Read this original post and more at My Honey & Co.
Written by Sabrina Mahoney
I’m so excited for you all to meet February’s Boss Lady, Lyndsi Zapata! The thing that I find one of the most aspirational things about Lyndsi is that she found a creative way to respond to our current political environment through creating her own dance company. She definitely inspired me to do what I love now… No need to wait for permission from anyone but yourself.
Cheers to an energetic and passionate February, Boss Ladies.
What was your first experience with dance?
My first experience with dance was at a theater in Portland called The Keller Auditorium. I was probably 3 or 4 and watched The Nutcracker, as so many little kids do, with my mom. There’s a section in The Nutcracker called the “Arabian Dance.” Watching “Arabian Nights,” I would always gawk at the women in their costumes because they usually wore a bra and loose-fitted pants (unlike everyone else with leotards and tutus on). I found the music to stand out from the rest.
According to my mom, I told her I wanted to take dance classes. At the time, she was taking me to community ballet classes for young kids, but she tells me my words were: “no mom, I want to take serious dance classes.”
My parents enrolled me in my first ballet class at Pacific Artists Dance Center (now called The Portland Ballet). I’ll never forget my first day’s embarrassment when all the other girls were wearing pink leotards, pink tights and their hair neatly combed back into a buns, while I was trying to keep up in my black leggings and tie-dye shirt. Needless to say, I entered jazz classes the following week.
My teacher, Danny Black, was a big Gloria Estefan fan, so my first years of dance classes in the studio were very reminiscent of the early 90’s era with a little latino flare. My mom would often barter her graphic design skills so that I could receive discounted classes at the studio. I took various jazz, modern and hip-hop classes there until about 6th grade, when the studio decided to go strictly into the ballet realm and I headed in a new direction.
I used to regret my decision with choosing my middle school’s Dance Team over ballet at the studio (as my technique would have soared) but I also wonder if I would have burned out if I only stuck with ballet.
How did you come to the decision to study dance at The California Institute of the Arts?
So, I went to two high schools. The first was Lincoln High School, where I did “regular high school things” in the mornings as well as taking “international baccalaureate Spanish immersion” classes.
The second half of the day I took contemporary, jazz and ballet classes at Jefferson High School. They offered some of the highest public dance training in the Portland Public School District. CalArts’ School of Dance would always come to Jefferson and audition the senior class. Even though I took so many school days off to audition on the East Coast, Arizona and Washington, I ended up being accepted at CalArts. CalArts offered the most dance classes, the most performance opportunities and the least amount of college courses, where I could still receive a BFA. Plus, it was far enough away from home and as a high schooler, there was nothing I wanted more than to move.
Why did you want to create your own dance company instead of joining another?
There are a lot of different reasons but I think the primary one is that I fell out of love with performing. Getting on a stage was what I lived for until I was around 18, 19. I went to dance shows thinking less about what was on stage and more about how it got there. “I wonder if that was on purpose.” “I wonder why they choose those moves.” I wanted to paint the picture, instead of being apart of the colors.
The idea behind the name Siza is truly fascinating. You talk about pulling inspiration from your last name, Zapata, which commemorates Emilio Zapata, a leading figure in the Mexican Revolution.
How do you continue to use your heritage as inspiration for your choreography?
This is a hard question to answer because I was raised in a bi-racial home. This is nothing unusual, it’s 2017, but obviously is affects who you are and who you become. When you have a dad who has the privilege of being male, but was discriminated against because of his latino roots, you notice that.
Then I had my mom, who walks through the world with the privilege of being a white women with blue eyes and blonde hair in our society, but she’s still had her share to deal with, because she’s a women.
Then I pop out, also with the privilege of lighter tan skin and I’m a women, but it’s a different time. I’m Mexican but I’m also White and everyone puts Asian stereotypes on me, which in a sense is it’s own version of “identity theft.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining, it’s just complicated and that’s honestly pretty beautiful. Anyone who has a mix of shades within them may have identity issues of some sort. I just feel like my whole life’s been this observation of how people treat both sides of my family for their nationality, as well as their gender.
This plays into my choreography with listening. With watching. With observing. People are so funny, especially when they don’t know it.
Reading that Siza is a company founded on “social and political awareness through movement,” I am curious about what aspects of America’s current political environment inspired the birth of Siza. What issues are you confronting?
This was the first time I’ve ever been involved in an election – blame Bernie Sanders for inspiring me that we can pursue the revolutionary! The more research I did, the more points of view I discovered. All too often, I found this thread of generalizing:
“The Black people [blank].”
“The Muslims [blank].”
“All the feminists think [blank].”
“If it weren’t for Mexicans, we would [blank].”
“Gay people [blank].”
“Disabled people [blank].”
“Mothers/Fathers are supposed to [blank].”
“Those who are overweight [blank].”
“The Democrats [blank].”
“The Republicans [blank].”
“White men [blank].”
I would just read and cry. Read and watch and listen and cry.
You don’t need to tell me I’m sensitive as I think I’m the most sensitive person I know. But it broke my heart to not only see people who I love being targeted, but those I love targeting. It was a huge check-in with myself because I had to admit I was doing the same thing.
Then, Trump won the presidency and I became overwhelmed with emotion. Now, emotion is not a bad thing. Emotions are powerful, informative, and fascinating. They evoke thought and art. But this was too much. I began to start looking at things as though they didn’t effect me. “Oh, these people think all the illegal immigrants from Mexico are taking all the jobs and these other people think our economy would crumble into a shambles if the illegal workers left. This is very interesting. Look at how differently these people think.” It’s not easy to see things this way. It’s a lot easier to just say, “Well, you’re wrong. Sorry about it.” and continue on your way. Understanding others takes a lot of energy.
Obviously, it’s important to be critical. I’m not starting a dance company to be complacent. I’m starting it so we can start having conversations instead of tantrums. So that we may listen not solely to respond with our own echo chamber to another’s echo chamber, which then turns into its own version of Dodgeball Fest. I’m just saying it’s important to listen to understand. And sometimes we might not understand, and that okay. And not everyone is ready to listen and that’s okay too. I just want to ask questions, because knowing all the answers are boring.
We’re almost 2 weeks into the presidency and we’ve already got loads to unravel. Between there being no “civil rights” section on the White House website anymore, the bill to abolish a woman’s right to choose, the Muslim ban, and Trump firing Sally Yates… There’s no shortage of subjects to dive into.
In your mission, you talk about the importance of challenging your point of view and I love that. How do you and your dancers share a multitude of perspectives during the creation process?
This is something we’ll have to see once full company rehearsals start! I won’t know until then, but I do believe choreography and conversation will be a large trial and error process.
How do you choose a piece of music?
Honestly, I don’t have a way of choosing music. I usually make up choreography, ask dancers to move to different tracks and sometimes I’ll collaborate with a music and ask for a certain sound I think would complement the work. One of my pieces was just sound effects for the first half of the dance. It’s different every time.
How would you describe the process of choreography?
Generally I move to whatever the vibe is that I’m trying to get across. It’s really easy to rely on music, but if you create movement to whatever feels most honest, the rest comes naturally. Occasionally, I will give dancers a prompt, watch them improvise and then go from there. Sometimes it makes more sense to see what comes naturally to others.
What does the “day to day” look like when you’re in the process of building your own company?
Oh man, it’s different everyday! Today for example, I had rehearsal from 8 AM-10 AM and then I got home and checked on how my fundraising is going for the company. I then budgeted how much I can use for the next Facebook boost so we can expand our audience. I also just made an Instagram, so that’s fun. My brain is thinking about the choreography we’ll play with on Thursday’s rehearsal, for our Dance In Progress showing at Downtown Dance and Movement. Last, there were a couple of “Thank You” emails to write to those who contributed on our IndieGoGo.
What advice would you give to other Boss Ladies trying to do the same thing?
Take things at your own pace and never feel that you have to subscribe to a protocol. For the longest time I thought I had to be “in the game” for X amount of years, or teach X amount of classes, know X amount of people and have X amount of money… If you know what you want to do already, go for it. Practice giving yourself permission to be passionate. The best advice I ever received was “You are allowed to experiment with your life.” That sentence changed my whole world.
Lastly, how can we follow and support you and your journey with Siza Dance?
We slowly but surely entering cyberspace! You can check us out at IndieGoGo, Facebook and Instagram.
We’ll also be performing in a Dance in Progress showcase on February 4th at 8 PM, at Downtown Dance and Movement. Get a ticket here!
In the spring we’re having an affordable show to raise funds for Planned Parenthood, so like or follow us to stay tuned!
Lyndsi, Thank you for being apart of My Honey & Co.!