No 4. 40 Never Looked So Good: An interview with Laurel Victoria Gray, JOMDC faculty since 1999, 40th Anniversary Faculty Honoree, and Founder/Director of the Silk Road Dance Company, a JOMDC Resident Arts Partner, performing at the Gala
Over the course of 40 years, we’ve held thousands of classes and taught hundreds of thousands of students. We’ve met some one-of-a-kind people and Laurel Victoria Gray is one of them. Known as “the pioneer of Uzbek dance in America,” Laurel founded the award-winning Residence Arts Partner at JOMDC, Silk Road Dance Company (SRDC). Laurel has taught, performed, and been awarded throughout Europe, Central Asia, Australia, Canada and the US, but has made her second home at JOMDC.
1. At what point did you realize that JOMDC would be a second home for you and for your teaching career?
Actually I am a native to the “other” Washington, Washington state, and I still feel like a newcomer to DC, even though I moved here in 1995. What keeps it fresh is inventing new dance adventures. Creating these dance adventures at JOMDC made it a home for me. I have introduced many dance styles to JOMDC students, including Arab folklore, Bollywood, Sufi dance, Persian, Central Asian, Romani (AKA “Gypsy”), and even “Game of Thrones” and “Frozen” inspired choreography. I have great dance memories from over the years at my JOMDC home.
2. Our mission is very clear: Dance is for Everyone. How has your life been impacted over the years while teaching to this mission?
My students impact me and continue to surprise me. They teach me how dance can truly change lives. For example, the beauty of a shy, awkward teenager blossoming into a confident woman, or someone seeking grace as they transition to a different gender. They demonstrate how the gift of dance can create the foundation for a new life.
- JOMDC is all about education and opportunity. As we’ve gotten older, we’ve gotten more opportunities–after 40 years in the business, the White House calls us now! What is the greatest opportunity you’ve received through JOMDC
JOMDC provides two valuable resources for me as Founding Artistic Director of Silk Road Dance Company: precious rehearsal space and contact with potential company dancers. Having a “home base” as a Resident Arts Partner gives us stability, and working with a wide range of students from a variety of backgrounds offers diversity in talent and many dedicated dancers who may join the Silk Road Dance Company. These two resources have helped Silk Road Dance Company become an international brand, with performances throughout the US and in four foreign countries. We have performed at the White House and eight different embassies, as well as appearing 11 times at the Kennedy Center.
- Describe what free dance classes can mean to a person with a passion for dance but lacks the means.
I reflect to the days of the USSR, where all children had the opportunity to take free dance classes. Even children of humble origins like Rudolf Nureyev, who was to become one of the most celebrated dancers of the 20th century, were given the opportunity to achieve greatness. By providing free classes to those without means, JOMDC opens doors in the same way. It can mean the opportunity for greatness.
- Joy of Motion is turning 40 this year. Did anything change for you after your 40th birthday?
Joy of Motion may be turning 40, but my ensemble, Silk Road Dance Company, will be celebrating our 21st anniversary this year. We’re just kids! This keeps me looking ahead to new challenges, new choreographies, new costumes, and new concert concepts. Throughout my entire life I have studied and performed dances of world cultures and I have traveled to five continents in pursuit of this. Now I strive to share my legacy and preserve these dance traditions through dedication and focus, and to pass them down to new generations.
- What is the greatest lesson getting older has taught you? Any advice?
The famous baseball player Satchel Paige gave the best advice: “Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it don’t matter.”
Don’t miss Laurel Victoria Gray, the Silk Road Dance Company performance, and her honors on stage at the 40th Anniversary Gala Concert and Disco Dance Party on Friday, March 11, 2016, 7:30pm. Get your tickets here!
Join us on March 11, 2016, as we honor Laurel Victoria Gray.
What is the most fascinating thing that Laurel Victoria Gray taught you? Leave her a comment below!