Today, I would like to introduce you to a man of remarkable energy and vision. The life story and ideas of Vincent Hardy make him a worthy example of graduate students within UC Irvine’s Dance Department.
Especially in the contemporary language, when Hardy moves, he’s mercurial; you can’t help but watch when he shifts, curves and slides from step to step. However, he’s not just a great technician; he is also able to speak when he dances. I cannot adequately stress the rareness of this quality, because many dancers perform like someone told them to move in a particular way. But Hardy takes such command of the movement that it looks completely intuitive.
I wanted Hardy to share his introduction to dance, and what it was like to be a professional for a major company. I also asked him to talk a little about his research and thesis, his subject being an uncommon one to explore in the academic realm of dance.
Leider: When and why did you start dancing? What’s your history? Which dance genre did you begin in? What kind of teachers did you have?
Hardy: I started in eighth grade because I didn’t want to do P.E., and I got permission to do dance instead. I weighed 315 pounds. And I started to grow a passion for dance. It wasn’t anything professionally minded, which I think was a blessing. It wasn’t about getting my extension really high, or doing tricks, but moving from my heart. Some dancers start with a career in mind, but I’ve always held onto that love.
I started in jazz/theater dance. Luckily I was at a performing arts high school. All my teachers were supportive. They didn’t judge me or treat me differently because of my weight. They pushed me just as hard as anyone else. They taught my passion, not my circumstance.
From there, I began to move higher through the dance levels. By senior year, I’d lost 100 pounds. Still didn’t think of a career. But my teacher Cynthia Morales confronted me about University of the Arts in Philadelphia. They had an audition quickly coming up. I resisted. I thought I’d be going to community college. The audition was the next day. I threw together a solo, had a really good audition, and three months later got a full scholarship to college. And that’s when my journey as a dance began. No longer as a hobby, but a goal.
Leider: Let’s hear some further details about your experiences. How about telling us a bit about the famous company you’ve danced for?
Hardy: Senior year of college, my ballet professor asked me if I was interested in dancing for Complexions Contemporary Ballet, an internationally renowned company based in New York. Desmond Richardson, a major dance figure, their co-founder, was my longtime inspiration to dance. The professor was friends with him and then asked me if I could do a private audition in New York with Dwight Rhoden, another major dance figure, also a co-founder of Complexions.
I did a few combinations. He wanted to see how I moved, how quickly I moved and picked up on steps, what my musicality was like. I told him my story. He admired how I worked … I had a clear technique, a clarity in my dancing, that he liked.
After that, there was a company audition two months later consisting of 50 guys.
There were five cuts in four hours of dancing. It was down to me and three other guys. We went home, the decision pending. Two days after Christmas I got the contract. I had a conference call with Desmond Richardson, it was surreal. I was the only one they chose from that audition. I was with them for one season … I got to tour Israel, Italy and 12 cities in the US. I had to learn their entire repertoire in less than two weeks.
It was life-changing. I went from a student to a professional in less than two weeks. In Complexions, I have to say it was God who gave me the strength to handle the pressure. It felt like I was swimming, almost drowning. But I learned so much about myself, about my voice as an artist and as a professional dancer.
There was a budget cut, I got cut, and I think that happened for a reason. The rest of the year I underwent this transformation. I was teaching in LA, I danced for LA fashion week, I did a music video, I did a fitness DVD.
But the same woman who told me about University of Arts contacted me to tell me about UC Irvine’s graduate program. I looked at the curriculum, I thought, wow, this really is something I’m interested in. It could open up my mind about dance on a whole new level.
I felt a tug – God again – to express my interest in enrollment to the department. Unfortunately, they had already begun the school year! And I wanted to start right then and there. I would have to apply for fall, a whole year away. I felt pretty lost and went back to LA.
One month later, they called me. A grad had dropped out for fall, and would I still be interested in coming in late January? … and that they had a full scholarship for me. I showed up in January and began my MFA.
Leider: Tell us what you’re researching. What do you want to do with your thesis? Can you give us a tiny glimpse of the coming thesis performance next year?
Hardy: I’m researching sacred dance. I’m interested in getting dancers to dance without insecurities. The mirror is so destructive. I want them to find themselves and express themselves with freedom and joy that can inspire people.
It’s more than being a perfect technician. Our generation is full of perfect technique and tricks, fancy jumps, a dozen pirouettes. It’s plastic, it’s soulless dancing. How do we get the soul back in? To get the spirit to illuminate something for the audience? There’s a difference between performing and expressing.
Since my agenda is to undo stereotypes, I think his answer to the final question addresses well the grievances of “Black Swan” – particularly its intolerable mirror, the problems of perfection. I believe it is profoundly important that Hardy is interested in using dance to heal people, both dancers and audience members, and help them flourish.
You’ll be able to see Hardy’s work featured in the coming months, along with the work of the other graduate students, which I’ll post about throughout the year.