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TeenLIVE at the NYPL in Retrospect: Jermaine Browne on May 23, 2012
Jermaine Browne: We were lucky enough to have a dance talk at the Mulberry Street Library on Wednesday, May 23, 2012. I love dance, so I was very excited to meet an international choreographer, dancer, and teacher, Jermaine Browne. Respect My Step is an online community where teens and people of all ages can post their one-minute YouTube dance videos. No comments are published so that negative comments are not made about the dance videos. Chris Shoemaker, Young Adult Programming Specialist at NYPL, introduced the speaker. Shoemaker asked the audience, "Are you ready to move? Are you ready to shake?"
Browne began by mentioning that he was originally from Georgetown, Guyana. As a young kid, he arrived in shorts and flip-flops to the snow and cold of New York City. It was a different experience than Guyana, and NYC is a great place for him to be creative.
Browne said that it has been a weird journey. He has done fashion films, and recently had the opportunity to work with Mick Jagger. His days keep changing, and he is enjoying the ride. He has done hip-hop to rock. He loves his job; he gets to inspire dancers and teach them. NYC was the catalyst for his dance career.
Victoria's Secret Fashion Show: Browne started off dancing for Victoria's Secret Fashion Show. As soon as he became a part of the show, he knew that he wanted to choreograph it. However, when he watched the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show on TV, all of the male dancers were cut out. Only the female dancers were retained since it was a girls' show. Then, someone asked him to be an assistant choreographer for the show. His supervisor then named him co-choreographer based on the work that he was doing. A couple of years later, someone asked him to be choreographer of the show, and he has been choreographing the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show for five years now. He keeps ideas in his head for what he wants to do with the stars.
Browne mentioned that he is self-employed, and it is a roller-coaster ride. There are times when he has work, and there are times when he is not working.
Breaking into Dance: Shoemaker asked how Browne broke into the dance world.
Browne stated that his mother taught him dance in the Caribbean. He danced at a Sweet Sixteen party. Someone saw him and asked him to join a dance company. Then he was on a television show and someone asked him to take ballet classes and learn moves. He loves dance and movement, but he did not want to learn how to dance like a girl. However, he got through it. While holding hands with 10-year-old girls, they counted 1-2-3 Jump over the puddle! He has always had a strong drive for dance, and luckily he has found mentors to help guide him through the process.
Teaching Dance: Shoemaker mentioned that Browne originally wanted to be a preacher and a sociologist. Those two professions are very keyed into human psychology. Shoemaker asked if this interest in people helps him in dance.
Browne mentioned that in some cultures dancers do not want to touch each other. In this society, dancers want to be on TV. In order to entertain a television audience, people must be very boisterous and outgoing. In teaching dance, he breaks students down and consequently allows them to be free. The job of dancers is to take audience members out of their seats and transcend them into another world. Browne mentioned that he was teaching in Spain a couple of years ago. He says that teachers must find ways to get through to people. They try different methods and change their approaches based on the students.
Browne mentioned that dance does not have to be one language. From Guyana to Vienna, dancers can create their own movement and be open-minded. His style is Jazz, Funk, and Hip-Hop (JFH). He mentioned that dancers should not try to emulate dancers too closely. This can stifle their talent and limit how far dancers can go. Dancers can use role models as a guideline and tool, but it is important for dancers to be original and spread their own wings. Copying the style of others is not as helpful to the world.
Shoemaker asked if dance is the field which allows Browne to express himself best.
Browne said that dance is his life. If he feels melancholy, he can dance through it. That becomes like dance therapy.
Shoemaker stated that people look for creative outlets. He asked if dance is easier for someone who wants a more tangible way to be creative.
Browne said that dance is definitely not an easy field to enter. People think that it is easy because of the recent proliferation of TV shows about dance (eg, So You Think You Can Dance?). Dance is work; dancers can use movement to show energy, melancholy, longing, etc.
Learning Dance Skills: Shoemaker mentioned that some people cannot get to NYC to meet with some of the bigger dance personalities. He asked if youtube and online social media is an effective tool for dancers to get exposure to talented artists.
Browne stated that watching YouTube videos does not allow viewers to experience a personal critique of the dancers' particular moves by talented professionals. Video is an acceptable way to learn dance technique, but it is difficult to learn artistry from YouTube videos or get honest, vital and helpful critiques from qualified dance teachers. When Browne was not in NYC, he found dance classes in small studios with talented people. Finding dance teachers may be harder for people do not reside in large urban centers, but it is doable. Those dancers may simply have to work a little bit harder. There are ways to find dance classes.
Shoemaker asked if there was a particular age group that Browne preferred to work with.
Browne mentioned that he used to work with professional dancers, who would do what he asked, but sometimes with some resistance. Then, he started teaching kids who could not come to the city. It is necessary to adapt teaching styles to kids. He is impressed with kids who really want to dance, and they push themselves hard at an early age. He does not have a preference for any particular age group.
Respect My Step: An Online Dance Community: Shoemaker said that dance TV shows are big right now (eg, The Dance Scene). Dance is at the low end of celebrity shows. He asked why dance is on the bottom and how it can be elevated.
Browne said that he is not exactly sure. Dancers train for longer than athletes, and their bodies accomplish amazing feats that are not natural (eg, leg coming up really high). He says that people tend to go for other forms of entertainment. In order to put dance more into the forefront of the public's attention, he would like the dance community to connect. People need to start telling their stories so that others can understand. Browne decided that he wanted to create an online community called Respect My Step. This is a website (respectmystep.com) where dancers can post youtube one-minute videos of dance of all types to showcase who they are as dancers. Dancers have a variety of venues (eg, on the beach, near the Eiffel Tower). After their dances, the dancers state their name in their language, and then say "Respect My Step" in English. Comments are not posted since he wanted to keep the site positive.
The website is helpful to provide exposure to various styles of dance (eg, a mother dancing around the house with her son, as his mother did in the Caribbean).
We watched a preview of the site. We saw a flamenco dancer, a hip-hop dancer, and a ballerina dancing on concrete. Browne wants to remove dance from its stereotypical home (eg, Lincoln Center). He wants people in professions other than dance to view the website and perhaps have a dance put a smile on their faces while they are drinking morning coffee. He wants dancers to avoid being intimidated by other dance videos that they might view on the Respect My Step website. He said that dancers could simply sit in chairs and do something with their arms. When he was a young child, a dance online community such as this did not exist.
Shoemaker mentioned that there are amazing teens that are looking to develop their skills. Negative comments can destroy kids' confidence when they are just trying to figure themselves out. He thanked Browne for creating a safe space online for kids to display their dance skills.
Browne mentioned that there is so much that people can do. It just depends on how people open their eyes and use what is right in front of them.
Dance Therapy: Shoemaker is aware of Browne's other interviews. He saw a clip where Browne stated, "When people failed me, I danced." It sounded like when other people disappointed Browne, he used that energy to create Respect My Step.
Browne stated that there had been times in his life when people had done bad things to him, even though he thought they were nice people. Also, sometimes he faced rejection. For example, sometimes he did not get other jobs as a dancer, and he did not know why. At these times in life, it is important to have confidence in oneself and a caring support group in order to keep going and succeed at one's goals in life. Respect My Step originated from his love for dance. He has choreographed for the stars and he was looking for his next project as a dance professional. He thought about what he wanted to say about dance. He decided to just let the public speak the language of dance and say what they wanted to in an online community. He got a video for Respect My Step from a 14-year-old boy in Poland who was doing hip-hop in the snow. It was thrilling to hear the joy in his voice and see the joy he felt in what he was doing. Sometimes it is good to hear the dancer's voice.
Browne said that people could use the books at the Library to learn more about dance.
My love of music: I absolutely love music and dance. I love music and singing, as well. I played cello from third to sixth grade, and flute from fourth to eleventh grade. I even competed in a flute competition while I was in high school. At one point, I was the 1st first flute in my high school band. (We had first and second flautists, and these were also ranked.) I also love singing, and I sung in choruses throughout school. I was lucky enough to study with a voice teacher in Albany who had studied at The Julliard School while I was in a barbershop choir, and she really helped me develop my voice by utilizing my diaphragm more effectively. I also took voice lessons with another instructor in Albany.
My love of dance: When I was a little girl, I took tap dance and ballet, prior to horseback riding. I also took ballroom dance classes in Sydney, Australia and modern dance classes in Albany. I loved my undergraduate dances, including the annual Snowball, which was held on my 18th birthday. I danced all night on New Year's Eve 1999 at the Sydney Opera House. Don't worry; they played, "Party Like It's 1999" while we watched fireworks fall over the Sydney Harbor Bridge. I also went crazy over the Ceilidhs (pronouned "kay-lees", it is a Gaelic word meaning "Scottish dance party"), where frenetic Celtic music and step dancing predominated the scene. I went to three Ceilidhs and I was in Scotland for five months. I even named one of my cats Ceilidh because I love the "dh" spelling and the Gaelic word, and that cat is like a party. She is very mischievous, and half of her face is black and half is orange, as if she is wearing a mask at a masquerade party. Nowadays, I love my music CDs and just mainly dance to them.
Thanks to Chris Shoemaker for organizing and moderating this very intriguing TeenLIVE event!
TeenLIVE Presents Young Dancemakers Company
July 28, 2012
New York Library for the Performing Arts
2 p.m. - 4 p.m.
Teens take to the stage and perform their own original choreography in this exciting performance at the Library for the Performing Arts. Watch the moves and see the steps before you have a chance to ask questions. After the performance, a lucky few teens will have the opportunity to create their own dance and perform it onstage with the dance experts.
All KidsLIVE and TeenLIVE programs are sponsored by the Katerina and Andreas C. Dracopoulos Family Endowment for Young Audiences.
Description provided by Young Adult Services
- Dance events at NYPL
- Dance NYC
- Dance Films Association
- NYS Association for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance
- Central Park Dance Skaters Association
- National Dance Association
- USA Dance
- National Dance Education Association
- American Dance Therapy Association
- Dance Journals
- Dance Databases
- Dance Books at NYPL
- link to TeenLIVE interview with Jermaine Browne