Lots of things happening over here and I’ve been remiss in my duties of keeping you up to date. First thing’s first: I’ve moved! After another six month long stint in NZ, we’ve packed our things, sold our house, and moved westward to Portland, Oregon. We will definitely miss the east coast, but it seemed like the right time to try something new, and Portland just seemed like a great fit that’s much more conducive to our lifestyles and interests.
The other big news: I have decided to take a (plausibly indefinite?) hiatus from engineering and really focus on trying to make photography my full time gig. I am terrified to be making the jump from the world of regular paychecks and 9-5 hours into the entrepreneurial field but at the same time I am super excited to be doing something I’m so passionate about. I owe a huge thanks to all of you have supported me in my decision, particularly my husband who has been my biggest cheerleader in this endeavor. Now I just have to get some jobs! No pressure.
In between coming back from NZ and the super fun solo trip across country, alone, with two dogs (did I mention it was super fun?), I managed to get in a week of visiting and shooting back in Philly. While it was awesome to see old faces and just have fun shooting, perhaps my favorite shoot was with a young dancer. While I’ve never been much of a dancer myself (understatement of the year), I’ve always been fascinated by the art and this was my first real opportunity to shoot it.
I met Tunai through her cousin Dani, who I’ve worked with quite a bit on a lot of my shoots (Dani is a very talented makeup artist)! I wanted to shoot with Tunai before I left for NZ but couldn’t make my schedule work, so I was super excited when I heard she was free when I was in town. We decided to meet at the studio of her company, the Eleone Dance Theatre where Tunai spends hours and hours daily training.
Initially I had intended to incorporate a bit more of the studio space in these images to give some context, but walking in, I immediately decided against it. Firstly, the studio was not the prettiest space (to put it delicately). While great for the dancers’ training, the mirrors, bars and posters added a lot of unnecessary visual clutter that ultimately distracted from the beauty of the dance. After watching her warm up, I realized that Tunai’s movements were the real story and we lit the scene accordingly.
The great thing about working with dancers is I don’t have to worry about posing. I let Tunai take the lead and she had already lined up a number of poses and movements she wanted to have captured. I was a bit concerned about timing some of these movements—it can be tricky if you’re not a dancer to know when to press the shutter—but with a few trial runs we were able to get in a rhythm pretty seamlessly. What was perhaps most impressive was her dedication to perfecting the poses, sometimes repeating the movements over and over with micro adjustments—a straighter leg here, a higher arm there—and always with a smile on her face.
In shooting Tunai, I learned a lot about her beginnings and her story as a dancer. As she was kind enough to provide me with a little writeup of her story (put much more eloquently than I could have summarized), I’ll share with you some of her answers below:
Q: Can you tell me a bit about your background and who you’ve danced for?
I started my dance training at the Rock school for dance education at the age of seven. While at the Rock School I began to develop her technique while training at their summer intensives as well as training at Dance Theatre of Harlem. I attended Franklin Learning Center where I studied as a dance major and began my first pre-professional experience with Eleone Dance Theatre's second company; Eleone Connection. I graduated The University of the Arts with a BFA in dance. I have worked with The Arsenale della Danza at the La Biennale di Venezia, Carbon dance theatre, Brian Sanders JUNK, as well as Eleone Dance Theatre. I’ve had the pleasure of working with choreographers such as Louis Johnson, Scott Jovovich, Eva Szabo, Douglas Becker, Karen Brown, Francesca Harper, Kim Bears-Bailey, and many more.
Q: How did you begin dancing?
It all started one day in summer camp. All of the kids were required to take up a few physical activities. One of them was ballet, the one class I hated. I would always skip it, it was way too slow and too girly for my taste. I was more into sports like basketball and track. Then one day the camp took all of the girls on a field trip to an audition for The Rock School for dance education. I was extremely nervous because I had never auditioned for anything like this ever. But for some odd reason I was a little excited to go. When we got to the audition there were tons of other kids there which made it less intimidating. They had us stretch, jump and did across the floor combination. Before I knew it the audition was over and two weeks later I got an acceptance letter for the school. At this point I was overflowing with excitement I couldn't believe that I was chosen. I later found out that I was the only one to make it out of all the girls from my camp. I took the opportunity and continued to work to get better, now I love what I do. It's one of the best decision I've made in my life, I couldn't be happier for where it's taken me.
What is it like being a dancer?
Being a dancer is an amazing feeling, I get make a life doing what I love and take pride and joy in practicing it every day. Dancing is my therapy, I use it to get through life. Whenever something is going on and I need an outlet I can use my craft to express myself and release some stress. An added bonus of being a dancer is entertaining and making people feel better through performance. Seeing the looks on their faces and helping them escape reality to relax for a short period of time just to catch a show is needed every now and then. I feel everyone deserves a mini getaway.
Dance also gives me a chance to see the world in a different way. I'm fortunate enough to be able to travel to different place and meet different people. This helps expand my knowledge of the world and different cultures while also allowing me to inspire others through my movement. Becoming a dancer has taught me a lot but most importantly I've learned to believe in myself. I think this is one of the most underrated qualities in a lot of dancers today. When you buy into yourself and truly believe you can do better you start to unlock hidden layers of yourself that you never knew were there. That's when the true joy begins, this is when my outlook on life changed for the better and I began to build a stronger mindset. I now appreciate every moment of the process and take pride in being and doing better. I try to instill this into my students, I want them to get the most out of life, reach their full potential and love what they do. I always remind them that none of this is possible if they don't believe in themselves and continue to work on their craft.
A huge thanks to Tunai, not only for sharing her beautiful talent with us, but her wise and inspiring words to remind all of us, no matter our fields, to believe in ourselves—a particularly resonant statement for this aspiring photographer!