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Meet Sidney Chuckas of University of Southern California

Today we’d like to introduce you to Sidney Chuckas.

Sidney, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I was born in Chicago and adopted by too wonderful and strong women, my moms, whom I adore so much and I grew in Evanston, IL in a family of six with three other adopted siblings. I attended private schools for a majority of my youth and post eight-grade graduation I went to my first public school, Evanston Township High school. Concurrently with growing up in private school education, I also started dancing at the age of 5 but before then, I had been “stiff as a board” (as my parents have described to me) so dance almost was a sort of therapy initially. I struggled with my identity for a while as a black queer dancer in very white schools and ballet classes, but the movement has always helped express my identity in the way words never could. I grew up with the privilege of being diversely immersed in dance training with ballet, various modern techniques, tap, jazz, and hip hop at Dance Center Evanston under the direction of Béa Rashid. I also joined the school’s studio second company in Seventh Grade and then the main company upon Eighth Grade graduation. In middle and high school, along with my continuous training in dance, I was able to pursue choir, sketch comedy, straight plays, and musical theater and had the opportunity to perform various principles roles some of my favorites being the Tin-man in The Wiz and Pontius Pilate in Jesus Christ Superstar. My interest in choreography was pricked during high school as well. I choreographed many short works for my high school orchises and theatre productions and during my senior year of high school, I produced and choreographed (with the mentorship of my parents and Béa Rashid) a full evening-length work titled Intra and this further inspired me to continue choreographing. When I applied to colleges I was intending on becoming a civil engineer, but upon auditioning for USC Kaufman in LA I knew this was the place I needed to be. Now I am fortunate enough to be dancing as a BFA at Kaufman, where the choreographic opportunities are abundant and the resources for creation are endless while simultaneously pursuing a minor in architecture. It still baffles me today to think about how far I have come and I have so many to thank for helping me along the way.

Has it been a smooth road?
There have been some rocky moments and hills to climb, but from each of those moments, I have grown stronger and more proud of who I am. Growing up as a queer person of color, I didn’t ever feel like a fit any sort of mold. And I stood out a lot to my mostly white peers as a black male in ballet and sometimes was bullied for it at school. Additionally, coming from the background I do with two moms and being adopted it was hard to find culture that I felt like I could call my own and I always had some highly complex identity challenges growing up. However, dance helped me to build my own identity when I thought I had none. Through the various movement languages, I have studied I can explore the many intersections of my identity and through summer intensives, open classes, and auditions, outside my home studio in Evanston, I was able to engage in conversation with others about their own identity. There are always going to be the haters and a crowd of folks that don’t believe in you but my parents have always been supportive of me and I recognize the privilege that comes with that. They have helped me turn down the volume on the negative voices in my life and helped me to use the love and support I received from those who do support me as my fuel to push forward and keep doing what I love. At the end of the day, you are the artist and it is your identity to create so you get to pick who is invited into your process.

We’d love to hear more about your work and what you are currently focused on. What else should we know?
My works span both visual and performing arts mediums and explore existing conversations of representation in the arts and the humanities both in the academic and social landscape. I strive to honestly document experiences while maintaining a safe and brave space for the intersectional identities of fellow colleagues and artists. A respectful environment to me is not negotiable and I tend to rely heavily on conversations with my creative partners to create an ethical and holistic environment. My works, additionally, are an investigation into representations of (seemingly) concrete cultural and social values as well as an analysis of existing stereotypes, which I believe are the result of a lack of understanding, respect, and conversation. I usually don’t make work birthed from a void, but rather make artworks that are meant to challenge and explore existing concepts, and constructions through narrative. And with the help of dance, musical composition, architecture, theater and technology (which all our large passions of mine) I can explore both the literal and figurative states that conflict narrative can manifest. For my creative process, I tend to do at least 50% of the work outside of the studio in the form of research, storyboarding, and audio-editing (as some of my works involve my own musical compositions). In the studio, I will draft and re-draft movement ideas with my artists as well as work on character development and intention. It is a process, similar to writing, that requires constant revision and editing but that is what makes it a vibrant and fulfilling process for myself.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
Although I am familiar, I am not fully in tune with the LA community so I am unable to give an educated response to if I feel LA is a good place for my work. However, USC Kaufman provides ample space for students, such as myself, to create work, which is such a great privilege. In terms of a location where I think my work could well, I see myself working abroad in Europe because there is great funding for dance makers and a lot of really amazing interdisciplinary art, which are both important to me. I also see myself finding some great collaborators in New York City where I have had the chance to visit quite a bit and train as well. New York has a fantastic free-lance community as well as being a hub for many cultural and social communities and to be able to work in such an international environment would be incredible. And for those just starting, I would recommend reaching out to artists whom you look up to, artists whose works you identify with and artists who may be tuned into the artistic environment of the area you are interested in. Come up with a few core values for yourself as to what kind of environment you want your work to be supported by, who are the types of people you would like to work with, etc. and then send a quick email or, better yet, set up a time to meet in person. You can probably find doses of what you are looking for in just about any large city (and if not you could be that initiator the area needs) but some advice from a seasoned dweller of a particular area can provide some helpful insight. Also, be okay with trying things out and making mistakes because searching for where you want to end up is an ongoing process so it is important to allow yourself to have fun with the search and allow yourself to learn something new about yourself too.

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Image Credit:

Erin Bates, Sidney Chuckas, Holly Desmond, Mary Mallaney

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