Making It Happen- Paige Fraser

In my introductory post, I mentioned highlighting friends of mine. Friends that are making a difference, friends who are thriving on their passions, friends who are inspiring and fulfilling a greater picture. Here is my first story- my college classmate and fellow Chicago-based dancer, Paige Fraser.

A former founding dancer of Visceral Dance Chicago, she is hot off her Lyric Opera debut as “Minnie” in West Side Story, dancing for the jets (I’ll allow it this time…).

*Note: this interview was conducted more than a year ago. Although I find all of it to still be relevant, quotes have been paraphrased.

Let’s start with the fun stuff:

Photo by Faye Marie

Photo by Faye Marie

Ali: What would you say are your top 3 go-to fashion items?

Paige: Earrings are at the top of my list. I wear a lot of hoops and afro-centric earrings as representations of my culture.

Onesies- to work and at dance. I have a black one from Target.

Tote bags- “look good with any outfit” and are convenient!

Bonus: crop tops- “I find they’re really flattering with high-waisted leggings” plus a hoodie or sweatshirt (Nike, Champion, Adidas)

Ali: What influences your style in and out of the studio?

Paige: Colors really influence me. They are staples in my wardrobe. I love bright pops of color.

Hairstyles- I wear my hair in updos, puffs, braids, cornrows. Hairstyles are really important to me so that I don’t end up having the same look as everyone else. They’re also part of my self-care routine. My hairstyle can really change up my mood.

Technique/Rep- I like to change my outfits based on what class I’m taking or what kind of rep I’m working on. I wear looser pants to help me feel less held and more in my body. I have 2 pairs of tribal print pants that I love!

Ali: How does branding yourself fit into all of this and your fashion choices?

Paige: Branding is definitely important for artists these days but you don’t need to post every day. You don’t need 10k followers to share your message. Nike Chicago connected with me through instagram. I didn’t have a ton of followers but I had a genuine personality and story. I was starting to build my platform as a dancer with Scoliosis.

I think PR isn’t always necessary either. “Sometimes it’s better for you to just represent yourself!”

Photos: Left: Eric Politzer, Right: Fabio Filippi

Ali: What attracts you to the dance world?

Paige: Dance saved my life. I truly believe that God selects professional dancers. Dance has helped me to become more aware of my body. As much as it breaks us down, it also provides healing. There is so much diversity in dance- the people, the places we travel, and the individuality we get to share. Dance has given me an appreciation of what I have to offer.

Ali: So, if you weren’t a dancer, what would you be doing?

Paige: Probably teaching kids how to dance. I’d also be interested in becoming an advisor and mentor to others. Or something in fashion and styling.

Ali: Well I definitely see you doing all 3 of those things! You’ve already begun. Tell me about your foundation. What led you to start it?

Paige: The Paige Fraser Foundation stemmed from a lack of resources for the people of my Bronx neighborhood. There was a lot of self-doubt and I started thinking about how to give back to my community. I wanted to represent dancers with disabilities and was also looking for an opportunity to marry the 2 platforms of dance and Scoliosis awareness.

Note: The first program, “Dance is Healing”, was held this past December 2018!

Ali: Is there something you wish you knew prior to entering the professional field/college? How can we feed that to the new generation?

Paige: “It took me years to learn how my body functions, especially after being diagnosed with Scoliosis. Several of my teachers growing up were professional ballerinas. They were the only role models I had in dance. I always felt like I had to fit into that box until I went on and trained at other places. In general I think that some methods and techniques just don’t always work for certain types of bodies. At times, I ended up cranking my body into shapes and compromising positions ... “fake it till ya make it”.

I really find that there can be a disconnect in the language and vocabulary that some teachers use. Students can end up imitating the teachers and forcing things, which leads to really unhealthy practices and injuries. In the last couple of years I have had to let go of bad habits. I try to work in the proper alignment and listen to how my body functions. I love taking Floorbarre class for this very reason. You never stop learning. The human body is truly fascinating.”

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I’m with Paige. As educators of dance, we need to start encouraging healthier practices for our students. We need to be mindful of disabilities, mental health, and the vocabulary we choose to use. We need to make sure they still love to dance at the end of the day/week/year.

Thank you so much, Paige, for allowing me to prod and poke. I admire you dearly!

Be sure to check out The Paige Fraser Foundation, linked above, and follow @lovingthispaige for fashion, dance, and life inspo!

Photo by Felton Kizer

Photo by Felton Kizer

A new era for dancers

So, I've recently returned from teaching 2 weeks at the Hubbard Street Advanced Level Summer Intensive held at the USC Glorya Kaufman School of Dance. This is just something that I do every summer break now- I give up vacation time to teach ballet and rep to the next generation of dancers. After years of doing this, I've come to realize that I am very passionate about it and it's always a highlight of my year to see young dancers learning and growing in a challenging environment. 

These kids are young but very intelligent and insanely talented. At our summer intensives, we really throw a lot of information their way. They're in technique, somatic, and cross-training classes all morning followed by about 3 hours of rep in the afternoons. I know how grueling this schedule can be. I was one of those kids, after all.

But even after years of summer training, a BFA program, and 6 years dancing professionally, I still feel like I'm missing a few key elements within this business of professional dance life. YES, technique is important. YES, one should train in multiple styles of dance. YES, I do believe that focusing on dance practice and skill leads to future success as a professional.

It used to be that a 'well-rounded dancer' was proficient in multiple techniques, had a certain level of artistry, and was adaptable to different styles and choreography. I feel that these days, what makes a 'well-rounded dancer' is one that is smart in other aspects of dance as well. A dancer should also know how to negotiate a contract, edit a dance reel, create a brand and market for themselves as individual artists, write a grant; and maybe most importantly, a dancer should know how to finance their own career. At this point in time, you need other skills outside of dancing to support yourself in this field. 

I see it in these young students every summer. They know virtually nothing other than "I want to be a professional dancer, therefore, I must dance all the time." But the reality is that not all of them will get that far. Not all of them have the passion or even the talent for it. But if we can alter what we as educators can offer them, we might find fewer discouraged dancers trying to figure out what they'll do next. Instead, we'll find smarter and more engaged administrators, marketers, directors, and visionaries of dance in the future.

Maybe it's just me...of course some dancers can count on their talent and pure artistry to get them far. Opportunities seem to just show up for them along the way. Prodigies. I know a few. And I admire them deeply.

Regardless, I was inspired at USC. They seem to understand the need for change within the context of dance in today's world. I think they've also realized that putting the dancer first will benefit both parties in all future endeavors. I guess I just want to create a better way to serve future professional dancers and those who end up leaving the field. These thoughts are a start and I felt they were maybe important enough for others to see.

Tour Essentials

It's one thing to pack for your home theater. It's a whole other ballpark when packing for tour. We were lucky this past spring to be able to pack our larger, hard, tour cases for all of our stops. We had 8 shows in 5 different cities. I'll be writing more on each of our stops at a later date.

In the meantime, there is definitely some overlap in certain items but check out the list below for some added goodies when on tour.

Multiple outfit choices (including hats)- Make sure you're ready for any kind of weather and any kind of event. A great raincoat goes a long way. Mine is from Aritzia. If it gets cold, I can always layer it over a sweatshirt or hoodie. Also, make sure to bring a nicer outfit for a donor dinner or reception that pops up last minute.

  • A notebook- My notebooks are mostly filled with choreographic notes and different kinds of class combinations and ideas for teaching. I can't wait to start putting my new Shinola notebook to use.
  • Snacks- V important! Now I understand why my mom always carried snacks in her bag when I was a kid. I love RX bars or Clif bars, dried fruit, fresh fruit, and candy.
  • Travel pillow- I once forgot my travel pillow at a hotel and had to call back to see if they could mail it to me back at work- it is that important to me. It's a straight up lifesaver on long bus rides, middle seats on the plane, and can even replace a bad hotel pillow. My parents bought me the Total Pillow for Christmas years ago, and it's still in great condition.
  • Updated iPhone for movies, music, and podcasts- I think this goes without saying. Right now, I'm listening to Sza, Childish Gambino, and the podcast Armchair Expert. Bring a good pair of headphones too!
  • A new/good book- One of my favorite things to do at any airport is stop by the bookstore. I'm a regular customer at Barbara's Bookstore at O'Hare airport. I love having an easy book to read when I'm traveling. Send your book recommendations over here!!
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