BWW Interview: Paige Fraser of Visceral Dance Chicago
Paige Fraser, a beautiful and talented dancer with severe scoliosis, is currently dancing with Visceral Dance Chicago. I was fortunate to see her perform with this company on January 18, 2018, at the Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College, NYC. She appeared in each of the five pieces performed. Even knowing about her disability, it was not obvious that she is dealing with scoliosis. Her passion for dance and performance is evident.
Tell us about your early connection to dance. Via classes? Via feeling?
I began taking ballet lessons at age 4, in Westchester, NY.
My first realization that I wanted to dance professionally came at age 10 when I was cast as Clara in The Nutcracker. I was the 1st African American to be cast in this role at this school.
Next, I went to the Professional Performing Arts School & Alvin Ailey School simultaneously.
What led up to your diagnosis of scoliosis at age 12 or 13? How did you feel at that time?
At around 11 or 12 I had a fall downstairs.
The scoliosis was diagnosed after that. It is usual for scoliosis to show itself at adolescence and there are others in my family who have had scoliosis, so I don't know if there's any connection between the fall and the diagnosis.
What did you experience after hearing that news? That must have been a big shock to you.
My supportive parents helped with the shock following the diagnosis.
Dance is my hero that has allowed me to pursue my dream.
I am grateful to do what I love.
How long did it take you to realize that you had options, other than surgery?
It was quick. I was introduced to a chiropractor who worked with other dancers with scoliosis. We found a doctor, who suggested bracing, a plastic brace which I wore day and night, even to sleep.
Please give us an account of your experience. Include the therapies you have tried - what worked/in what ways and what did not/how so.
I believe in chiropractic care.
Movement: dance, swimming, etc. are important.
Massage & physical therapies help.
Always learning and re-learning your body are my experience, current and future.
How difficult was your journey to become a professional dancer? Rejection? Acceptance?
Money in my family was low. I was fortunate to get scholarships and financial aid to be able to train. I was awarded a Princess Grace Award, among others.
I focused on dance.
African American representation in the dance community helped to make me think there was a chance for me to have a career.
Is Visceral Dance Chicago your first professional job?
After the Fordham/Ailey School experience, I was accepted into Ailey ll, a 2 yr contract, 2011-2013. We traveled to Europe which was a great experience, as was performing Ailey choreographies.
Perseverance after not being taken into the Ailey Company led me to audition for other companies.
Visceral Dance Chicago accepted me in its first season, 2013. I moved to Chicago a month later and I am now, at 27, in my fifth season with the company.
During my time with Visceral, I shot a commercial with Intel, which gave me a huge platform. It allowed me to share my story on an international platform.
Tell us about your professional experience and how you were prepared or not from your earlier experience.
Yes, I felt prepared, although nervous in my first year with Ailey ll. Each job, of course, prepares one more. With experience, more confidence is built.
I like to go to the Performing Arts Library, where I would research dancers I looked up to, like Ebony Williams whose versatility is mind-blowing.
How do you envision your future training and what your body will require?
I see myself never stopping moving. This is best for the spine.
When you look forward, what are your goals and dreams?
I want to go back to the Bronx, NY. and to bridge the gap between dance in the U.S. and Jamaica, where my parents are from.
Scoliosis awareness and continuous healing are important to me.
My long-term goal is to open a center in the Bronx or in Jamaica.
Continuous outreach and scoliosis awareness also interest me.
Photo credit: courtesy INTEL Experience Amazing