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Meet Jennifer Lott of Lottdance/Traverse City Dance Project in Frogtown

Today we’d like to introduce you to Jennifer Lott.

Jennifer, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I have spent my career working as a dancer, teacher, choreographer, director and filmmaker. I’m really interested in exploring where the lines blur between pop culture, folk art and so-called “high” art like concert dance and chamber music. I’m also passionate about making adventurous, cutting-edge live arts accessible outside of big metropolitan cities, which is why I co-founded the Traverse City Dance Project.

Dance and music played a big role in my childhood, which, for the most part, was quite magical. My mom has four sisters, and they were raised in Evansville, Indiana, near the border of Kentucky. My Grandma was from coal-mining Appalachian country. Whenever they got together, they’d sing an entire repertory of songs in harmony, each woman with her own part. My Grandma would also tell fantastic stories. My father loves to dance socially, and his moves are wildly inventive, though you’d never know it by looking at him. He was a doctor (recently retired), and he presents as very reserved and contemplative. When I was young, he had an impressive record collection, and he and my mom kept a steady stream of music playing in our house. Early on, I started making up dances to songs by Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson and writing short plays to perform. My little sister was my first muse; she would do anything I told her to do. I was happiest when I was moving and making. When I wasn’t dancing, I was singing, and I loved being outside, around animals, or in the woods. Socially, I was shy and struggled to relate to most of the kids at my school. I found my “tribe” through dance, choir and musicals; these gave me safe outlets to be expressive and to grow.

I attended Indiana University in Bloomington, IN, where I met my husband and first collaborator, Ryan. He was studying Music Composition and I was in the Ballet Department. We made our first work together when we were 21. We got married immediately after graduation, then began our professional careers in Cleveland, followed by New York City. I didn’t imagine living in Los Angeles, but we found ourselves here, many years later, for my full-time job as an Assistant Professor at the USC Kaufman School of Dance. I was six months pregnant with our now 3-year-old son, Remy, so he’s officially an LA kid.

Great, 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?
I’ve spent my career problem-solving! I’ve been on the pioneering end of many arts organizations, first in Cleveland, then with Gibney Dance in New York (the company had been around for a long time, but underwent a major expansion of space and mission while I was there), then with the Traverse City Dance Project, and now at USC Kaufman. This particular season has been extremely challenging, and required every skill I’ve ever cultivated!

It has not been an entirely smooth road. Finding work-life balance is the toughest challenge for me. I want to be an amazing mom, just like my own mom, and also to follow my passion – – sometimes those goals conflict. It helps to have a life partner who is also a working artist, a family that encourages me even over long distances, and a team of wonderful collaborators. I am very blessed in my relationships.

I’ve also had to learn to take risks and trust my own instincts and to give myself space to listen and breathe. When I do, it always shifts my perspective for the better, especially when I’m feeling overwhelmed.

Please tell us about Lottdance/Traverse City Dance Project.
I began making work as Lottdance when I lived in Cleveland. I mostly gathered groups of friends to make small works and dance films, always in collaboration with my husband or another music artist. Then in 2012, I co-founded the Traverse City Dance Project with my NYC friend Brent Whitney. We wanted to get away from big city life to create on some of the amazing dancers we knew and to build a scene for great dance in smaller community, as I mentioned before. Brent grew up in Traverse City, which is like utopia during the summer.

So now, I work in LA from September to June, then spend the majority of my summers in Michigan, where I direct, choreograph and dance for the Traverse City Dance Project. We hire dancers from around the country for a 5-6 week residency and collaborate with musicians to make and present 3-5 new works every season. After 3.5 years at USC, I finally feel like I’m getting my feet under me as both a professor and a mother, so one of my goals is to show more of the work I create on the TCDP in Los Angeles since I’m increasingly using LA-based dancers.

At both USC and with the TCDP, I’ve spent a lot of time cultivating collaborations between musicians and composers. I’ve recently developed an initiative for the TCDP called New Voices in Dance & Music (NuVo for short). We pair young choreographers and composers and give them space, dancers, and performance opportunities. At USC, I’ve directed two programs in collaboration with composer Andrew Norman featuring chamber ensemble yMusic playing student works in accompaniment to student choreography. I’ve included a link to a film I created for one of these events, titled “Caught in the Chamber”. I choreographed the movement and the camera work, my students made choreographic contributions and performed the work, Andrew Norman wrote the score, yMusic recorded it (and played it live for the first screenings), and it was directed by Nathan Johnson, one of my friends and creative icons. It’s one of the reasons I love living in LA – I can build and take part in rich exchanges like this. I find dance is most potent when it’s challenged by circumstances to go beyond cool step-making, and when there are other elements that anchor it to a concept, place, time.

Commissioning new music for dance, finding and educating new audiences for live arts, providing a safe space for dancers & choreographers & musicians to collaboratively create and hone their craft… these things are also cornerstones of the TCDP’s mission.

Our small size has kept us nimble and creative. It’s exciting to be part of Traverse City’s growing cultural scene. Brent and I have spent most of our careers in NYC and LA, so we are a bit scrappy and have learned how to create our own opportunities, and to get help from our friends! We’ve begun partnerships with other local arts organizations, like the Traverse Symphony Orchestra and Parallel 45 Theater Festival. Last summer, Brent and I choreographed P45’s very adventurous production of “Hair: The American Tribal Love Rock Musical”, and this summer we will choreograph a rather avant-garde “Sound of Music”.

We are also interested in promoting love and care for the nature that surrounds us in Traverse City. Right now, we are raising funds for a portable stage so we can develop an outdoor performance series in some of the beautiful parks along the shores of Lake Michigan.

Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
I still have a lot to learn, but I am enjoying the journey. I am so grateful to have spent most of my life dancing. It’s an extraordinary art form and has given me so much.


Contact Info:

Image Credit:
Susan Kettering, Scott Shaw, Benjamin Peralta, Mary Mallaney

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