How to Create Change in the Dance World: A Lesson from Omar Román De Jesús

Interview with choreographer Omar Román De Jesús, presented by CHOP SHOP Dance Festival

Written by Gracie Galvin during TeenTix’s Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP


2020 was a year marked by social uprising. From protests regarding Covid-19 to the Black Lives Matter movement, change has been seen in all aspects of our lives. But when it comes to the dance world, artists are often left functioning in stagnant and outdated norms. Whether it is strict dress codes that discriminate against dancers of color or harsh competition that infringes on artistic freedom, the dance community fails to allow for individual expression. According to Omár Román De Jesús, the reason why is simple: choreographers and dancers spend too much time comparing themselves. There is not enough support for one another in the dance world.

Jesús’s reasoning comes from a place of worldly experience. His choreography has been shown at a multitude of competitions including at the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Festival. His theatrical contemporary dance is one that spreads positivity and highlights human empathy. From Seattle’s Chop Shop to Panama’s PRISMA Dance Festival, Jesús has made his mark. And his company Boca Tuya plans to do the same.

But this poses the question, how does one go about making said change?

For Jesús, it starts with focusing on oneself. During the pandemic, he took time to reflect within: to think about what he stands for, what his company is about, and how he can make an impact. In short, he reaffirmed his identity. However, this task of self-reflection is hard to do in a world that he defines as “a constant competition.” He noted that jealousy and comparison outweigh the amount of support artists give each other. He came to the realization that his choreography will never fit into a certain set of expectations. Rather, his art is constantly evolving to fit his desires and the desires of his audience.

As one reflects internally, they must do the same externally by shifting their energy to those around them. Jesús pointed out that his dance is for his community—those who relate to his message. He extended advice to others: if you want to make change within your environment you must “bring dance to that community in a format that can touch [them].” And that’s exactly what he did. Jesús found a cause close to him that needed help from the arts. Boca Tuya has an ongoing connection with Red Rhino, an organization based in North America that makes dance accessible to neurodiverse individuals. Jesús’s company supplies the dance teachers for Red Rhino’s classes and performances that unite the community. Both groups are centered around inclusivity, making this connection even more impactful.

Creating dance that leaves an impact and a lasting image takes time. When referencing the time period choreographers are often expected to make pieces, Jesús stated, “Three weeks isn’t enough to create something memorable.” It takes time to reflect, it takes time to find your community, and it takes time to physically create the art itself. Jesús finds it a challenge to accomplish all three, as his identity and goals are always changing so his dance must follow suit. In order to do so, Jesús has found himself relying on his dancers and on their artistic ability. Rather than follow the standard choreographic process, Jesús has allowed his dancers’ personalities to inform his works. Their individuality is what makes his choreography so relatable; audiences see the unique emotions of each dancer on stage.

Jesús’s lesson on making change can be summed up in a few comprehensible steps: reflecting inwardly, connecting directly to those you want to impact, and taking time to thoroughly think it through. To see how Jesús’s dance follows these steps watch Boca Tuya’s performance at Chop Shop’s virtual festival here.

You can see Omar Román De Jesús's work at CHOP SHOP Dance Festival’s online offering. The dance films are available on their website through March 31, 2021.

Lead photo credit: A still from Los Perros del Barrio Colosal, choreography by Omar Román De Jesús, performed by dancers of Boca Tuya, videography by Drew L. Brown.

The TeenTix Press Corps promotes critical thinking, communication, and information literacy through criticism and journalism practice for teens. For more information about the Press Corps program see HERE.

This review was written as part of an Arts Journalism Intensive with CHOP SHOP Dance Festival which was held January 10-31, 2021. The workshop was taught by Press Corps teaching artist Gabrielle Kazuko Nomura Gainor.

This workshop was generously sponsored by Case van Rij and the Glenn Kawasaki Foundation.

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