BWW Interviews: Choreographer Amy Jordan
Choreographer Amy Jordan's company, The Victory Dance Project, will celebrate its first anniversary this week with an evening of dance entitled People, Power and Possibility on Wednesday, June 3, 2015 at 7 pm at The Ailey Citigroup Theater, 405 West 55th Street (at 9th Avenue). The evening will honor former Ailey star Principal Dancer Renee Robinson, who will receive the company's First Annual Artist for Peace Award and will feature five works choreographed by Jordan.
The Victory Dance Project dancers include Christopher Jackson, William Penelope Briscoe, Saleem Abdullahi, Florient Cador, DeAndre Cousely, Jessica Israel, Alicia Lundgren, Erin Moore, Karen Niceley, Major Nesby, Ryan Rankine and Danielle Schlauderaff, Maggie Segale, Sharron Lynn Williams and Kara Zacconi. Company members have worked with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theater of Harlem, Philadanco and on Broadway.
After overcoming series illnesses and a near-fatal bus accident, Jordan founded The Victory Dance Project with the mission to "Make the Impossible Possible With The Power of Movement."
Broadwayworld Dance recently sat down to interview Ms. Jordan
Q. When did you first become interested in dance?
A. I started ballet class at age five. I was a very athletic child and loved performing.
Q. Any early influences?
A. Definitely Baryshnikov and Nureyev. I also loved musical theater. I would put on my own version of "A Chorus Line" for family and friends. "Music and the Mirror "was my favorite.
Q. You've studied and performed a wide spectrum of dance: classical ballet, jazz, modern and hip hop. Any preferences and why?
A. I'm so grateful that I had such a wide spectrum of dance training, plus a strict classical ballet base of training. Not only did it afford me great technique, but I also learned discipline and respect for the art and the craft of dance. The strict discipline gained from my ballet masters carried over into every aspect of my life well into adulthood.
When I got to LA in the late 1980s, it became clear I would have to learn hip-hop. The world of commercial dance was changing with the onset of MTV. I was like a sponge. I studied with as many different teachers and choreographers as possible. I always challenged myself to push past my limits or stereotypes.
Q. You were diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at age four. What kind of impact did this have on you at such an early age?
A. I think I needed to dance to escape the fear around being diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at such a young age. We did not discuss it much at home, but it was clear I was 'different.' I heard stories of people going blind or having kidney failure, and I lived in constant fear. I wanted to fit in, to be 'normal'; dance classes gave me this opportunity. I could escape into my own fantasy world
Q. Studying any kind of dance with diabetes was, I'm sure, a trial. Can you tell me about this and how it affected your training.
A. Studying dance with diabetes was rough. Like so many dancers, I had a severe eating disorder for which I was later hospitalized. I was always afraid I would pass out in class. The technology and lifestyle information on living with diabetes wasn't advanced in those days. My parents would always have to be at class in case I needed sugar. I always felt trapped.
On the flip side the regular exercise was great for my health. I also did outside exercising to stay in shape.
Q. I know you had issues with body image and bulimia. Tel me how this evolved and how you dealt with the situation.
A. My eating disorder started I was young. My goal all through school was to weigh 88 pounds. I exercised compulsively, cut calories to just 800 per day, binged, purged, took laxatives, diet pills and speed in high doses. It's a miracle I am alive. My peak weight was 172 pounds. No matter what my weight, I was ashamed by my body and my life. I think my eating disorder was my painful reaction to having diabetes. I wanted someone to know I was suffering. I could also hide behind my addictions. I secretly had no belief in my own talent or ability.
I'm happy to say I no longer practice these behaviors. I still have that "I have to lose 5 pounds" voice, but mostly I appreciate my healthy body. I eat well and exercise to stay strong.
Q. One of your worst complications from diabetes was the loss of your eyesight. Can you tell me how you dealt with this and how it impacted on your life and career from that point?
A. Looking back, I am not at all surprised I had such severe visual complications from diabetes. My blood glucose management was out of control; my life was out of control. I think the complications of diabetes I experienced in my early twenties really ended up saving my life. I had to pay attention and make changes, or I was going to die.
My visual complications began when I was just twenty. It was also at this time that I entered eating disorder and substance abuse treatment.
After many eye surgeries, I had lost all vision in my left eye. What was most difficult was that I knew deep down I had done this to myself with my eating disorder, addictive behavior, and not honoring or respecting my life.
Q. After many surgeries you were declared legally blind in your left eye? As a dancer, as anyone, that must have been quite an emotional blow. How did you deal with that?
A. I had to stop driving. I was still living in Los Angeles and this was very isolating. It also made a professional dance career nearly impossible. I also now had a depth perception problem and did not see well in the dark. For these reasons I stopped performing.
I began practicing Nichiren Buddhism with the SGI USA. I determined to chart a new, healthier course for my life.
Q. After this you founded Sweet Enuff. Can you tell me about this program and what you hope to accomplish/accomplished?
A. I founded my own not-for-profit diabetes and obesity prevention program for kids, the SWEET ENUFF Movement. SWEET ENUFF was a way for me to transform my personal tragedy into support for others. As a kid with diabetes, I always felt alone and isolated. I wanted to provide a platform for youth with diabetes where they were supported and given tools to manage diabetes and feel great about themselves.
I used my training as a dancer to create programs that were educational and fun and built a community around living with diabetes. It was all positive. Kids with diabetes could invite their friends and peers to programs they created that were cool and engaging. I used my contacts from the professional dance world to teach and mentor young people. We put FUN in life with diabetes in hopes to lessen the fear and stigma I experienced and encourage kids to honor their lives and take care of their bodies from a young age.
Q. In 2009 you were run over by a bus and 18 had massive injuries. It's hard to relive that, let alone talk about it, but can you tell me how it happened and what you accomplished in the long run after such a devastating accident?
A. On May 1, 2009, I was run over by a New York City bus while crossing the street in the crosswalk in Manhattan. My right leg was completely crushed and nearly amputated. I had 18 surgeries and I battled severe bacterial infection and cardiac trauma. I literally had to learn to walk all over again.
My first thoughts while still pinned under the bus tire were about never dancing again.
Q. Therapy must have also been hard? How did you come through that?
A. The rehabilitation was grueling, especially at first. I continue therapy to this day. My 9-surgeon team, physical therapy, and rehab training teams all agree that it was a testament to being a dancer in great shape, and having the mental ability to endure such trauma. My rehabilitation has been deemed 'miraculous.'
It has been more than six years and continues to be a daily struggle. I have learned patience and that I must really take such precious care of my body.
Q. What led you to found the Victory Dance Project?
A. The idea of Victory Dance came to me in the ambulance the night of my accident. I kept saying the words over and over.
Last year I decided to celebrate my 5 years of post-accident health and recovery by choreographing a studio showing as a fun birthday party.
Q. What does the Victory Dance Project present in terms of dance concerts?
Little did I expect to be connected to some of the most talented concert dancers in the industry. Quite unintentionally, I ended up setting a full 25 minute contemporary ballet. We sold out the show. The evening was in partnership with a friend who had overcome her own serious trauma. We wanted to inspire people and show that anything is possible.
In the fall of 2014, I decided to produce a second show in a small theater. Again we sold out and again people were so moved by the work. My intention is always to show the power of the human spirit through dance.
Thus The Victory Dance Project was formally born. As a Buddhist and an Artist for Peace, I presented our first Annual "Artist for Peace Award." I am humbled and delighted to present this award to Renee Robinson, a true dance icon.
I am grateful to work with such an amazing company of dancers. The company member credits include Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Ailey II, Philadanco, The Lion King, Cinderella, a 'So You Think You Can Dance' winner and finalist, Complexions contemporary Ballet, Dance Theater of Harlem, Cirque De Soleil, and The Julliard School of Dance, among others.
Q. What can we expect from you in the future?
A. Ask me on June 3 when we give our first performance.