Every summer, The New Victory Theater celebrates the best dance the city has to offer. Victory Dance is always exciting and inspiring, but this summer's program stands out in two ways—a change in venue (from The New Victory Theater to The Duke on 42nd Street) and a familiar face onstage. Jerron Herman, once a New Vic Education Apprentice, has since made a name for himself as a professional dancer with Cerebral Palsy. Thrilled to welcome him back with Heidi Latsky Dance, we sat down with him to explore both his journey from Apprentice to dancer and what it means to dance with a disability.
How did you first start dancing with Heidi Latsky?
I was an Education Apprentice at The New Victory in 2011 while working on an intensive with Teaching Artist and choreographer Sean Curran. There, I was introduced to dance at large and Heidi Latsky Dance in particular. Sean brokered my audition with Heidi's company following a short solo performance
I gave as one of his students in the intensive at the end of the week.
What words of advice would you give someone trying to follow in your footsteps?
The most important piece of advice I can give is to be generous, whether that's in deed or intention. At the New Vic, I positioned myself to simply be helpful. Being at the ready was the main reason I was in Sean's intensive to begin with!
Did you meet any resistance on your path to becoming a professional dancer?
Because I grew up with a disability, Hemiplegia Cerebral Palsy, my identity as a dancer emerged late. I had a rough time thinking of dance as a career, as opposed to a side hobby. I was also studying to be a writer at college, and felt pressured from well-meaning folks to find financial stability first. Ultimately, I just had no precedent for a dance career and nothing to look to as a guide for success. I was saved, though, by my perennial curiosity that helped me think outside of the box to convey to everyone why I dance. Then there were also invaluable supporters—like my family and dance company—who devoted their energy to breaking down any resistance alongside me.
What draws you to dance?
I started out as a writer, but I've always wanted to perform. In life, I try to respond to obstacles with determination or creativity—I can't cut my waffles with a knife and fork simultaneously? I'll cut them with a pizza roller! So, when dance said that who I was is enough, that my body already had the necessary creativity in it to succeed in the industry, I was hooked. For the first time, I wasn't inserting myself into a meritocracy, but embracing a God-given ability. Dance is a playground. Our bodies are playgrounds. I love the idea that if we have nothing else—no lights, stage, funding or audience—we still have ourselves and by harnessing our bodies we can relay our presence.
How does it feel to return to the New Vic?
It feels surreal to return to the New Vic as a performer. What really excites me about this organization is that it feels like I'm returning to a culture of artistic breadth. You feel immersed in everything from the artistic programming to the colors on the wall. I'm with Heidi Latsky Dance because I was first with the New Vic and learned how to notice truly fertile atmospheres for creativity. Now, I get to perform and activate that atmosphere for New Yorkers. It's a surreal, full circle moment for me.
How has Cerebral Palsy shaped your life and shaped your path as a dancer?
I perceived CP as an alien for most of my life. I didn't know its language and it weighed on me. I did many things in spite
of my disability. Now, as a dancer, CP is a color I use to express myself. I'm learning through experience how CP best works for me. I still let it have its way if I'm spasming in the middle of rehearsal, or if I'm making tiny adjustments when I'm called to be still. There are moments that I'm disabled and feel it, but across those moments I'm ultimately an artist solving a problem, versus a person in need of intervention. I used to facilitate my body's organization with braces and physical therapy and now I organize my body with dance. My job and my "therapy" overlap until it all melts down to play. I'm in bliss that I am already suited for what I do.
What kind of music inspires you?
I've always been a jazz fan because it's the soundtrack to New York City. I'm also very interested in the use of classical arias and opera in juxtaposition with more modern music and rap. I represent a fusion and to create with music that does the same is important to me. The placement of an aria suddenly becomes political. When placed against my moving body it relays this idea that my disability is as culturally classical as the song—that it is meant to be moving.
As a New Yorker and an artist, what does Victory Dance mean to you?
Being a part of Victory Dance means I am a New Yorker and an artist—two identities a disabled black boy from the Bay Area cannot get enough of. Being in this season with a new piece painstakingly and lovingly created by Heidi Latsky Dance means that our work is both accessible and celebrated. HLD has been a New York City dance company since 2001, and Victory Dance is an introduction to future dancers, donors and theater-goers in New York. I'm grateful the New Vic saw fit to include a work that is very New York and very much dance, victorious.
Learn more about Jerron and take a look at the New 42nd Street's studios in this piece from Great Big Story!
Photos: Daniel Kim, Andria May-Corsini