Today we’d like to introduce you to Jess Harper.
Jess, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
Dance has been my passion since before I could make a complete sentence. I always knew I wanted to be a professional dancer, choreographer, and teacher. I was lucky my parents were so supportive. I grew up predominantly in St. Louis, MO, was a competitive dancer, and danced with Missouri State Ballet at a young age in their productions like “The Nutcracker,” “Firebird,” and “Tarantella.” Being a jazzerina, hip hop, ballet, and tap dancer was my life, along with many other sports, as I’ve always had tons of energy. I was lucky enough to be a “Young Achiever” and went to Russia, Australia and New Zealand as a Student Ambassador (this was in ’93-’94).
What an awesome experience to have as a young adult. My mind, heart and soul opened up in a way I could never have imagined. Pretty cool that dance got me there. Dance was at the center of my core when I moved to NorCal in my teen years, but more jazz, soccer, POM squad, and less tap. That was a hard time for our family to move and adolescence is such a weird time, but dance was my escape, and I am forever grateful it still is. I’ve been in LA since I was eighteen. Went to LMU, and fell in love with Modern Dance and Stephanie Gilliland’s dance co TONGUE. Was invited into TONGUE, went on tour, then that company broke up, became a founder member of Bradley Michaud’s co METHOD, and continued my education. I was and always will be a perpetual student.
I am a certified yoga instructor, dabbled in teaching preschool, and taught and a ton of gyms. Then went and got my Masters in Education and taught at the high school level. I still danced with METHOD, and also KAIROS dance co, under Hazel Clarke, but I wanted more dance in my life. Started teaching the little ones (mostly ballet/tap, jazz, hip-hop jr) at the School of Dance and Music in Hermosa Beach. I taught at LMU also, but I wanted a full-time position at the collegiate level, so I knew I needed to go back to school to get my terminal degree. I went to UCI on scholarship and was hired as a Teaching Associate in 2014. I received my MFA in Dance in 2016.
Grad school was very humbling and exciting. It really launched my career as a choreographer. I’ve been a guest choreographer for dance concerts before grad school, but UCI gave me so much opportunity. I choreographed for every grad concert and really got to know the undergrads. My research was in humor. My choreographic thesis called “Don’t Expect Much: An Evening of Dance & Living” included a mockumentary, short dance excerpts of ridiculousness, satirical fun, parody type burlesque, thirty cast members, and awesome acting. Shows were packed with people standing both nights. I was elated and motivated. I continued teaching at LMU, was hired to teach at Chapman University, taught yoga at the Yoga Loft in Manhattan Beach, danced with KAIROS Dance Co, and continued working with both professional and pre-professional dancers for my co.
My full-length work “DDD: An Evening of Dance, Desire & Delirium” was premiered at Highways Space in Santa Monica in March of 2017. Both shows were sold out! Couldn’t be happier. Today, I teach at LMU, Chapman, School of Dance and Music, and choreograph for LBCC. I continue to dance and perform with KAIROS Dance Co, as well as choreograph and direct for my co JESS HARPER & Dancers. I’m lucky enough to take my dancers on tour throughout CA and soon to Utah this Spring. Looking forward to creating more art in both dance and short film and giving back to the community.
My life is full. Still applying and can’t wait to be full-time faculty. Until then, I will bounce around from college to college or studio, choreograph, produce work, and perform (as long as this body can move and keep up). I’m so grateful and happy to the artist. It may be a little rough, but it is so worth it.
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?
Moving around from job to job has its challenges, but I get in a grove. Being that I’m Adjunct Faculty at numerous colleges, it can be uncertain each semester or quarter if I still have a job, but I have been lucky. With a full-time job, I’ll have more stability. I also have had my own personal issues to deal with or move through. I struggled with escaping and dealing with life in not so healthy ways, but I’m so much healthier and happier now (have been for years). I feel like we all have our own path and we are forever learning and wanting to learn. At least, that’s I how I personally feel.
We create our own reality. When the shadow part of our ego pops up, I gently cancel and delete it, and get reconnected with my higher best self, God, universe, multiverse, what-have-you. I choose to expand and live in a place that’s more like heaven than hell (releasing the religious connotation). Nothing changes if nothing changes. When I wanted or when I want to feel or create something better, I had to and have to make changes. I’m lucky to have tools and to continue to collect tools, that help me have peace so I can be the best Jessi possible.
When I am moving from a higher place of love, compassion, acceptance, all the good things, I can be a better teacher, a better choreographer, a better girlfriend, a better daughter, a better sister, a better friend, and a better member of society. Our struggles can make us stronger. I only hope I do not become complacent. On a business level, I am still in process of getting 501c3 status.
Alright – so let’s talk business. Tell us about JESS HARPER & Dancers – what should we know?
JESS HARPER & Dancers is a contemporary dance company based here in LA. We specialize in creating hyperphysical dances, a fusion of modern, jazz, funk, comedy and film. A lot of my works derive from movement rather than a specific story. I’d rather the audience have their own interpretation of the dance, as opposed to me giving them an idea. I do enjoy working with awkward, quirky, humorous ideas, and let the stories unfold from there, but don’t get wrong, I’ve created more dark and somber pieces as well.
As a company, I am most proud of how cohesive our group is. Although I work with freelance dancers and pre-professionals, there are a core group of dancers that I’ve had the privilege to work with for years. Having that comradery is such a joy and makes rehearsals more fun. I think what sets us apart from other companies is our variety of style and additions to works like acting, short film, and commercial type vignettes. I get to work such talented and smart dancers. It is truly a blessing.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
-Having a sense of humor.
-Not taking myself so seriously.
-Being open to work with other companies or choreographers.
-Being organized and starting rehearsal process early.
-Patience and diligence as a director.
-Giving opportunity for dancers to be autonomous in their artistry.
- Address: 328 E Imperial Ave # 6
El Segundo, CA 90245
- Website: www.jessharperdances.com
- Phone: 3109917880
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org