Interview with Dance a Day in the Month of May: Jess Grippo

Photo credit: Hanna Agar

Photo credit: Hanna Agar

What made you decide to participate in NACHMO for the first time?

I’m a huge fan of creating in the moment, and I love having deadlines! I like to call them lifelines, actually, because whenever there’s a date that I know I need to complete something by, it gives me and my creativity life. The 1 month time frame of NACHMO is the perfect amount of time to get my choreographic butt into action.


What was an initial struggle when creating a piece in just a month, and how did you help overcome it?

Can’t say there was much struggle… if anything, choosing the music was a challenge. Me and my group pieced together choreography together using prompts without music, and then would test it out with different kinds. Finally we landed on a combination of a live cello and pop music.


How did you feel about the relatively short work time? (NACHMO is generally dedicated to a one-month creative process in January.)

Loved it.


What feedback did you receive from the studio and/or the theater showings? Did you continue to show your NACHMO piece?

We got great feedback from the studio showing. Having the live cellist with us seemed to work really well and add a dimension into the piece.

We continued working, but ended up creating an entirely new piece. However, the momentum from NACHMO stuck!

Photo credit: Hanna Agar

Photo credit: Hanna Agar

What inspired you to start You Can Dance Again? How has it influenced your own career?

I was inspired to start YCDA because it was the kind of thing I wished I had had when I was returning to dance years ago. Back then, it was about 7 years after I had quit ballet and the professional dance track I was on, I knew wanted to dance again, but in a different way. I didn’t want to go back to a formal/strict/competitive environment that a lot of classes in NYC can be. I also didn’t want to do Zumba, which seemed to be the only other non-professional dance alternative!

So I decided to start dancing on my own, alone in my room or in the park, mostly. Making dance videos of my process was a way I discovered to not be so alone in it, and to add that creative/expressive element. Starting up YCDA a few years later was a way to invite other re-emerging dancers to join me. In sharing my dance videos, I realized I wasn’t alone—there were other dancers-at-heart out there who were craving a safe space to get back to their body and creative expression. So I started teaching the kind of classes that I wanted: combining a basic warm up, some improv/freestyle, and collaborative choreography. Thus, You Can Dance Again was born.


What is your favorite part of Dance-a-Day in the Month of May?

Dance-a-Day in the Month of May is my annual dance-everyday challenge. It started back in 2014 when I made a dance video in the park on May 1st and decided to keep it going. It not only revived my body and creative spirit, but it also connected me to all kinds of people and brought more joy into the world. So I did it again the following year and started inviting people to join me. Now, it’s become a thing where each day has a theme, and I send out daily one-word prompts that create a guideline or inspiration for your dance. Some people choose to make dance videos, and that is my favorite thing ever! Instagram and our Facebook Group starts blowing up with people all over the world doing their dances. Check out the hashtag #danceinmay2018 to see this year’s creations!

Photo credit: Peter Koloff

Photo credit: Peter Koloff

Who are the dance creators you enjoy watching?

I love dance creators who bring story and humor, but also depth, into their work. A few who come to mind are Ryan Heffington and Pina Bausch, and in the local NYC scene I recently loved seeing Deborah Lohse and LMnO3. I’m also a huge fan of improvised dance and love shows like Dancify That where dances are created and shared on the spot.


How do you find an audience for your work?

I like to think that I let the audience find me. Anytime I’ve been overly aggressive in outreach and trying to fill seats or get views, I get burnt out, it feels forced, and doesn’t really work. But when I stay true to my process, share things from a place of authenticity and real excitement, it seems like people naturally flock. I also like to keep my work really accessible for all people—not just the dance audience. Being transparent about the process and using language that is conversational, rather than jargony, are a couple of examples of this. When people can relate to you as a human and what you’re saying and sharing, they naturally want to support it and be there.


Any advice for budding choreographers?

There are no rules. And if you feel like there are, feel free to break them. You don’t need an MFA or a stamp of approval from anyone to claim yourself as a dancer and a choreographer. Create what feels authentic to you, what pulls your soul forward. The world needs creative expression of all kinds, and your voice matters. If the desire to create is in you, it means there’s someone out there who needs your work in the world. This might sound dramatic, but it might even save their life—or yours. Don’t hold back your dance voice.

Tickets for The Dance Rebels’ Revival Show:

Follow Jess and her projects!

Personal site


Instagram: @jessgrippo


Photo credit: Hanna Agar

Photo credit: Hanna Agar