Photo: MGMScrivs Photography
How did you get started and dance? And how did your passion lead you to where you are today?
I started out dancing in Florida; that’s where I’m originally from. I started because I was great in school, but my teachers were like, “You need to do something about his energy because he is all over the place. He literally only gets in trouble because he has so much energy and he needs to be put somewhere.” So I ended up in an all male-identifying class with eight other males, my brother included. As soon as I started that, it was over. I still had the same energy, except instead of talking, I was dancing everywhere.
Was there a pivotal point where you thought this is a career for me? A professional pursuit?
Yeah, I kind of always knew what I wanted to do. In 1999 I went to my first summer program, called the Broadway Theatre Project, and I got to dance with Gregory Hines, Ann Reinking and Gwen Vernon, and I literally was like a fish out of water. It was crazy! I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I don’t even know how I ended up in that room, but I did, and from that point on I was like, “Oh yeah, this is it.”
What are you looking to present this fall at JCE’s October performance?
I’m doing a piece that I just set on a group of juniors at a high school. It’s like a love story to jazz. It’s traditional jazz, very Jack Cole based, but put with a modern energy and a different feel of how this generation moves. It’s a combination of those two things, so I’m really excited.
What drew you to jazz? And what do you find most special about the genre?
I started out as a tap dancer, but I’ve always had this thing about jazz; it’s just always felt so comfortable in my body and so natural. I’ve been known as a modern dancer, or tap dancer, or straight musical theatre, but actually, jazz is kind of, secretly, my favorite. Funny, I don’t think I’ve ever admitted that out loud!
Who are your favorite or most influential jazz artists or choreographers? Have they informed you of either how you want to choreograph or how you like to move?
One of the most influential is obviously Mr. Fosse. It’s the moment I learned his style, in 10th grade, that I was like, “Oh, this is it! This is how my body likes to move.” And ironically enough of it also informed me in my modern dance training as well; there are so many ways that they cross and so it’s always been my favorite. There’s just something about me, as loud and as crazy as I am, and Mr. Fosse’s work that has you just stop (versus being in your face). There’s something about being opposite of who I am as a person that I love putting myself in that place.
Are you finding JCE a good platform to further the trajectory of jazz dance and keep it alive, particularly through a stage in New York?
Yeah, that’s part of the reason why I wanted to join. I stumbled upon it randomly as I was setting a piece at a college and then they submitted. I saw what was happening and I was like, “Oh this is really such an amazing platform for jazz, and I don’t think there’s any other platform that’s really like this!” I mean, I work with American Dance Machine and I work with the Vernon/Fosse Legacy and yes, they are working on that specific type of work, but there’s no organization that really is dedicated to jazz. JCE is really great about helping the next generation understand and appreciate jazz, but also understanding that traditional jazz has to shift.
Are there any fun facts you would like to share with our readers? I wish they could see you as you’re so incredibly fun and animated!
I would say when I first started learning Mr. Fosse’s work in 1999 doing Bye Bye Blackbird, I didn’t know how to snap. There’s snapping that you had to do with the pieces, so I taught myself, but I did it wrong, so I learned to snap with the index and the thumb! It’s loud because I wanted to make sure that my snaps were heard so I didn’t get in trouble. It was literally such a panic moment- It’s just so funny… Like a child just like trying to rise to the occasion as quickly as possible because I wanted to be like everyone else in the room.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Danielle Diniz has been commissioned to create new works for Jacob's Pillow, Performance Santa Fe, Avant Chamber Ballet, Columbia Ballet Collaborative, Ballet Hartford, Central Utah Ballet and was a choreographer for DanceBreak 2020. She is a winner of the New York Dance Project Choreography Competition and her work has been shown in Jazz Choreography Enterprises showcases and the Steps Beyond Foundation performance lab, among other festivals. Danielle is also a Junior Board Member of Jazz Choreography Enterprises. B.A., Cornell University.