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A Conversation with "Nexus" Dancer Victoria Prince

human interest




A Conversation with "Nexus" Dancer Victoria Prince

Karla Colley


Karla: Please tell us a little bit about your background. Which group are you a part of? Can you describe your dance experience prior to coming to Duke?

Victoria: I'm a senior from Houston, Texas. My family is originally from Jamaica, and dance/music are a huge part of my culture. I danced for my middle and high school's drill team where I performed kick, pom, jazz, hip hop and contemporary routines at regional competitions, basketball/football games, and various other events.

Here at Duke, I'm the president of Nakisai African Dance Ensemble, which has been such a joy! I've also been involved with the Duke Dance Department. I participated in Professor Nina Wheeler's Jazz Repertory Ensemble in Fall 2017 and Professor Ava Vinesett's African Dance Repertory Ensemble this semester (spring 2018). Working with both professors has been wonderful, and they pushed me to become a better dancer, scholar, and performer. I've also taken classes with Professors Barbara Dickinson and Andrea Woods Valdes, who both provided me with training I never had the opportunity to receive outside of school - which I'm immensely grateful for.

Karla: What was the process like combining art (the selected works in the Nasher), dance (your specific choreography), music (the role you played in contributing to the soundtrack), and the video? What mindset/approach did you use when thinking about how the project would come together as a whole?

Victoria: Spring 2018 - this current semester - is actually my first time taking class with Professor Ava Vinesett - I had to make sure I did so before I left Duke! Pushing my body to adapt to West African styles of dance has been a huge learning curve, but it has been amazing! Additionally, I've learned so much about Africanist styles from the scholarly perspectives of both Professor Vinesett and Professor Thomas DeFrantz. From what I've learned, I tried to embody a style that was grounded and powerful, yet still natural. However, I incorporated my own "showgirl" style at times to maintain a sense of individuality, which is also important in African dance styles.

The process of combining visual art with dance was inspiring and made me think critically about the work I was viewing. Not only was I able to appreciate the exhibit even more, but I was also able to inject a more palpable energy into the movements, as I had a purpose: to convey the sentiment of the exhibit. The project also involves the moving image, as well as music, which shows how powerful art can be in creating a narrative and conveying a theme. Overall, I tried to think of how I could interact with the art while still complimenting the artists' works.

Karla: Give us an idea of your choreographing process.

Victoria: Typically, I listen to the music I'll dance to over and over - at least 15 times! Meanwhile, I'm brainstorming choreography and trying to understand the musicality of the piece. For example, where are the accents in the music? Does the mood change? I try to understand the music so that the choreography "matches" in a way. For this piece, however, I felt that improvisation made the most sense. I wanted to be intentional and authentic in my interactions with the pieces; therefore, I brainstormed a few sequences that I thought conveyed a celebratory, yet revering sentiment and flowed well into each other. Then I rehearsed transitions that made sense in between certain moves, making sure to focus on my right side (due to an injury in my left knee). For the actual video shoot, I played around with the sequences and paid attention to what I was feeling as I viewed the paintings. So basically, what I did was a sort-of rehearsed improvisation - if that makes any sense!

Karla: How did you think about putting your choreography in conversation with the art pieces and the music? Where do you see the connections?

Victoria: Social justice is very important to me, and I think that art is a very powerful vehicle for all sorts of commentary. It was an honor to place my work next to that of more established visual artists, musicians, editors, and videographers. Black Dance is an art that seldom receives the attention, stage, and honor it deserves, so it was wonderful to place African-esque art in conversation with highly-regarded visual arts pieces in a well-renowned museum.

I think that our society tends to push certain arts aside in favor of less abstract modes of communicating that people are familiar with and already understand. Learning through art is like teaching yourself another language - which can be uncomfortable. As a member of multiple marginalized communities (Black, woman, immigrant, low-income, darker-skinned, etc.), I can relate to not being heard because my dialect and experiences are not ones that many people understand. Both mine and the other artists' works dare to speak anyway, which I think is powerful in and of itself.

Karla: How would you describe your dance style? What do you love about it? How does it interact with or feed off the other styles featured in the video?

Victoria: My dance style is all over the place, which represents my background. I can be very sharp and hard-hitting, which I take from my drill team experience. It was important to be big and have clean lines when you've to lead a team of 60-80 people on a football field - the audience and the team needed to be able to see my moves! During the off-seasons in high school and through my dance experiences here at Duke, I learned to be softer, as hard-hitting can look stiff and mechanical for certain styles. I'd to teach my torso, pelvis, and shoulders to relax, yet still have presence. I think this complemented the music, visual art pieces, and concept well, as the artists incorporated sharp and more relaxed elements in their pieces.

Karla: What do you think about the role you played in your portion of the video? What was the experience like?

Victoria: In a word - amazing! It was such a great space to be in, and I got to experience doing something innovative with people who are passionate about the arts. It was such an honor!