July Interview: Jasmine Chiu

Get to know one of EMD's All-Star Apprentices.  From Hong Kong to Vancouver and Boston to New York City...this classy gal has a lot to share about her journey to a professional dance career.  Photo by Matthew Murphy 

MA: What's your very first dance memory?
JC: I was maybe three years old, in my first ballet class, and I remember the night before my dad had magically tied my ballet slippers' strings into some fancy flowering shape. I'm ashamed to say that I remember feeling embarrassed because none of the other girls had strings as extravagant as mine... I'd love if my dad did that for me today!!

MA: Tell us about your childhood! Where were you born?
JC: I was born in Hong Kong! I spent the first five years of my life there and it remains to be a vivid time in my life. I then moved to Vancouver, BC, where I lived the rest of my childhood. I remember having to learn English when I moved to Canada. It's strange to think about a language, which you now consider your primary language, to have once been a foreign, secondary language...

MA: Everyone has a different path to a professional dance career. What was yours? Is this a career you always knew you'd like to pursue?                                                                                  JC: It really started at age 8, when my mom wanted me to act less like a "tomboy", and more ladylike. So of course, she enrolled me in ballet classes. To be honest, it took me a few years to fall in love with dance. My love for it only really started to grow when I was able to comprehend what it meant to make a choice to commit to something, and to choose to put effort into it (I'd say this was around age 12-14?). It was only then that I 1) appeared to be a student with progressing potential, and 2) found a home in this complex craft. By then, the more time I spent with it the more I loved it. And at some seamless point I decided I wanted to take up this profession. 

MA: What drew you to the dance program at Boston Conservatory?
JC: I was the kind of kid that wanted to be enrolled in every class possible - ballet, jazz, lyrical, modern, tap, musical theater, acting, voice... It almost felt like a competition on who took the most classes. Anyway, that is to say, my desire for an array of skills and styles continued as I looked at post-secondary options. I really wanted the opportunity to have a versatile training and Boston Conservatory seemed to be one of the few schools that offered that. I also liked that it was a small school of dancers, musicians, and musical theater students that seemed to cultivate a collaborative environment. 

MA: If you could write a letter to your 18 year old self, about to leave for college, what kind of advice would you tell yourself?
JC: I would advise myself to be humble and keep an open mind -- about my fellow peers, teachers, training, and life. There was certainly a phase in the beginning where I felt like I knew everything and didn't need to be in college. But looking back, there was so much I didn't know and had never even considered to think about. Those four years in school were absolutely crucial to my dancing, my character, and current outlook on this life. 

MA: Is there someone, dancer or not, that has greatly impacted who you are and what you do today? How so?
JC:My parents, of course! I am grateful that they have supported me for all of these years, to do whatever I thought would make me happy. But more than that, I'm grateful that they also left me to my own devices to figure things out for myself. They never pushed me to do and try harder at anything which in turn, perhaps, made for slower progress... But I think in the end, this independence I was left with at a young age made for more conscious, and meaningful decisions as I matured.

MA: I have personally experienced apprenticing for Elisa Monte Dance, so I know it can be extremely rewarding and extremely challenging learning multiple roles. What has been the most rewarding part of taking on the role of apprentice?                                                                         JC: As an apprentice, you get to see how the company goes from the first day of learning a piece - a day where everyone's crowded around each other's iPads and laptops trying to catch every detail - to the day the dancers get on stage. I get to witness their transformation; the process and the hard work. This is something an audience often doesn't get to see, but I think it is the most beautiful part. 

MA: and the most challenging/difficult part?
JC: Trying to learn various roles at a time on the side! As an apprentice, you probably won't be given any specific role to learn for the most part. So you're left to learn as many parts as you can because you never know who might need a cover! It's especially difficult, too, when you start looking at partnering. Because it's something you can't truly learn and embody unless you can practice it, with a partner.

MA: Do you have any pre and/or post performance rituals you like to follow?
JC: I'll usually do a quick run/mark through of whatever piece(s) I'm about to perform. I'll imagine myself in the space, executing the piece in the way I most desire to. And once I've done that I'll usually try to relax and joke around with my fellow dancers. Often, we can get quite serious and stressed out about what we're about to do, and I think it's important to remind ourselves that this is one of the most magical, sensational things we get to do. And dance, for me, is so much about the communal connection. So it is also important to find a moment to circle up and recognize that we are all in this together.

MA: We learned about foods you love in our last blog post. What other forms of physical activity do you like to do that complement your dance schedule?
JC: As a warm-up I'll usually do a mix of Pilates, yoga, and rolling on the floor. Outside of the studio I love to take yoga classes because it's something you get to do just for yourself, and it gives the body and mind a chance to neutralize from whatever you've been working on in the studio. I also spend a little bit of time at the gym, mostly to find ways to challenge my stamina. 

MA: Now on to the more pressing information...you're hosting a dinner party. You can invite any 3 people you want, dead or alive. Who would you invite?
JC: I would invite the lovely ladies of The Supremes to dine with me. Their music is the main reason why my obsession for Motown music began. I would ask them to sing "Where Did Our Love Go" and ask if they would let me sing a verse with them (in costume). Wine would be an important asset to this dinner, too.

MA: What's the last book you read? And the last movie you watched?                                          JC: I've been reading "On the Move" by Oliver Sacks. It's an autobiography about the erratic path he's taken to become who he is today - a neurologist and an innovative writer of it. Aside from fascinating research on human complexity, it also includes motorcycles, weight-lifting competitions, drugs, male lovers, and a near-death experience with a bull. The last movie I most remember watching is "The Theory of Everything" on the incredible life of Stephen Hawking.

MA: If you could perform any choreography (besides Elisa's or Tiffany's) anywhere in the universe, what would you choose?
JC: I would gather my friends, and William Forsythe, who would set an improvisational score for us somewhere in Iceland, under the Northern Lights.

MA: And finally, if you could give one piece of advice to anyone, not just dancers, planning on moving to New York City, what would you say?
JC: Just do it! Try it out. You may end up finding that this city isn't for you, but it is certainly a unique experience to have. And remember that you can always leave, too. If you have a hard time keeping up with the pace of the city, find ways to keep an inner calm. I love sitting in Bryant Park because you can see the vibrancy of this crazy city, but you also see it juxtaposed to the serene grass and trees. And don't forget to look up once in a while! There is beauty to be found. It's easy to spend your time walking down the streets only looking ahead, or at your phone.