Dance Informa recently had the opportunity to check in with dancer, choreographer, teacher and all around artist Jenn Freeman. She has danced in works by Sonya Tayeh, Mia Michaels, Kyle Abraham, Travis Wall, Larry Keigwin and more, and is the artistic director of Freemove Dance. Read on to learn about her journey through the dance world and where she’s headed next.
How did you get started in dance? What’s your dance origin story?
“My mom and grandmother put me into my first dance class when I was two-and-a-half years old. Of course, I don’t remember those really early days, but from what I hear, I was in love immediately. I used to ask my mom constantly, ‘Is it Thursday yet?’ — the day of my dance class. I had a lot of energy as a child and intense focus; dance was the perfect outlet for those things. Dance helped shape a positive self-narrative really early on and gave me purpose as a child.”
Can you take us on a quick tour of your dance history? What were the most important steps that led you to where you are today?
“Once I started dancing, I never stopped. I trained my entire childhood, mostly in jazz and lyrical, then ballet and modern as a teenager. I grew up in a really small town and didn’t have many connections to the dance world at large. I attended a few dance conventions by myself when I was younger, and that really inspired me and changed my perspective on what was possible. Meeting and witnessing more seasoned dancers from other places made it feel possible for me to see a career for myself.
I decided to pursue a BFA in dance at NYU. While I was a student there, I was able to deep dive into my desire to choreograph. I made a lot of work while I was in school and had incredible mentors. I was at NYU at the same time Kyle Abraham was getting his MFA and was fortunate enough to dance in many of his early works, which was hugely inspiring.
After school, I traveled down many different roads but never stopped dancing and making work. I began teaching for the Adrenaline Dance Convention in my early 20s, and that’s how I met Sonya Tayeh. I have been working for her off and on as a performer, associate and resident choreographer for over a decade now.”
Were you always a choreographer as well as a dancer? How did Freemove Dance get started?
“I innately see movement that describes moments in time, and I fell in love with the non-verbal conversational aspect of the choreographic process at a very young age. There is something sacred and deeply human about an exchange based in movement. I have an endless curiosity about what feelings and ideas look like when translated by the body.
I always knew I wanted to start a dance company, or at least have a home-base for my work. That’s why I started Freemove Dance, which is really more of a collective. It was important to me for my collaborators to name the community we were building together.”
You’ve done quite a bit of both commercial and concert work, as well as some that seems to toe the line between the two. How do you feel about the commercial/concert dance divide, and how does it live in you and your work?
“I don’t think the idea of a divide serves our community as a whole and feel like the commercial/concert divide is narrowing more and more every day. I’ve always just wanted to dance and create anywhere and any way. I aspire to foster an openness in my desires, and I think that’s why I have been presented with a wide variety of opportunities. I don’t label myself a commercial or concert choreographer, which means I don’t have to attempt to fit into those limiting constructs when I am making work. I just try to bring what I see in my head to life, and create the piece in whatever way best serves the project.”
What’s your favorite piece you’ve ever created and/or performed in, and why?
“I am most proud of Freemove Dance’s first evening-length work, ‘…it’s time…’, which premiered at the 14th Street Y’s theater in 2018. Producing that piece was the biggest learning experience of my life. I had to push myself to step into so many deeply uncomfortable roles: fundraising, finding a venue, organizing rehearsals, actually making the piece, promoting the work, and the list goes on. Seeing my vision up on stage and knowing the long journey it took to get there was a moment I will never forget.
Sonya Tayeh’s ‘you’ll still call me by name’ was by far my favorite performance experience. Any process with Sonya pushes you to your limits, but this one stands out. The process was deeply personal for Sonya. Any time a choreographer invites you into a personal moment in their lives, you carry the weight of their truth in your body, and have a deep responsibility to uphold that truth and vision every time you step on stage. It is simultaneously vulnerable and challenging, and to me there is nothing more satisfying as a performer.”
What is the role of teaching in your life, and why is it important to you and your work?
“The opportunities I get to teach are just as important to me as performing and choreographing. Teaching is a conversation, and I learn just as much from my students as they do from me. I deeply value the connection I have with my students and love seeing them succeed. The dance world is full of incredible, genuine and brave young people, and I feel honored to play a guiding role in their artistic journeys.”
What’s next for you? What about the company?
“I am in the process of creating an evening-length solo show that will be directed by Sonya Tayeh and will premiere at The Theater at the 14th Street Y in the spring of 2022. I have experienced profound revelations this year and am in the midst of immense changes in my thought patterns minute-to-minute. These overwhelming transformations and realizations will serve as the basis of the new piece. I am shedding an old skin and viewing my world in a much more vivid way. I am curious and eager to see how this new lens will shift the trajectory of my work and my creative process.”
By Charly Santagado of Dance Informa.