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Bringing women artists together

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Bringing women artists together

Vera Embree...dancer

Vera Embree, associate professor in dance at the-University of Michigan received a B.S. in physical education and English from The Hampton Institute in Hampton, Va. where she was a four-year member of the Hampton Institute Creative Dance Group. She has had intensive study of modern and primitive dancing with numerous dance masters and their exponents, the most notable influences being Jose Limon and Alvin Alley. Founder and director of Contemporary Dance Company in Detroit, she wrote, choreographed and produced the documentary film, “The Odd Breed."

ON BEING AN ARTIST: You never relax and say “I’m an-artist!” You’re refuting what being an artist is. You try to stay fresh, you try to stimulate people. That’s my hope — to change people in some way when they come to watch me. . . maybe their psyches need a little prodding . . . maybe my dancing will give them the stimulus to do something . ..

ON AGE: I won’t tell my age. Let everyone guess. Let them say, after I have died, “Was she really THAT old?” I may not be as gorgeous as I’d like to be ... my muscles are not as resilient, as strong as they once were. I may be the geriatric portion of the program, but maybe that’s good. Just the fact that I’m there I hope will say, “Don’t stop whatever it is you're doing." I hope it will give some people the courage to carry on.

ON THE DANCE: You take a symbolic gesture and you try to get the essence of it ... if the forces that exist in the dance are strong enough, you get carried away with the forces that exist in it . . . you forget the curtains, the stage, the costumes even.  I must strive to let the forces take over.

ON YEATS: Yeats is extremely exciting to read. He's sometimes difficult, not easy to understand. But some of his things are so powerful . . . you can appreciate them euphoniously — the form, the structure — he gives you images.

For me, those images are stimulating as a dancer. These days if I’m awake in bed I just lie and think of those images as movement . . , I’m supposed to do words and phrases . . . take them and show the feeling they engender in me . . . take the essence from them.

ON THE IMPORTANT ARTISTIC INFLUENCES IN ONE’S LIFE: I am so sure that most people are culturally deprived unless they have unusual parents. I did have unusual parents —my father had a beautiful baritone voice and played in an orchestra in college, my mother played the piano . . . their friends tended to be people who did things, had talent. It was important to them that my brother and I have certain experiences. We did free form opera around our house — we’d sing “Are you going to brush your teeth?” “Yes, I’m going to brush my teeth,” things like that.

ON HER EARLY DANCE EXPERIENCES: I started dancing when I was about three in community classes . . . I was a cloud drifting by once . . . much of it was probably hokey and tacky, but we thought it was wonderful. Our teachers gave us a love of it . . . they helped us to grow, never pushed us into anything we didn’t want to do.

ON BEING BLACK IN RALEIGH. NORTH CAROLINA. WAY BACK THEN: It was 96 steps to the balcony where blacks could sit — I counted them — but going to the opera, to a musical comedy, was important enough for us to swallow our pride in order to see a performance. I was absolutely enchanted.

ON BEING ASKED TO COACH THE FOOTBALL TEAM IN HER FIRST TEACHING JOB IN ANNAPOLIS. MARYLAND: I wore a lavender wool dress with pearls and pearl earrings to my first coaches’ meeting. I thought, “I’ll let them know, here comes a lady.” They were absolutely shocked. They made all kinds of jokes, gave me no consideration for being new and naive. Later I said to my team, “Well, here we are guys. I think we’re just stuck with each other." They felt they had to help me — in the third year we missed playing in the championship game by one game!

That experience gave me the courage that at least I could try just about anything.

ON BEING FEMALE AND AN ARTIST: The difficulties I have encountered have had to do with being an artist, not a woman. For instance, people think you can do a major piece by tomorrow noon. They don’t realize the dance comes from somewhere — it comes out of your mind.