January Interview: Justin Lynch
We kick off 2015 with an interview from our person of the month, Justin Lynch. Lawyer, pianist, gummy-hoarder, and of course, dancer, Mr. Lynch is one complex and multi-faceted artist...
JG: You became a lawyer before starting your dance career. What made you want to switch gears and pursue dance?
JL: I had been working at a big law firm for two years, and it was the wrong environment for me. I felt like I was faking who I was and I was extremely unhappy. And at the same time I knew that I had this talent as a dancer. I thought, if I don't try now, it will be too late. I asked for a year’s leave of absence, which they were kind enough to give to me. But once the year was up, there was no turning back.
JG: How do law and dance connect? What about them interests you?
JL: There are connections all over. Choreography and law both try to organize a space and the people in it. Arguing a case in front of a judge or a jury is a performance. You have to rehearse it, a lot of it is improv, there are a lot of variables that play out while it's happening. I've been reading a book on William Forsythe, and leave it to him to choreograph a piece with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as its starting point. It's called Human Writes, and he created it along with a professor from my law school.
As for what interests me about law, I do copyright and trademark law and corporate law for companies in creative industries. With a dash of immigration thrown in. I liken it to people who are really interested in how engines work. Each of those areas of law is a pretty complicated system kind of like an engine. And I find it interesting to learn how it works. I’m constantly learning because it’s complex and the law keeps changing. The constant learning thing is also what keeps me interested in dance. I’m always learning about myself. The physical challenge is one part of it for sure, and I love pushing myself and learning about how my body moves. But there’s also a real emotional and psychological journey to this career as well. You can’t box away whatever issues you have and think they’re not going to come out in your dancing. They come out and everyone sees. The way you partner someone has so much to do with your comfort with other bodies and with intimacy, just as one example. You can’t ignore those things in yourself and try to be a performer. And now that I’ve started creating my own work, there’s a whole other window onto this world. I love seeing how dancers navigate the situations I set up for them. I really, really love watching dancers.
JG: Do you find that starting dance later in life made things more difficult, or have there been some advantages?
JL: Starting dance later in life absolutely made things more difficult. I was already in law school by the time I started taking dance class regularly. Children have a more intuitive relationship with their own bodies. When you're older, fear and your own ego get in the way. You’re afraid of looking like a fool, although paradoxically for years I felt like the village idiot in class anyway so I should have embraced it. Sometimes I felt like I was learning dance the way people learn a second language. And then even once I started getting work, I had insecurities about not having followed the typical path to a dance career. I felt like I was an imposter. It took me FOREVER to stop worrying about not having a dance conservatory background.
JG: What is the hardest part about being a professional male dancer?
JL: Male dancers totally have it easy compared to the women. I can't think of any facet of my career where I can say the women have it easier. There are less male dancers around, so it's easier to find work and we are harder to replace. And we know it and a lot of us behave accordingly, which is a totally privileged and lousy thing to do. I do wish I got more opportunities to be lifted, though. In my first year with the company, we did Shattered, and in that piece one of the dancers picks me up over his head and carries me clear across the stage. He was super tall and I remember feeling a rush of wind. It was like 5 degrees cooler up there.
JG: Growing up, what did you dream of becoming or doing?
JL: All I wanted to do when I was growing up was to become a pianist. The piano was my first love and I was totally in it to win it and went to college for piano and everything. And then somewhere along the way I got discouraged. I just wasn’t able to do what I wanted to do on the piano. Technique problems that I had grappled with for years were not going away. Eventually I decided, “Oh well, I guess I’ll go to law school.” My new year’s resolution is to play the piano more. It’s only fair to my childhood self.
JG: Describe a day in the life of Justin Lynch. This can be in New York and/or when at home in Jamaica.
JL: Usually I set my alarm for around 7 or 8. These days I’m trying to get better at French so I set my alarm to a French radio station and listen to that for about half an hour. Then I’ll make some breakfast, have a shower, and if I’m keeping up with my New Year’s resolutions I’ll practice the piano for a bit. Usually the main part of the day is some combination of class, gym, rehearsal and law stuff. Nights are often for law stuff as well, not because I’m overworked but just because I’m not the best at managing my time and spend too much time on Facebook or Twitter or playing Words With Friends with my mom.
JG: Do you have a specific routine before (or after) a performance? Is there a particular meal, exercise, even song you like to listen to that completes the performance ritual for you?
JL: I don't have a specific routine. Lately I've experimented with giving myself an image to work with the day of a show. For example, I'll imagine that my two arms are one big rope or that I'm just made of bones and connective tissue and I'll go through the day with one of those as my image.
JG: Who is your hero?
JL: I've never had a single hero. There are a lot of people who I admire and who inspire and support me and who have made me who I am, most especially my friends and my teachers and my parents Patrick and Marguerite and my brother Nicholas.
JG: If you could have dinner with 3 people, alive or dead (or future?), who would they be and why?
JL: Christiane Amanpour, the Virgin Mary, and Maggie Smith in character as the Dowager Countess of Grantham. When I was kid I was in complete awe of Christiane Amanpour. She's basically the soundtrack to every international crisis that happened while I was a teenager. I think she would do a good job of small talk with Mary and would get Mary to open up about whether she's really a virgin. I think the Dowager Countess would be really confused and annoyed by everything. Mary would be wondering why the Dowager Countess keeps ringing a bell.
JG: Do you have a guilty pleasure?
JL: I love gummy candy of any variety. Every time I visit Europe I get into this vortex of Haribo-everything going into my mouth. And I get sick from it and I still can't stop.
JG: What book, piece of art, music, etc has impacted or inspired you most?
JL: When I was 17 I was in London studying at the Royal College of Music. And they were putting on a production of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem, and they made everyone who was not in the orchestra sing in the choir. So I sang in the choir. It's just an earth-shattering piece. And to be in the middle of it all, with it just blowing up around you, is incredible. It was my, "Ohhhh, art can do this" moment. And we performed it in Westminster Cathedral.
JG: What is the biggest change you would like to see in America this year?
JL: Woah, I dunno. Like, one thing? We've become such an ideologically polarized society, especially online. There's not a lot of room or patience for nuance. People just insult each other and hurl articles and hashtags around like missiles. I consider myself pretty liberal but sometimes I stop myself from saying things out loud or on Facebook because I'm afraid I'll sound too Republican.
JG: If you could dance any piece of choreography (that isn’t from Elisa or Tiffany), what would you choose?
JL: This is a hard one, there's so much great stuff out there. One piece that comes to mind is Wim Vandekeybus' What The Body Does Not Remember. I saw that piece about two years ago in New York. He stripped all the movement of any decoration. And it's really beautiful and whimsical and sexy.
JG: What three words would you like people 100 years from now to use in describing you and your impact on the world?
JL: I’m going to say no to this question. I’ve never really been good at taking the long view of my own life. Also I’d much rather live my life exploring whatever interests me… and if in doing so I have an impact on the world that is worth remembering then that’s cool, but if not I’m also happy with those three words being “REST IN PEACE.”