Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Fashioning a Career in Dance

Fashioning a Career in Dance

Four months after Rebecca Lee (BFA ’22, Dance) walked across the Miriam A. Friedberg Concert Hall stage during Peabody’s 2022 graduation ceremony she was running around Gansevoort Plaza in the Meatpacking District of lower Manhattan, leaping up onto a white stage on the street, and then climbing one of those metal scaffolding “sidewalk sheds” that line New York City’s streets. She wore a black top, garnet-hued flowy asymmetrical skirt, and chunky black boots, items from Dutch designer Lucas Ossendrijver’s Theory Project fall collection for the fashion line. Lee was one of the four dancers and one musician collaborating for Theory’s Fashion Week 2022 launch that including a public dance performance.

“There’s a new wave of the commercial industry using modern art and dance specifically to promote fashion in commercials and such,” Lee says about the experience. “I think it’s a great way to showcase designs and clothing and the way it moves. The set was three scaffolding towers to represent the culture of New York City and the piece was ten minutes long and we choreographed it the day before. We had about five hours to set the piece and it was a very collaborative process, which I personally love. We all wore items that hadn’t been released yet and got to keep them.”

The opportunity came to Lee after she joined the Heidi Duckler Dance company, where she’s a teaching artist, performer, and the Education and Programs Director, working with families and individuals in Los Angeles who have experience with the justice system, correctional facilities, and re-entry programs through Duckler’s partnerships with nonprofits organizations in Los Angeles such as A Place Called Home, the Los Angeles Unified School District, Ventura Youth Correctional Facilities, and SHIELDS for Families. Peabody Magazine recently caught up with Lee over Zoom.

Headshot of Rebecca Lee dancing

Can you talk a bit about the dance project you were in for the Theory label during fashion week recently?

It took place outdoors in the Meatpacking District, right outside of the Theory store. We were presenting their new line for fashion week and they invited us, Heidi Ducker Dance, and also some big companies in New York, Kyle Abraham’s A.I.M. and Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener, who are also based in New York. I got to meet a lot of people that I probably wouldn’t have met from the fashion industry.

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It was an incredible experience. It was at the start of Fashion Week, so I think that everyone was really excited about events that were about to happen. I was surprised at how many people came. It was a little intimidating at first as someone who’s not in the fashion industry, but everyone in the production team at Theory was so incredible and happy to have us. The energy was buzzing all night long—even afterward, everyone was enthusiastic about this performance. I hope we get to do something like that again with them.

Could you talk a bit about your work with A Place Called Home over the summer?

Heidi Duckler Dance has a huge history of working in arts education and creative expression for youth, and we are really focused on serving underserved communities in South LA. The partnership with A Place Called Home had already been created before I was a part of the company, and I was able to take on the programming as education and programs director. I created a two-week summer program and we were able to bring in different teaching artists and provide arts education that really focused not just on teaching dance but skills to see things differently.

Being able to collaborate with one another is really important in what we do with students. Heidi’s curriculum is based in site-specific dance, which is dance that doesn’t take place on a stage. It is climbing up the building of your school, or on top of a car, and she is about teaching students to look at things around them through an artistic lens and seeing possibility. We went on two field trips—one to the Wende Museum, where we discussed the history of the Cold War, and then we were able to create a work in the Wende Museum’s garden using the knowledge that we acquired about the Cold War.

We finished with a performance at A Place Called Home’s basketball court. We have a yellow mustang that we call our dance mobile and we drive it in and let the students create a piece on it, climbing and jumping all over it, and the entire facility came out to watch. It was really beautiful and I was so just inspired by the students and their growth even in just those two weeks. It was awesome.

Are you enjoying writing about dance for the LA Dance Chronicle? Do you see your dance writing as an extension of your practice, another way you discuss and support the art form?

Documenting dance is very difficult—it’s fleeting, happens in the moment, and then it’s gone. Yes, we have video now, which is helpful, but having dance writers who understand dance is very important—as well as having writers who are able to discuss dance through different lenses of racial equity, socioeconomic status, gender identity, and more, which need to be applied to the way that critics are looking at work. That is something I’m really passionate about so I feel really grateful to have that opportunity, at such a young age and so fresh out of university, to write for the LA Dance Chronicle. And yeah, I see it as an extension of the work that I do.

You’re four months out from graduating and are already juggling administrative duties, education, performance, and more as part of your career. How are you taking care your artist self—physically, mentally, creatively—now that you’re no longer a student?

Truthfully, the first two months was extremely challenging. The day after I graduated, I moved here. The day after I moved here, I started the new job, so it was a lot of change happening at once. As an artist adapting to change and being willing to be flexible is really important, and I am grateful that that’s a skill that I’ve learned, but it was really hard to manage everything.

Now, over the past two months, I feel like I’ve finally been able to create a balance because my work environment is so supportive of everything I do. Everyone I work with is a dancer, so they understand that I need to go take a class and being able to take that time off and being supported artistically in a workplace where I’m more so focused on administrative and education work is really helpful. I think that finding that type of balance takes time and discipline because we naturally want to focus on the things that we want to focus on. And right now I’m learning how to put the effort and commitment into each facet of my professional life as I’m going through this crazy change.

What projects do you have coming up?

Our 37th annual gala is coming up at the end of October, I’ll be performing at it, and it’s taking place in an old church that Paul R. Williams designed in Los Angeles. Not only am I performing but two of my student organizations will also perform, which excites me just as much—it’s such a gift to have them be a part of that performative aspect with me, and that piece is called “The Body of the People” and it is about how bodies are viewed now in American culture. It’s great to have these types of partnerships that can really affect young people’s lives.

The day after that show I will be flying to Chile with the company for ten days to teach, perform, and create a film, too. We’ll be on an island called Chiloé.