This week on “10 Questions With…” we have Philip Elson, a dancer and student at Columbia College in Chicago…
1. Can you tell readers how you came to be involved with dance?
My parents put me in dance and gymnastics when I was three years old. Both of my sisters started dance classes before me. When I was eight years old I decided that I liked dance more than gymnastics and spent more of my time training in Ballet, Jazz, and Tap. I participated in a lot in competitions and conventions with my local studio in Fort Worth, Texas. It wasn’t until I went to college that I began to learn and experience more about contemporary forms of dance and find the path that I am on now.
2. What has your experience been like at Columbia College?
Columbia has provided me with so much rich information! When I came to Columbia I already possessed a lot of technical training in various forms. When I was looking for dance programs I wanted one that would help me refine my technique, but inform me more about the world of dance. I felt like I didn’t know a lot about dance, and that’s where Columbia came into play. The staff and faculty at The Dance Center have vast scholastic, performance, and choreographic experience that molds into what I think of as an extremely high level of dance education in the collegiate realm. Columbia was not only able to help me answer those questions of why I dance, or what is it about dance that actually captivates me, but it has helped me to expand on my creative abilities to enhance values that I admire so much in my work.
3. What are you currently doing with dance?
Currently I am dancing with The Seldoms, about to begin my third season. I am also co-producing a show called Under Construction: Socio-Analytical Perspectives on Gender Culture Through Dance, which will take place in August at Links Hall. In July I will be showing my work Mode of Duration at The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2010: Chicagofor a chance to win $10,000 amongst other Chicago choreographers. I have also begun to work behind the scenes and partake in videography for dance performances including making DVD’s and reels for other dance artists, and doing technical work for various dance performances.
4. What was the best dance advice you have ever received?
Never stop asking questions. Never stop asking yourself, and never stop asking others. If you do stop, then you won’t grow or learn anything more that will help you develop your work, or develop yourself as a human being.
5. Do you have any favorite dancers?
What makes a dancer one of my favorites is having the ability to either dance with them or learn more about why they dance including what is behind their movement that makes it so stunning. I have always admired Carrie Hanson, even before becoming a member of The Seldoms. Her movement is so pure and captivating to my eye. Darrell Jones is a man who loves to move in various ways. I have seen him work with ballet technique, vogue technique, and post-modern based techniques. This man does so much and I see him completely lose sight of reality when he dances, it is all about what his body and mind are doing at any given moment. It is truly amazing to watch him. These two dancers and choreographers have shown a kind of freedom in the way that they move. There is technicality underlying their dancing, but it only enhances what their body is capable of doing and expressing. I see so many other dancers restricted by technique and get too caught up in the technical principles of moving. These two dancers know that the technique is there and let it work for them so they can dance and move. That is what creates the visceral experience that I have while watching them. That’s why we call it dancing, not technical trickery.
6. Can you give some advice to male dancers?
The best piece of advice I can give to male dancers is never take for granted the fact that you are a male and that getting a job might be easier for you. I have seen many men not work as hard, simply because they don’t think they have to. So many women have to work their butts off day after day to just get noticed by a choreographer, teacher, or other dancers and there is no reason why men should not have to work that hard. I spend a lot of time taking class and continuing to develop my abilities to continually make myself better, not for personal gain, but for the gain of this art form and the potential audiences that haven’t been exposed to it yet. In simple terms, nobody wants to work with a d*#k, so put your game face on and get some good work done.
7. If you could ask one question of someone in the dance world, who would it be and what is the question?
I would love to sit down one day with Mikhail Baryshnikov and talk with him about his transformation with dance throughout his lifetime. He is a man that has accomplished many things, but had the opportunity to encounter vastly different experiences in the dance world. I would ask him what he found most fulfilling in dance and how that has helped to shape his identity as a human being.
8. Would you share a moment from your dance career that is special to you in some way?
When I was teaching in Russia this last April with The Seldoms, a young dancer approached me after my class and thanked me for teaching her something she had never experienced before. This completely changed my outlook on teaching and performing. After sharing so much with these students in class I continued to feel the need to share more with them, and I was able to do this through our performance of Marchland at the Isadora International Contemporary Dance Festival. As I performed I did not feel the need to impress anyone in the audience, but I felt compelled to share with them something about myself, about my culture, and about my love for dance.
9. How does being a dancer prepare you for life?
I think being a dancer has instilled a great work ethic in my life. It taught me that practice might not always make perfect, but it makes everything better. I have also learned that failure is a great thing! When I make mistakes I learn from them and move on so I don’t make similar mistakes again. Dance taught me not to give up or quit, but to push though obstacles. When I can get to the other side of the bumpy road, I can always look back and find strength in what I was able to accomplish. Dance has also taught something very important about the way I keep an open mind and listen to those who have experience. It has taught me the importance of sharing my life experiences with others around me. Dance really has prepared me for the best and the worst. It has gotten me through some of the best and worst times in my life.
10. What’s next for you?
Graduation! In May of 2011 I will graduate with my BFA in Dancemaking and a Minor in Arts Management from Columbia College Chicago. My work with The Seldoms will continue to develop in this next year and I will hopefully grow and be able to make more work independently as well. In the next few years I hope to be able to travel internationally and spend time performing and making work in Europe. There may be an MFA in Dance and an MBA in Arts Administration somewhere in my future to expand on my abilities to spread dance. Ultimately I would like to come back to Chicago and expand on my experiences by building my own work, mentoring young and emerging artists, and exposing as many people as possible to contemporary dance.
Bio: PHILIP ELSON is a Chicago-based dance artist engaging with various arenas of dance research and performance including live performance, dance for camera, site-specific work, and experimental collaboration. Currently he is co-producing and choreographing Under Construction: Socio-Analytical Perspectives on Gender Culture Through Dance, a production exploring socio-economic issues surrounding gender in American culture, which will take place in August at Links Hall. Recently, Elson produced The Gender Bender Ball, a variety hour of dance, comedy improvisation, and theater, satirically commenting on gender status and identity. His choreography has been showcased in Chicago as part of The Open Space Project, Poonie’s Cabaret, and exhibited at The Loyola University Museum of Art with The Seldoms. In July, Elson’s work Mode of Duration will be presented as a Semi-Finalist in The A.W.A.R.D. Show! 2010: Chicago. Elson has also choreographed for In It For Life Productions, Muscle Memory Dance Theater, the American College Dance Festival, and various dance studios across the country. In the last year Elson began exploring Dance for Camera and showed two dance films, Calamitous Ego and Meeting of the Minds, at the 2010 Chicago Fringe Artist Networking Night. In the spring of this year Elson traveled to Krasnoyarsk, Russia to teach and perform at The Isadora International Contemporary Dance Festival. Currently he is pursuing a Bachelors of Fine Arts in Dance from The Dance Center of Columbia College Chicago and entering his third season as a dancer with The Seldoms. Philip has performed for companies and artists such as Carrie Hanson/The Seldoms, Jonathan Meyer/Khecari Dance Theater, Paige Cunningham, Liz Burritt, Matthew Hollis, Jyl Fehrenkamp, Laboratory Dancers, Muscle Memory Dance Theatre, and Collin County Ballet Theatre.