of Bone Velvet Arts Formation and Dance Church
Dance is about feeling. Allison Jacks works to ignite that intention in her students, hoping they feel the music more than study the steps. She’s the co-founder of Bone Velvet Arts Formation—a non-profit organization that supports the current and evolving arts. She’s also a Dance Church leader, taking students through the movement class that’s designed for every body, dancer or otherwise, and encourages release over routine.
Allison is an investor in art, from dancing to film to installations. She believes in creating an aesthetic that breathes life into an environment through a balance of function and flair, where an experience is equally seen and felt. She shares more about how her passion leads her teaching philosophy.
What's your philosophy as a dance instructor?
I focus on creating a space where everyone feels safe. I think, in general, taking any kind of class or workshop can bring insecurities or discomfort. That’s natural and will most likely happen. So instead of telling people not to be nervous, I let them know class is for them, and I’m here for them. I encourage them to stay open, to say yes to their choices, and to trust themselves. I’ve noticed using this method makes people accept challenges that come with taking a class and makes them push themselves—in turn, raising the bar for themselves and setting their own intentions and priorities.
When you reach a point where your brain is working as much as your body, that's where you grow; that’s where you thrive.
How do you help students feel comfortable in their bodies?
As a leader, I emphasize internal to external interaction, so there is a lot of dialogue around what we are feeling and where it initiates. I believe movement translates differently when you think of it this way versus just "doing a step." I also like to remind them that no one is going to look the same, so "following my lead" is more about feeling than copying. I think the way I look is also very realistic. I’m Latina and naturally very curvy. I can tell this makes people who come to my class, specifically women of color, feel empowered. I try to detach from the stereotypical demographic of athleticism and "dancer bodies" and work toward making them feel limitless and, of course, badass. It’s a beautiful thing to witness that happening. Health really begins in the brain.
What's your process for creating new choreography?
I always say process generates purpose. So trusting the process is crucial—for myself, as well as whomever I’m working alongside. Even though I usually have a messy vision and I can be all over the place, it always comes together. I have a hard time verbalizing what I want, and even talking about my work. The studio is my sanctuary, and I've learned almost anything is possible in there, and it's truly my favorite part of being a working artist. For choreography, you have to just start moving and playing. Sometimes, that starts on paper. Other times, it’s just playing music and improvising. I’ve started new pieces in so many different ways, but one thing always stays true: it’s organic and process-heavy.
Which art disciplines do you most enjoy merging?
I don't really consider myself a dancer. I’m not super active in the community in terms of taking class regularly and performing frequently. Over the years, I've realized what I love about movement is it’s artistically ambiguous. I've been really into installation work for the last couple of years, and I feel more connected to this type of work than I ever did to choreographing a dance piece, which deserves so much credit because it’s a job on its own. I have found a distinct pleasure and satisfaction in bringing different elements together from food and film, to sport aesthetic and structures. Producing an experience that is a collaboration of art disciplines, as well as societal aspects, is wildly entertaining for me. The possibilities are endless.
What's on your mind when you dance?
This depends on which plane I’m on. Am I creating? Am I improvising? Am I demonstrating a sequence? Most of the time, I dance because nothing is on my mind except exactly what I’m doing. The feeling is indescribable. It’s fleeting, yet powerful. It’s a physical, emotional, and mental movement. You need to be a smart dancer to be a good dancer. It’s not just about what you can do with your body. With that being said, when you reach a point where your brain is working as much as your body, that's where you grow; that’s where you thrive.