Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Dancing queen: Julia Headley is working on her craft step by step


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JULIA?HEADLEY STARTED?DANCING at age three when her parents signed her up for ballet classes at the Louise Woodvine Dance Academy. For that she will be forever thankful, because now, at age 20, she is into her third year of pursuing her Bachelor of Fine Arts in Dance (which covers a wide spectrum of dance and humanities courses, and some music) at prestigious The Juilliard Dance School in New York, United States.
She is now home on holiday, but Julia hasn’t taken a break from her passion and is now teaching dance classes at her alma mater where she was a member for 15 years until two years ago. There she completed the Royal Academy of Dance children’s syllabus up to Grade 8 and also completed four levels of the professional syllabus up to Advanced 2.
Julia comes from an artistic family, all of whom have tapped into their creative sides – be it piano, dance, jazz vocals or visual arts. She is currently teaming up with her sister, jazz singer Janelle Headley-Newton (and others) to offer a six-week intense performing arts workshop starting tomorrow designed to make young Barbadian performers a “triple threat” in singing, dancing and acting. For Julia, it is all about giving back.
“Having been away I have realised that Barbados has quite a ways to go before it can reach the standard of many international dance scenes. However, there are many budding choreographers such as Stephanie Date and Livie Mizzen who are bringing something fresh and new to the dance scene here in Barbados.
“I think that it is necessary for those of us who have been away to come back and share what we have learnt so that we can all work together to improve on the dance industry here. We have great talent in our country that just needs to be nurtured.
“The arts are beginning to take the foreground in many countries . . . why can’t it be the same for Barbados?” she asks passionately.
Julia’s movements are graceful and fluid. Her facial expression changes with the intensity or liveliness of each piece. Long limbs and a lean body come from a daily dance schedule, gym sessions as well as stability and mobility classes.
A dancer’s life is a hectic one, says Julia, with classes from 10:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and after that department-scheduled rehearsals for three hours. On top of that, many of them are involved in student choreographies, so rehearsals can sometimes bring them up to 10 p.m.
Julia got into Juilliard on her first try.
Flying to Miami for the live auditions, Julia recalls she wasn’t a bundle of nerves.
“I thought I was going to be overly nervous since it was my first live audition, but for some reason I was so calm and was able to really enjoy the day (8 a.m. to 4 p.m.).” 
Auditions entailed a ballet class and modern dance class, after which three teachers from Juilliard made the first cut and the remaining individuals performed their own solos. Then there was another cut.
Those left standing were taught new choreography to test their ability to not only “pick up choreography, but also see how we listened to corrections”.
The final part was a face-to-face interview. The acceptance letter came that April.
While auditioning for Juilliard, she also auditioned for the New World School of the Arts in Miami.
“These were the only two schools that I auditioned for but I also sent video auditions to about five other schools, including New York University and Marymount Manhattan College, and was accepted to all of them. If I wasn’t accepted to Juilliard, I have no idea which school I would have chosen.
She believes “God really knew what He was doing when He blessed me with the acceptance from Juilliard.”
Dancing, for Julia, simply makes her happy and gives her a means of expressing herself: “I honestly don’t know who I would be without dance. It has taught me everything from musicality to discipline to working with a group to working for excellence.
“But perhaps one of the most important things that it has taught me and is still teaching me is confidence in who I am as a person and dancer.”
Julia doesn’t prefer one genre of dance over another as she says she is “happy exploring and trying anything that is presented to me – and as long as the music ‘speaks’ to me, I am happy”.
The highlight of her first two years at Juilliard was being involved in community outreach where she travelled to New Orleans and to Botswana in Africa to teach dance to a number of students. She also have taken part in numerous community service projects in New York.
“It’s great being able to not only use my talent in dance but also develop new skills and friendships that have helped to make me the young lady I am today.
“Choreography is a relatively new thing for me. In my first year at Juilliard we took composition classes to teach us techniques for creating and diversifying movement, but it wasn’t until I went to Botswana in summer of 2010 that I was really pushed to create complete pieces for the students I was teaching. And from then I have been experimenting with my choreography.
“Where the movement comes from, I can’t tell you. Most of the time I am in the studio alone and just let my iPod play and allow the music to move me. And from there comes a small bit of choreography and little by little it develops into a full piece.
“There is no one way to create movement. . . . Sometimes you draw from something you already know and then see what you can do to make it different, or maybe you try to go against all that you know and see what comes of it!”
So who is your favourite choreographer,
I asked. And how much has he/she influenced your work?
“Right now I would have to say Alonzo King and his company Lines Ballet. I have spent two summers doing his intensive programme and have fallen in love with all of his work and his dancers. There is an ease but yet intensity to his movement that leaves you mesmerized and always wanting more.
“He is a choreographer who has a unique style and is always seeking to bring something new to the dance scene. His dancers dance with such maturity . . . and I hope someday to be able to move like them.”
What inspires Julia? She answers promptly: “The fact that I have the ability to make a positive change/impact on the society that I live in.
“As I watch the news or even just walk down the street or have a conversation with a friend, it reminds me that we are not just here to exist but we are here to inspire, encourage, support, help and love each other. And how I do this happens to be through my dance!
“I dance with the hope that at least one person will leave the performance with even the slightest change in outlook on life, or even just a smile!”
Having no major injuries, just little nuisances here and there, Julia tries to take great care of her body in keeping with her hectic dance schedule. And yes, she is her biggest critic – sometimes a little too much, she admits.
“I am a bit of a perfectionist, which at times works to my advantage but other times means that I get down on myself, and that doesn’t help the situation.
“But over this last year I have learnt that there are some things that are worth worrying about and others that aren’t, and that I have to be patient with myself and know that everything doesn’t happen in an instant.”
New York is not her favourite place, and she misses her family
in Bagatelle, St James. Not having much time to really see or experience the city, she enjoys its diversity and the fact that she can “find Bajan goodies such as Tiger Malt and Shirley Biscuits, which makes me very happy.
Julia makes no bones about the support from her parents, especially now that she is so far away from home: “My parents have supported me and all my sisters in every way possible. They have always taught us that we can do anything we put our minds to as long as we are committed and realise that our strength comes not from ourselves but from God.
“There were many times that I just thought I could not do this anymore but then I speak to my parents and they remind me that who I am and what I am doing is not for myself alone but it is for a greater purpose . . . something much bigger than you and me,” she said proudly.
There is not really one favourite performance that she can pick out of the many she has given so far in her journey, as each performance has been “unique”.
With each one, she says, she strives to give more and continue to create and inspire in all aspects of her life. And with a flourish and a whirl, she is off to create and inspire another young mind.


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