Lenzu moved to the United States ten years ago and has taught classes around the world. She now teaches dance at Lehman College in the Bronx, Wagner College in Staten Island and at the Peridance Capezio Center near Union Square in Manhattan. The Brooklyn-based author wanted to provide a bilingual resource that could help dancers with the trials and tribulations in the journey to a successful career.
I talked to the talented choreographer about transitioning from dancer to teacher, her favorite place to dance in and why she wanted to create a book.
So what made you write the book in the first place?
This book needed to come to life because I wanted to tell my past experiences of teaching in places like Italy, London, Chile and Argentina. It’s a guidance and inspiration for the next generation of dancers. I have been teaching dance over 25 years and because of my experiences in different countries, I have a different perspective. Right now, some American dancers may think they need to go to Europe for jobs or vice versa, and I needed to write the book because there are no right answers.
I also write about what it is like to be an immigrant freelance dancer around the world and how to create a living based on work as a dancer. With my past experiences as a freelancer in all of these countries, sometimes I feel like Mary Poppins with my luggage, going from one institution to another while trying to pass experiences.
What made you transition from dancer to teacher?
Well, I think they both came together. I started to teach at 15 years old to cover one of my main teachers, and I never stopped. As a teacher, you learn so much. You learn so much about each one of your students. If you have a class of twenty people, you learn things like how they each learn, think, work on their bodies and their approach on life. You see how they approach discipline and how they respect the environment and the community. I feel so honored to inspire this new generation of artists.
I feel like dance is an amazing tool to grow as a person. Not just physically, but to intellectually, emotionally and spiritually grow too. I wanted to share this with others, so that’s why I teach.
Does your book teach more about dance techniques or more about life experiences?
It’s more about life experiences. It’s not exactly a memoir, but it’s a reflection of a choreographer and teacher. Some stories are very sad, some stories are funny - like language issues - while other stories will show you how you connect to yourself and others. I got deported from the United States in 2001 and after years I came back to live here. I speak about political things like what it is like to be a Latina immigrant.
Some chapters are more about reflection while others are more political. Living in Argentina, we had to live everyday with the political and economical crisis. Sometimes in a week, we’d change the president three times.
I’m also a dance critic and have been writing for magazines in Italy, Spain and the United States, so I also write about that. For example, what is the critical aspects to be an artist.
It’s bilingual — that’s the fun part. I wrote it in Spanish because I wanted to keep the freshness, and there’s also an English translation. There are not many sources that are bilingual that also talk about the pedagogy of dance.
Have any of your dancers read the book? What have they said about it?
When the book came out, my dancers said it was so fluid. It was as if I was sitting down and taking a coffee with them. I feel like my writing has to be like I’m talking to my comrade. It’s very accessible. Because I feel like this is who I am, I try to write in a very easy way.
You have to have a different point of view. Here, when I am teaching students, sometimes they do not have the critical perspective. Sometimes they buy something they hear without research, so I’m really trying to focus on teaching them about critical thinking.
Do you have a favorite place to perform?
Each audience is different. I love New York City and that’s why I chose to live here again. Here you have everything. If I perform in Flushing for the Taiwan center, you have an audience that barely speaks English and is from Taiwan. If you perform in Williamsburg, you can get the whole Italian crowd. New York gives me everything and the audience is so diverse.
When we do site specific work outdoors, it’s so interesting to communicate with people who didn’t even expect to see us perform. For that reason, New York City is a challenge and I like it.
What does dance mean to you?
Dance is a tool to communicate, especially with my thoughts and how to relate with the community. If I didn’t have dance, my life would be so difficult. Dance taught me how to be respectful with people of different races, religions and more. It’s not just about reading what someone is saying but learning to read the body and the emotion too. It’s everything to my life.