Asana: How did you start yoga?
Vanessa: My first experience with yoga came when I was in early high school. In one of the dance intensives I was taking there was a short yoga class which sparked my interest in yoga. I loved how gentle the practice was and how the practice is based on the individual as opposed to dance where there is little concern about how everybody is different.
Asana: Given your dance background, are you naturally flexible?
Vanessa: I am naturally flexible. I think genetics may play a part in that as my father can still do a split pretty well.
Asana: How do you see yoga help in your dance performance?
Vanessa: I believe that yoga helps in many ways both physically and mentally. Not only does yoga help build muscles that dancers do not often use but it also calms the mind and helps one become more self aware which I believe is extremely important for dancers.
Asana: How often do you practise yoga?
Vanessa: I practise often; I usually do very short practices throughout the day. This seems to work well for me as it helps me focus and collect myself throughout the day.
Asana: What would be a typical yoga practice for you?
Vanessa: I change my practice depending on what I need that day. Sometimes it’s less asana and more mediation while other times it’s more asana. My practice has been very restorative over the past year to help me manage the stress of moving to a new state, demographic change, and starting a company.
Asana: Do you consider that many dance moves / postures conflict with yoga teaching?
Vanessa: Some dance movements may conflict with yoga teaching, although I don’t believe they have to. Dance is another form to express joy and I believe dance and yoga can go hand and hand.
Asana: Was it challenging to change the techniques?
Vanessa: I didn’t find the need to change the techniques of either. I believe these two go well together, and with some thought can complement each other.
Asana: Why did you undertake yoga teacher training?
Vanessa: I can’t say I took the yoga teacher training for any particular reason. I was very drawn to yoga my whole life and I just felt drawn to learn more about yoga. I was very interested to learn more about the philosophical aspect of the practice.
Asana: How has that helped your profession?
Vanessa: A large part of my teacher training was focused on anatomy. This was extremely helpful for my career as a whole. It also helped me think about injury prevention in my work. Lately in the dance world it seems that little attention is paid to injury prevention so this was a great start to learning about safe ways to move dancers’ bodies.
Asana: Do you encourage your dancers to practise yoga?
Vanessa: I do; we have a company class once a week and a short yoga practice is always included with their dance technique.
Asana: Was there resistance?
Vanessa: No, many of my dancers have practised before or consistently practice themselves.
Asana: Tell us about Urban Tumbleweed, which combines hatha yoga, contemporary dance and theatre.
Vanessa: Urban Tumbleweed allows breath to flow through the movement to create a unique atmosphere for its audience members. The piece has three types of characters; there is a group of dancers who play everyday people caught in the rat race of life, a character that represents mother earth, and a dancer who is breaking out from the norms of everyday life.
Throughout the piece there is a focus on the Muladhara, Manipura and the Vishuddha Chakras. This piece uses over two thousand plastic bags to show the average amount that each of us uses in a year.
Urban Tumbleweed began its creation in February 2015. After living in NYC for many months, I noticed that plastic bags were the tumbleweeds of the city. They whirled in the wind and hung from bare trees; never completely decomposing or disappearing, just changing color and shape as they move throughout the cityscape. I became determined to raise awareness and hopefully change this issue through performing arts.
Asana: Is it hard to combine different elements?
Vanessa: It did take a bit pondering to combine the two in more interesting ways then just asana and dance movements. I deeply researched chakras and philosophy to help connect the two on more of a deeper level.
Asana: Do you consider it risky to introduce something other than dance to your audience?
Vanessa: No, I don’t feel that it’s risky. I believe that as long as you can keep the audience engaged in what you are doing and your storyline, you can make a positive impact on them.
Asana: How has yoga transformed your lifestyle, philosophy etc?
Vanessa: By adjusting the way I think about myself and the world around me. Since my teacher training I’ve evaluated the way I think to create a more positive atmosphere. I try to put good vibes out into the world.
Asana: What is your typical day when you are not directing your dance company?
Vanessa: When I am not in rehearsal for my company I’m doing office work for the company. I spend a lot of time thinking about ways to make the company better and researching issues that many people face so that I can perhaps create a piece about it.
Asana: How do you relax yourself?
Vanessa: I do enjoy naps with my two cats and listening to music in addition to practicing yoga.
Asana: Do you have other pastimes?
Vanessa: I enjoy drawing, teaching dance, traveling, and walks.
Asana: Does any of your family / friends practise yoga or dance?
Vanessa: My mother has practised with me several times and I do have many friends who practice.
Asana: Do you generally meet people / make friends with common interest?
Vanessa: Most of the people I meet are in the arts world and are very kind open people. I find that many people in the arts field practice yoga regularly.
Asana: You mention the ³desire to change the world. How and have you?
Vanessa: By creating pieces about social and political issues I hope to start conversations about the issues we face in our world. I hope that through my work I can show audiences a different side of issues that are all too familiar to most of us. I believe that every person I reach through my work walks away with knowledge of a new issue they did not know about before or perhaps a way to enact change for an issue they face.
Asana: Having grown up in a small town but now live in New York City, where is your ideal home?
Vanessa: That’s a tough question; both places are very different and have unique things to offer. NYC is a great place to grow as an artist while where I used to live is much calmer and slow paced. I enjoy spending time in both places.
Asana: Is there any location you would like to visit, to perform or to live?
Vanessa: I would love to go on a world tour someday with my dance company and to share my work with those around the world. I love to explore different cultures and meeting new people so I am open to wherever the wind takes me.
To read the full article please download our Asana Journal App or purchase Issue 160 April 2016.