September 6, 2013 - Comments Off on Profile: Evita Arce, Dancer and Choreographer
I sat down with internationally renowned swing and jazz dancer, choreographer, and instructor Evita Arce in New York, in between her travels to Malaysia and a 6-week tour to teach and perform in Europe.
I have had the great fortune of collaborating with Evita on costumes for her dance company's performers and took this opportunity to ask more about how she became the incredible dancer, artist and all-around inspiring woman she is today.
Nicole: Evita, how long have you been dancing?
Evita: I have been dancing Lindy Hop for 15 years. I started when I was 18 and I’m about to turn 33. But before that I did other dance styles, mostly of Latin origin. I was in my very first dance class at age 3. And it wasn’t one of those my mom put me in--I wanted to go.
Nicole: Did you want to become a professional dancer?
Evita: I never thought I would ever be a professional dancer. I never ever, ever, ever even wanted to because I always assumed I wasn’t tall enough or thin enough. So never did that enter my mind!
Dancing was always for fun, like a pastime. Then it just so happened that I was doing what I loved all the time and that led to people saying, "Well could you teach? Could you perform? And so on."
It’s so cliché because people say follow your heart and you’ll end up doing what you love. But if you actually do what you love all the time, it sort of takes over. And that’s what happened--now I’m a full time dancer.
Evita Arce wearing Nicole Lenzen, photographed by Ned & Aya
Nicole: Who are your inspirations?
Evita: Well, when I was a kid my uncle was an incredible artist and he should have traveled the world and left his tiny city to go and do bigger and better things with his life. But he never did.
And I remember thinking back when I was a kid, “You’re so talented and you could and should be more.” So that was a little bit of a push to reach for higher and bigger things in life, like stepping out of my hometown.
Ryan Francois and Jenny Thomas, they were and still are my mentors and teachers. They live in London and are Lindy Hop dancers. I auditioned and worked with them and that’s actually where I met Michael Jagger, my dance partner.
Nicole: Yes, tell us more about your dance partnership.
Evita: Michael and I have been partners for about nine years but we’ve known each other for over ten. We love and hate each other extensively. He’s like my big brother, business partner, soul mate, and best friend--everything.
When I work with someone else, it makes me realize how well matched I am with Michael. I can learn and enjoy other people’s ideas but it helps me to see how right the collaboration is between us.
Nicole: How would you describe your style of dance and what distinguishes you from other dancers in the same community?
Evita: We do swing and lindy hop. But the two things that I think really set us apart are that we are much more theatrical. We like to use props and take on characters; it’s not just an athletic thing based on speed or tricks. One example of this is our most famous dance pieces called Singing in the Rain. That one is like a musical - theatre through dance.
Evita Arce & Michael Jagger perform Singing in the Rain,
film produced by Jeff Bond & Eileen O'Donnell
The second thing that I think really separates us is that we have a really strong interest in blending lindy hop with modern forms.
Michael and I are taking the nostalgic novelty of lindy hop and swing and trying to do something with it that makes it our own. This involves storytelling, theatrics and a little bit of modern edge so you’re not just recreating the past.
We’re trying to take that form and bring it into the present.
Nicole: What's the most rewarding thing about what you do?
Evita: Getting to travel and see all the world, meeting and forming bonds with so many people.
When you dance with somebody, you really connect with them. You really feel something beyond just having a meeting because you’re moving with them and you’re physical with them and you’re actually playing with them.
And bottom line, I get to play, but as my job! My job, my work, is to go play, to go dance, to go bop around with my best friend and that’s amazing!
Evita Arce & Michael Jagger perform original choreography
Nicole: You've been an incredible source of inspiration and positive energy for myself and so many other women in our local swing scene. We would love to share some of your ideas on beauty, femininity, and sense of self.
Evita: I read a really cool thing in a magazine that I told my group of dancers--that beauty is love reflected back outwards.
If someone thinks you’re beautiful or they see beauty in you, it’s not because of what color your hair is or what dress you’re wearing or what your shape is. They actually see this energetic radiating love coming from you.
If we could get a handle or a grasp on that, how to hold onto the idea of love when you're stressed or tired or feeling down, that can elevate you no matter what.
Femininity is such a powerful thing. It could be the most powerful thing right after love! And so much femininity revolves around love and creation. I just feel like it should be displayed and honored at all times.
I think the woman’s body is beautiful and should be shown off. Like your dresses do! I hate fashion that makes a woman look like a man or that hides the woman’s body too much.
Evita Arce wearing Nicole Lenzen, photographed by Jessica Keener
Nicole: How does fashion play a role in your life as a dancer and performer?
Evita: Oh my gosh! Movement and femininity and color are the most important things. I’m constantly looking at fashion and dresses and thinking of how they would look on stage if I could wear them, if I could do an aerial in them, if I could turn in them, what would they look like on a body.
For our dance company, we try to see how we can get a piece of fashion that has a shout-out to the era of our dance but that’s not vintage. It’s the whole theatre idea of how can you create the emotion or essence of an era but you’re not regurgitating the same old idea. What can you add to it that makes it right now?
Nicole: We were thrilled to create dresses for the ladies in Syncopated City, the dance company you and your partner Michael Jagger have formed. Tell us more about the company and what's in store.
Evita: So you made all of the dresses for the girls in the company, tailor-made and modeled after a vintage dress that I had. And you made ever so slight differences in the dresses for each of the girls so that when we perform on stage, there are these personalities that come through, which I love!
The ladies of Syncopated City wearing Nicole Lenzen custom dresses, photographed by Emily Vanston
Elyse Sparkes and Michelle Puskas of Syncopated City wearing Nicole Lenzen custom dresses, photographed by Christopher Duggan
Syncopated City photographed by Christopher Duggan
The company is maybe two and a half years old and at the moment there are fourteen dancers. We were recently on tour in Kuala Lampur, Munich, Rome, and Montpelier. Next we’re heading to London, Moscow, Toulouse, and Sweden!
But back in New York, we have a floor show happening at Swing 46 that is traditional lindy hop, which will hopefully expand into an hour-long holiday show come December of this year.
Syncopated City perform original lindy hop choreography wearing Nicole Lenzen custom dresses, filmed by Pam Epstein
Then in 2014, we are planning a two-hour operata, but like a dancerta! It’s basically a story, like a musical but there are no words or singing. It’s just a story, all told through dance.
I don’t know what that would be called-a bal-opera? I just made up that word. We’ll coin it!
Nicole: Merriam Webster here we come! Is there anything else you'd like to add?
Evita: We’ve loved collaborating with you Nicole, and I have many more ideas for us! There’s something so beautiful about collaboration and artwork that pays homage to the history and the roots of this dance.
Find out where in the world Evita’s dance company is now by going to syncopatedcity.org
Evita Arce and Nicole Lenzen