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Meet Chatiera Ray

Today we’d like to introduce you to Chatiera Ray.

Chatiera “Cookie” Ray is a Cleveland native that transitioned to Long Beach, California in 2013 to expand and explore her career in dance and youth development. Chatiera began dancing at the age of 11 but began professionally training at age 12. She has been trained under Michael Medcalf; Terence Greene; Desmond L. Davis; and Natasha Lee-Colon Ehindero. During her adolescence, much of her training and experience was spent at Karamu House, Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theater, Rainey Institute, and Foluke Cultural Arts Center. Later into her college years, Chatiera attended Kent State University as a Fashion Merchandising major, minoring in Dance Performance. During her undergrad at Kent, she had the opportunity to choreograph many dance works, where she received the “Dance Choreographers Peer Award”, where her work was chosen for adjudication at the American College Dance Festival. She was also granted the opportunity to train with the Garth Fagan Dance Company in Rochester, NY and be a featured dancer in “Why I Had to Dance”, a choreo-poem written by Ntozake Shange and choreographed by Dianne McIntyre. After graduating Kent State, Chatiera went on to do other dance productions (i.e. “ A Son Is Born”), as well as exploring her teaching capacities with Foluke Cultural Arts Center, local studios, and even outside of Cleveland, Ohio (i.e. Kent, Youngstown, Akron, Detroit, etc.).

In 2014, Chatiera made the decision to spread her wings, which landed her in Long Beach, California. Here she worked in Workforce Development with The AmeriCorps Vista program, where she then landed an internship with the Lula Washington Dance Theater. Here, Chatiera had the opportunity to train, teach, and dive into some event coordinating. With much success and gained experience, she then moved forward in her career to teach youth in underprivileged communities and continued to progress in her dance endeavors. 2015, Chatiera realized that she wanted to do something bigger than just perform. That’s when the CRayProject was established and her creativity expelled! Since then, Chatiera has created many works and has had the opportunity to collaborate with other Performing Arts organizations and companies around the United States. A lot of her work has been performed with LA Unbound, RAW Artists, Lula Washington Dance Theater, MOD ARTS (New York), Long Beach Playhouse Theater, and more. Chatiera has developed many Performance Arts programs within Los Angeles County for After-School programs, Recreation Centers, and local non-profits. She continues to dance and create for the betterment of the communities she serves and as an outlet to share her artistry to the world.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
No path is smooth, especially when you’re passionate about something. Building my brand has definitely had its hiccups and barriers. But perseverance, faith, and pain is what has continued to light this fire within me to continue traveling down this tunnel of purpose. As an artist, I believe one of our key struggles is confidence. However, being an artist of color, woman, Queen, and pleasantly “plumped”, I faced a lot of adversaries in this industry of dance. I struggled with being comfortable in my body as it pertained to my body type. For many years, I was told I needed to lose weight in order to dance, I wasn’t appealing to particular dance companies and agencies, and my size would always hinder my range of motion. Not only was my body type a struggling factor, but my art was highly judged as risque and confrontational. Most of my work is influenced by my own experiences, culture, and societal trends. I’m an artist that makes room for uncomfortable conversations to create comfortability for the ones that are considered the “underdogs” or “black sheeps”, and with my “storytelling” at times, many highly criticize or are unaccepting to what I have to show. For a while, I took a pause from creating because I really didn’t know if I was good enough, necessary, or wanting to create anymore. Which actually played out to be a great decision because it opened my mind up to greater capacities to be creative and stand strong in my voice and what I wanted to create

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am the Executive Creative Director of the CRayProject, LLC; which was formed and developed by both myself and sister, LaRonica “Ronnie” Southerland (Assistant Creative Director and Development Manager). The CRayProject is a black empowerment movement that allows artists to have a platform to be themselves. We tackle controversial topics and subject matter that needs awareness. CRayProject has many umbrellas; we have expertise in dance, music, film, and more. We believe in giving our community both RAW and educational art. But most importantly working together to build our community as black and brown people through different art forms. Although we have expertise in many art forms, our expertise is in dance. Our organization provides various opportunities in dance that include; Community Dance Classes and Workshops in various genres (i.e., West African, Urban Ballroom, Hip Hop, Jazz, Ballet, Heels, etc.), Performance opportunities, Youth programs, and culture events. As of recent, two of our popular events are PINS (Urban Interactive Burlesque Show) and the Long Beach Black Dance Festival (a one week-long cultural celebration festival of blacks in dance). Both events involve the community; which is one of our leading core values. We have developed both of these events to amplify both dance professionals and to get the community moving in dance. Which has been an awesome journey that continues to flourish. PINS (Pretty.In.Nubian.Skin) is a burlesque experience that celebrates the beauty of being unapologetically BLACK while crushing all societal stigmas regarding black sexual liberation. This production combines dance, music, comedy and “striptease”. This show explores body positivity within the black and brown diaspora, as well as an educational experience about the black experience as it pertains to enslavement, ridicule, and exploitation of black and brown bodies.

The Long Beach Black Dance Festival first made its mark in August 2020 (during COVID19). This outdoor (COVID-Friendly) dance festival provided free dance classes and workshops for a week-long. Welcoming all ages and backgrounds. The community got to dive into some professional training from local and national choreographers and teachers. The festival also hosted three community dance concerts at the local parks and with the Long Beach Playhouse. I am most proud of the connections and family that I have created out here in Long Beach, Ca. Being away from home can be quite hard at times, but with the many people that I have taught, influenced, and/or supported, they have all given the same love back. It’s an awesome feeling to know that there are people that really have your back and are well invested in your dreams and goals. To be honest, I have chosen to not compare myself to others at all. We are all here on this Earth, this soil, this world giving a divine purpose, and it is our duty (if we chose to walk the path and do the work) to receive and accomplish everything that is meant for us and to add to the betterment of the world we live in. I’m here to create legacy and a platform for those that come after me, and I have chosen to remove myself from the art that I create and work that I do and offer it all back to the community. I really enjoy and love what I do as a visionary, creator, dancer, black queen. So to be honest, I don’t know what sets me apart from others because I don’t worry much about what others are doing, Respectfully.

Alright, so to wrap up, is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
“True happiness occurs only when you find the problems you enjoy having and enjoy solving” – Mark Manson This quote has really influenced me to stay the course on the things that matter the most to me and that I’m truly, and wholeheartedly passionate about.

Contact Info:

Image Credits:

Photographer Credits: Luis Edson @ledsxn Dolly N @honeydovephotography Kevin Paul @kevinpaulstudio In photos: Teresa P. Kali Princess Daisy E. Cookie Ray Ronnie Southerland James Mahkween Taylor-Michelle Adrianna Lanier

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