“Be friendly all the time…being friendly makes a difference – especially in dance.” These were the closing words of dance artist and educator Syreeta Hector, words that truly resonated with me after having the opportunity to sit down and speak with her about her blossoming career in the professional dance world. Even with the continued success of her solo work “Black Ballerina” that initially gained recognition at the 2019 Toronto Summerworks Festival, and more recently gained Hector a residency with Workspacebrussels and the Kaiitheathre in Brussels, Belgium, Hector’s humble and gracious nature is inspiring to any dancer, artist, and human, alike. An activist for change in the professional dance world, Hector is using her work to educate audiences to encourage a future of openness and opportunity for those who share her passion and drive. Here’s a peek into a day in the life of professional dance artist, and force to be reckoned with, Syreeta Hector.
With a number of accolades under her belt, including being a graduate of both the National Ballet School’s Teacher Training Program and the School of Toronto Dance Theatre, and more recently completing her Master’s of Arts Degree in Dance with York University, Hector admitted pursuing a career in the professional dance world was not always her goal. Giving up dance at a young age to train in horseback riding instead, it was not until high school that Hector began dabbling in the dance world again. Hector enrolled herself in an elective dance class, a decision that may have altered the course of her life by sparking the decision to return to dance more seriously. Hector stood out to her high school dance teacher almost immediately, and she recommended Hector take up classes at a local dance studio. Knowing this would put a financial strain on her single-income household, the studio owner agreed to allow Hector to take daily classes for the next four years in return for Hector helping out with housekeeping duties around the studio. Hector knew she wanted to go on to inspire other young dancers the way her teachers had done for her, and this solidified her decision to move to Toronto and join the NBS teacher training program, guiding Hector to each succeeding achievement in her career thus far.
While her days used to look very different pre-Covid 19, Hector says she tries to keep to a routine as much as possible. A more recent “day-in-the-life” of Syreeta Hector may look something like this: teaching her Undergraduate students in the BFA Dance Program at York University, where she currently holds a position of Course Director and has taught for the past three years. After a full morning of teaching, Hector will move onto grant and report writing in the afternoons. However, being cooped up in her Toronto condo is not the ideal life of a dancer, and Hector says, “some days are still…and other days are so physically jam-packed.” Like most people attempting to find some normalcy in this pandemic lifestyle, Hector says each week differs. When she finds she has had too much time in front of her computer, Hector will dedicate one full day to delving herself into “Black Ballerina land”, working and transforming sections of her ongoing project in her storage-unit-turned-dance-studio. Starting these more physical days with Pilates and then a full ballet class, Hector stressed the importance of keeping up with one’s training even during such unprecedented times.
Having to adjust to virtual learning and dancing with her fellow dancers, friends and students, Hector explained that her go-to dance genre during Covid-19 has definitely been Martha Graham Modern. Being grounded and body-centric in its nature, Hector explained that even in a small space sitting down, doing Graham floor work is physically demanding for any dancer to get a full-body training session, having “opportunities to be super fierce and super vulnerable” all the while. I asked Hector where else she finds inspiration for new concepts and works, especially now due to the restrictions of Covid-19 safety regulations. Hector says she primarily seeks out inspiration through visual art, admiring the ways “visual artists interpret similar ideas” to dance artists, even finding a good deal of inspiration for Black Ballerina by seeking out what other artists were putting into galleries. But not having the opportunity to physically attend galleries right now, Hector says documentaries, even ones about visual artists themselves, have always proved to be a great source of motivation. And probably most interesting, Hector says she has always found a great source of inspiration through comedy. “Comedians take really big risks and they put themselves out there all the time, and I find that very inspiring” clarifying that “comedy is not an attack…it’s a different sense of getting your points across.”
Hector also praised dance artists Heidi Strauss and Laurence Lemieux for being mentors to her as she navigates her way through the professional dance world. Appreciating those who “have the time to actually speak with you and to listen and to genuinely help you,” Hector says being friendly in this industry is guaranteed to work in your favour. Even praising her own students for being supportive and another source of inspiration to her, Hector says she always encourages emerging artists to put themselves out there as much as possible – being grateful for having opportunities to learn from or work with people in the industry and showing you truly want to be there will never fail you.
Through Black Ballerina, Hector tells the all-too-real story of what it means to be a person of colour navigating through the professional dance world, especially in regard to the emphasis placed on being trained in Westernized dance forms, such as ballet, over others. Through a blend of different dance genres to reflect her own experiences, Hector’s work is raw and emotional, and most of all, necessary in today’s climate. Having had the opportunity to sit in on a preview of Black Ballerina myself, I highly recommend seeking out any chance to view it for yourself. If not to become more educated on the issues Hector is addressing, than to support a strong, hard-working and dedicated artist in her craft who loves to be inspired while inspiring those around her. For more information on Syreeta Hector and any of her upcoming performances, visit her website https://www.syreetahector.com/.