Bess we would love to know more about you, your work and of course the Theatre Production you are preparing with the team! We all know you of course, you’ve been a part of DA Studio for a long time, but tell us more about you. Like how did you start dancing?
I was raised in Rotterdam-Zuid and at school I was about the only white girl. In schoolbreaks I danced with my friends, who were mostly from Ghana and Surinam, in the school yard and this is where I started African dance. We would dance like we saw in the videoclips; hiphop and African dances, or we would make our own choreo’s. As a child I took some Jazz classes too and I used to do a lot of sports, but I never thought of becoming a dancer. In my family nobody dances, so it wasn’t a common option for me to consider. When I was maybe 16 years old, and also taking salsa classes at that time, one of my teachers asked me if I ever thougth about making dance my profession. I was already studying to become a nurse practitioner then. I assumed I needed a very classical dancing background to be able to audition at the dance department of the Academy of Theatre and Dance (AHK). And that was partly true; so I worked very very hard next to my full time job as nurse with irregular shifts. And after I graduated I got in at the Academy in Amsterdam! So one thing I can tell you about me is that I can work very hard for something I really want. I can put a lot of hours into something and work with a lot of passion! This also means I live with highs and lows. I believe that if you want something and go for it, you have to take risks as well. I am very happy things went like this for me. I very clearly chose the path that I’m on. My parents are both nurse practioners and my four brothers don’t dance either. My parents are very creative though! My mother can create all the clothes she sees and my father can almost build houses by himself and they all taugh themselves. As a nurse practioner I was happy too, but knowing both worlds and chosing dance, I can live and enjoy dance and this life to the fullest.
Your interests are into dance but also into art?
At the Academy I further developed in broader dancing styles, as modern dance and ballet. But African dance still has my focus and besides that theatre styles like mime. I love the more experimental styles of dance and art. I believe art should leave space for interpretation and for me that is the difference with commercial work. You can fill in what it is that you are seeing. I am fascinated by this and, consciously or unconsciously, I transfer this to my students. I try to find something that is already inside of them and let that part of them grow. I challenge them to be creative with it and let them play with it.
It is clear you teach from a vision, what is your vision in teaching?
First of all I believe dancing should be fun. Fun to do, for myself and for my students. There are several things I want to teach people and the most important one is freedom in movement. It’s possible to focus on steps, but when people are blocked in (parts of) their body because of for example shame, they are afraid to move. To teach material of movement within that being is very hard, so for me it’s very important that my students become free inside their bodies. But still the most important thing is that people love to move. When there is a safe atmosphere in class and people enjoy, they start to move more freely. I teach people to move naturally. When your body moved in an unnatural way for years, it takes time to find that natural way again. And when that is not possible, to find the most comfortable way for you. For example that you learn to move from your pelvis, to relax your arms and to stand up straight. These is universal in every dancing style or movement. So I believe that fun and freedom in movements are the most important things in dance.
What fascinates me most about dance is that dancing is like a language, a universal language. And everybody speaks that language and can speak to each other, even if you have never danced before. When you are standing in front of each other, you are actually saying something already. The most beautiful to me is that you can show people within the hour that everybody is exactly the same; you have the same heart, you are made of flesh and blood, maybe your colours are somewhat different. But when you are in the here and now, all other things are not important anymore and everybody is equal. People start to feel safe in the company of all different people that they usually wouldn’t choose to be around. Dancing is a good way to bring people together and experience equality amongst each other.
What does your week look like as a professional dancer?
I started my own school in Amsterdam and teach there every Thursday. Next to that I teach one day in Tiel and of course here in Rotterdam at DA Studio. I do workshops and I play in (theatre) performances. Once in a while I do photoshoots, but mostly alternative shoots for example in art projects or photoshoots of dance.
And now you are creating the Theatre Production for DA Dance Studio as a choreographer!
Yes choreographer, stage manager, production director, sound technician, dresser…. The only thing I don’t do is the make-up artist…! The theme this year is ‘Ontmoet DA Dance’ (Encounter DA Dance). In this theme about everything that we spoke about comes together! To let people meet each other on the dance floor is my fascination and that is exactly what is happening in this school. There are very different dance styles being taught here and different styles attract different people. They all come together: people from different ages, cultural backgrounds, skin colors and maybe religion. All these different people and all these different dance styles come together and are being combined in the Theatre Production and here also counts: in the end, everyone is the same. This is why I love this theme: it will show a lot of different aspects in theatre, in dance and in movement. If you are not in the show, come and watch and you will see encounters but also experience some new and unexpected encounters yourself.
Thank you Bess for sharing your passion with us in this interview and everywhere you go!