to be a tap dancer. I have a really strong sense of conviction that has been fostered by my parents who raised me to believe that I can achieve anything I put my mind to. I have encountered many challenges and tons of rejection, but I am a cup half full type of person and so what some people might consider a loss I consider an opportunity to learn.

What was your first big professional gig?

When I was in college I did a musical in Atlanta with Debbie Allen called Soul Possessed. It was an eight shows a week production and the cast included Desmond Richardson, Carmen De Lavallade and Patti Labelle. That was certainly life changing because I got to experience what it’s like to live as a dancer. When the show was done I went back to school, and I just had a greater sense of mission and what direction I wanted to take with my career.

Why did you choose to attend college over starting your professional career?

It wasn’t even an option to not go to college. When I went to New York to see some friends who were in Bring In Da Noise Bring In Da Funk they told me I should go visit Columbia University. Actually, Savion Glover’s brother took me to Columbia for my college visit when I was 15 and I made up my mind right then that this was the place for me. I went back to my home in Washington, D.C. and did everything I needed to do to make that a reality.

How did your all-female tap troupe, Syncopated Ladies, originate?

After college I move to L.A. and I would go to this tap jam on Monday nights and one night it was all ladies and I was blown away. I remember looking around the room and thinking these are amazing women who need to be in a group. So, I set a work on them that they did at an annual tap festival. That was back in 2003 and we all were so young and so green in terms of cultivating the whole package. But it was the foundation for what would one day become Syncopated Ladies. They were women that could improvise, learn choreography and were also learning other styles of dance. We have maintained a very close friendship over the years. And then one day while we were having girl time we decided we just wanted to rock out and that’s when we started creating videos and I started to expand my vision. It was time for me to go for it instead of just waiting for our once a year thing. The five stunning ladies I started with are still here plus two more that used to be my students. It’s truly a sisterhood and when we dance together its really cohesive because we know each other so well.

Syncopated Ladies is known for its girl power mentality. How did you develop this fierce and feminine style of tapping?

Photo: Courtesy
Photo: Courtesy

I’ve always had a girl power mentality from childhood. I was always the girl who was doing whatever the boys were doing. I was not afraid to dive into “a man’s world” and tap is a man’s world even though more women are now doing it. So, when I moved to New York it was really a boy’s club and I knew I wanted in. Once I got my skills and taps together and was starting to be heard I realized that instead of fighting to prove myself it was time for me to be true to who I am. And that includes the feminine aspect which Syncopated Ladies touches on in our dancing. It’s centered on this idea that we can still be taken serious as tappers even if we are wearing a cute outfit and our heels. This is where the feminine style came from and it was really influenced by Debbie Allen and Beyoncé. I have worked with both and they really brought out the woman in me.

Where you surprised by the vast support the Syncopated Ladies received during the dance crew battle portion of Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance?

There are far more tap dancers now connecting because of social media, but largely because there are more tap festivals than ever around the world. We are really a global community and I think that is our greatest strength. When Syncopated Ladies was on Season 11 of So You Think You Can Dance the producers were surprised by the number of votes we received from countries all over the world. We had people tweeting from Brazil, Japan and Europe. People don’t know this, but the world of tap is vast and united. And sometimes when you are marginalized it makes for a stronger fight. We still have a long way to go, but I think it was great that this past season SYTYCD had two tap dancers in the final. I also think it’s great that Dallas will know have its own tap festival because it’s only going to increase the appreciation and the visibility for the art form and that’s the key. The more people feel welcomed to the field and feel like they can do it the greater the visibility.

What would you like the young dancers at RIFF to take away from their time with you?

I am aware of what my colleagues are doing and teaching so I think about that when I am preparing to teach a class. If the other teachers are covering x, y and z then I am going to focus on a different aspect of tap. I like to inspire people to go beyond what they have learned already so it’s very much in line with my life and my career. I want to make people believe in themselves. For me, it’s more about challenging your fears and finding inspiration and I do that through technique, choreography and improvisation. Tap is huge in Dallas and this festival is going to be the perfect timing to, like I said, bridge the gap in the tap world. It’s a place where everyone who thinks they are different can come together and realize how similar they are and how they all share the same love for tap.

This Q&A was originally posted on TheaterJones.com.