Stephanie Paul of Be The Groove
Dancer Stephanie Paul of the popular rhythmic performance group Be The Groove has been dancing since childhood. She’s been living out her passion as an adult by choreographing, teaching and performing. Today, she talks to us about how what fuels her to continually create, how she stays inspired, and why she wishes cassette tapes were still a thing.
Who or what inspires you?
Fearlessness and subtlety. Those two ideas may seem to contradict each other but I find that the smallest choice delivered with the utmost specificity and purpose can be breathtaking. What you’re saying is THIS IS ENOUGH. In dance it can be the twirl of a single finger or the slightest tilt of a head. In music it might be a solo voice with zero accompaniment. I’m mesmerized by the absence of filler and those that are strong enough to stand by the deliverance of solely the essential.
What compelled you to start dancing?
I’m the youngest of 3 and I’m starting to realize I may have been a copycat. My older sister danced. I danced. My brother played soccer. I played soccer. Sometimes you just need the right role models to set you in motion.
What keeps you motivated to continue creating?
With each year of life comes new experiences. I actively work to stay open to it all, even the stuff that at times I wish I could forget. The struggle, the laughter, the letdown, the Titanic King (or eh hem, Queen) of the world moments – they’re all a part of my journey and I’m grateful I can use them in my work. A good friend recently told me we’re supposed to leave this world empty not full. So as long as I’ve got ideas in my brain, I will do everything in my power to let them out.
What is your favorite part about teaching others your passion?
I equate arts instruction to a conversation. I’m absolutely in charge and captain the journey but it’s always been a two way street to me. I encourage my students to be my co-pilot and take ownership of their experience as I work to create a safe space that motivates the expression of their power. Yes, the goal is that they also become more skilled at dance, rhythm or whatever it is I may be teaching but we’re people first and I can’t ignore that. I want my students to know that they have a voice and they matter. Once they trust in that, anything is possible and I’m honored to have a front row seat to the magic.
Where do you go for inspiration and why?
My instant go-to is music. When I connect with a song I’m quite sure that for a moment my soul ascends to the clouds. Life transforms into to a sci-fi movie and I start seeing shapes, textures and colors dancing before my eyes. There is nothing like hearing a song for the first time and knowing that I HAVE TO choreograph to it. I shift to territorial and that song becomes mine. I’ll then wish cassettes were still cool so that I had a chance to wear the tape out.
What’s been your most exciting or memorable life experience? How has that fueled your creativity?
There is a moment in Be the Groove’s school show when we invite members of our audience to come up on stage and improvise a piece with us. We get one beatboxer, a few drummers and dancers. My job is to pick the dancers and motivate/support them when they take their solos.
Often, the dancers get the most nervous of our volunteers. They’re really excited when their hand shoots up and they get picked amongst a sea of jealous students but often shudder when they join us and realize they’ve got nothing to hide behind. No mic. No drum. No sticks. Just their bodies. And to top it all off, they’ve got to perform solo in front of their often hyper critical peers.
There’s one volunteer I will never forget. He was in kindergarten, and when he came up he assumed a fists/teeth clenched, raised brows, eyes wide stance. I thought to myself, “This kid is either terribly nervous or I’m about to get punched in the face.” I crossed my fingers for nerves. As I worked to determine the order the chosen dancers would solo in, he asked me, “Can I do whatever I want?” I took that as a sign from the heavens and said, “Yup and you’re going last. You’re going to be my big finish.”
When his turn came, we locked eyes, I nodded and felt like I was Phil Jackson telling Michael Jordan that I trusted him to take the game winning shot. He looked back to the audience and his body EXPLODED. He started breakdancing, flipping, grooving and OWNING the moment that had been presented to him. His school went wild. I wish I remembered his name so let’s just call him Superman. Post show I felt compelled to find him in the audience. I gave him a high five and mades sure he knew how amazing he was. “You should be so proud of yourself,” I said. “You did it. In front of everyone. YOU DID IT.” He looked up at me, fists still clenched, eyes wide as ever and bounced his head up and down. He was still tightly wound up, far from relaxed but I knew something had shifted.
It’s times like those that inspire me to keep going.
If someone’s not a professional dancer, but still feels energized by movement, what are your tips for helping them embrace the art more?
Go see a show! Take class! DANCE! Share your voice and get involved. The artistic community is meant to be inclusive. If only professionals are seeings shows and taking class than we’ve missed the mark. The goal is to invite, inspire and share the love. We are stronger when our community extends beyond our immediate reach.
Beyond dance and choreography, how do you fuel yourself creatively?
In Be the Groove, I explore dance and percussion and as a Resident Director of Albany Park Theater Project I create original theater. I probably have enough creative outlets to last a lifetime but I’ve come to also really enjoy writing. I’m a sucker for motivation so in my writing, I’m my own advisor, mentor and life coach. I’m a firm believer in that fact that everyone needs a cheerleader.
When you’re working on a new show, what is the biggest challenge you face?
Letting myself make mistakes and suck. The fear of a screw-up can be artistically stifling. Everyday I have to remind myself to GET OUT OF MY OWN WAY.
On a personal level, how has dance impacted your life?
The arts have helped me define my reason for being. Simply put, I’m happier when I’m moving and creating. It’s interesting because a lot of artists, especially dancers, do this terrible (though incredibly hard to avoid) thing where as we get even just the slightest bit older we become painfully aware of our career’s mortality and start freaking out that we’re running out of time. At it’s worst that fear can swallow us whole and result in way less action and far more stagnancy. I’m 31, probably in better shape and healthier than my 21 year old self, working a ton, loving the opportunities coming my way, but I’m worrying about what my career will look like when I’m 40? Nope, unnacceptable. Sometimes I just need to shut off (or at the very least, occasionally mute), my brain’s desire to forsee a future that has yet to be lived. This career has helped reinforce the importance of doing that in all aspects of my life. The only thing that truly matters is now so excuse me as I get my dance on.
What does being creative mean to you?
It means living. I create to live and I live to create. I must’ve stolen that off a t-shirt because it sounds too perfect but I stand by it.