By Walter Rutledge
One of the best elements of writing Walter’s World is having the opportunity to meet so many interesting people. The initial excitement of meeting someone I have always wanted to meet is almost indescribable. More often the experience is humbling, inspiring and very grounding. This is due the sincerity and commitment to the craft of my subjects, and their willingness to sharing with me, and subsequently I with you.
For those of us New Yorkers fortunate enough to have a backyard and grow things, there is nothing I greet with more anticipation as when my roses begin to bloom. To see a bud begin to blossom, displaying all the signs it will bloom into a perfect flower is a very rewarding moment. Demetia Hopkins, a dancer with the Ailey II, is such a flower.
Born in rural Virginia Ms. Hopkins is living a New York storybook life. This 2009 Fordham University graduate (BFA dance) is literally dancing down the yellow brick road. We will all be able to see her perform beginning April 13 with Ailey II at The Joyce Theater. The company will perform four ballets by choreographers Thang Dao, Christopher Huggins, Judith Jamison, and Carlos dos Santos, Jr.
Recently I had the pleasure of talking to Demetia about her life and career. The conversation was filled with the artistic sincerity and commitment I had come to expect, but it was also tinged with the excitement and anticipation of great things to come. Her willingness to share with me her triumphs and aspirations was as rewarding as spending a spring afternoon in my garden.
Walter Rutledge: You are not a native New Yorker. What was the biggest culture shock you experienced moving to New York City?
Demetia Hopkins: I think I felt deprived of trees and grass and everything green. At school I lived only a block or two from Central Park but it’s just not the same. Being in the middle of the city and not having real access to just land everywhere.
I’m from Orange County, Virginia it’s like farmland and trees and forest. When I was little I played in tress all the time. I was climbing trees, I was in the woods hiking and everything so to come here and not really have access to that was a shock to me.
I have been in New York for five years. I went to school for four years and this is my first year living off campus. I live on the borderline of Washington Heights and Harlem. I love the neighbor I think if I moved I would stay in this neighborhood or move farther down into Harlem.
Walter Rutledge: How old were you when you started taking dance classes?
Demetia Hopkins: I was four when I started dancing. My uncle, Ricardo Porter Jr., owns a small studio in Virginia so when he bought that studio that’s when I started dancing. I was kind of drafted I didn’t I really decided. I started taking pre-ballet classes once a week, and I haven’t stopped since so I guess it was a good decision.
The studio was just ten minutes from my home so it was definitely an advantage. I trained with him until I was until I was eighteen, until the end of high school. I went to summer program, but basically I trained with him. He was my ballet teacher when I was young, he was my tap teacher, my hip-hop teacher, my jazz teacher, he was the one who started it all.
WR: How did the rigors of this training prepare you for New York?
DH: Actually I had one modern class a week all through my training with my uncle. When I got to Ailey I felt I was trained in every area except modern. I was thrown into a modern school. Of course there is ballet and jazz and everything else at the Ailey school, but it is based on a modern company; so there is a lot of emphasis on modern. I was in the high-level ballet classes, but I was playing catch up in that area.
I loved Horton because I had great Horton teachers. Most of my love for Horton is due to Milton Myers. I absolutely love and adore him and any chance I get, I go and take his class.
WR: From your experience performing with Ailey II what attributes define an Ailey dancer?
DH: It’s the theatrical side of a work combined with the technical part of it. When Mr. Ailey started his company he created these pieces that were quite theatrical. Blues Suite where he had all of these characters that were based on people from his hometown in Texas. He had Revelations based on his religious upbringing. As an Ailey dancer you have to have the theatrical side, you have to have the emotional side of things; with that you are technically trained so you can play with the theatrical side of it.
Working with Ms. Sylvia Waters has been a blessing. We do several classic Ailey works; she worked with Mr. Ailey so she’s giving us this insight. Of course I would love to work with the first company some day. I feel like we have an advantage over some one just coming in from the outside, we are being molded.
WR: In this upcoming season at The Joyce Theater which work are you most looking forward to perform?
DH: It is really hard to choose. Out of the four works we are doing I think Christopher Huggins piece Essence might be my favorite. It is my favorite because it challenges me.
It’s a solo for a woman and most of it is sitting in a chair. You are going through so much emotionally in a short period of time, it’s only about seven minutes long. Within that time you are going through every emotion possible. You are bearing your soul in front of this audience, which is really hard to do.
WR: One last question, what advice would you give young dancers who are contemplating pursuing a professional career?
DH: Being from the middle of no-where I didn’t really know I could make a career out of dance. Thank goodness for my uncle pushing me in that direction. I was prepared to have this dance thing on the side as a hobby, and just to go to a four-year university for whatever major.
Fordham was the best of both worlds. I don’t think I was mature enough as a dancer to just jump into a company, and I did want to go to college. Having Fordham University and going to the Ailey School was a blessing- it is a magnificent program.
I would tell them to never limit your self. That there is no limit to what you can do. Your personal growth is limitless. Even when you think you can’t do anymore find some inspiration and push yourself even further.
Being in Ailey II and working with Ms. Sylvia Waters, she helped me do that. She’s helped me push myself even further. She would say to me, “That’s not it for you, you can do so much more”. I feel like I have grown so much more as a person and as a dancer from that.
You can see Ms. Hopkins, along with the entire 12 member Ailey II (under the direction of Sylvia Waters) at The Joyce Theater April 13th – 22nd. To purchase tickets for Ailey II call JoyceCharge at 212-242-0800 or logon to http://www.joyce.org, http://www.alvinailey.org or visit The Joyce Theater box office located at 175 Eighth Avenue (at 19th Street) between 12pm & 6pm Monday through Sunday.
Photo: Ailey II’s Demetia Hopkins in Essence by Christopher Huggins. Photo by Eduardo Patino, NYC
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