MEET TAYLOR-LEIGH of THE BRAND
My mom put me in creative movement class at the age of 2 because she thought I had some sort of talent. Despite my weekly tears before class and my insistence to wear a t-shirt underneath my leotards, I loved to dance, and I haven’t stopped since. Dance continues to bring me to tears to this day, but for different reasons, and it’s undoubtedly because of the inherent emotional connection underlying the expression of the body.
After dancing throughout my entire childhood at what I like to call a “Susie Sunshine” studio, the changing teenager inside of me craved more. So I went to Chesterfield Dance Center where I was mentored and studied modern dance under Carrie Hughes. But I wasn’t accepted into their performing company right away. I lacked technique and, while I had the passion, it wasn’t evident to my teachers. One of the best pieces of advice that I received from training at CDC was, “if you love to dance, show it.” Because of those words, I started to learn about myself as a unique mover, and began to actually dance from something more meaningful. Aside from dancing at the studio, I was also in an academic specialty center high school, on the dance team, and was in show choir. I think I just liked to move.
When it came time for college, I was lost, and had little guidance. I ended up accepting a late offer to George Mason’s dance program, only to pull out at the last minute. I was listening to people question the “practicality” of studying dance, so I spent two years taking general education classes, changing my mind everyday about what I “wanted to do,” and keeping myself busy by becoming a fitness fanatic. I even competed in a few bodybuilding shows. At that time I cursed my mom for not putting me into gymnastics, where my career would have been over by age 16, so then I could pick a “normal” occupation and my life would be easier. But she said I wouldn’t do anything else. I wanted to dance.
In the Fall of 2013 I attended a VCU Dance senior project concert. Afterwards, I biked back to my apartment in the pouring rain, bawling because I knew that VCU was where I belonged.
The following Fall began my journey as a Dance & Choreography major. While I questioned whether I should be in university at all, or if I should just drop everything and move to a jungle, I am so thankful that I stayed in school to study dance. In fact, my friend who also had an alternative path and I used to talk everyday about how grateful we were to be there, to have able dancing bodies, and to be learning and expanding so much.
Throughout college, I dove into other interests of mine besides modern dance. I studied to earn a certificate in Plant-Based Nutrition, enriching another passion of mine which is living healthfully and compassionately in accordance with nature. I took up a minor in Medical Humanities, which is basically the ethics and philosophy behind medicine. I relate it to dance in the sense that, interacting with bodies in space is more than a physical relationship. Through studies of history, science, narrative, and philosophy, Medical Humanities has painted for me a holistic picture of the human body. (That blurb was even published in an academic journal.)
Additionally, I worked multiple jobs, and there was one point when I would work at the VCU gym at 5am, workout after my shift, make it to ballet by 10am, and continue my day with modern technique, rehearsals, homework, and teaching in the evening, depending on the day. But I loved it. I just have this energy about me where I don’t think about being tired. I think about how happy I am to be experiencing life, and I want to make the most of it.
But the most important thing outside of my studies that I involved myself in was social dance. Before I was even a dance major I started swing dancing- Lindy hop, Charleston, solo jazz, blues, balboa. I would travel to workshops and dances in other states. I taught both kids and adults for free. It was the perfect amount of improvisational silliness within the framework of steps, and I loved being able to connect so closely with everyday people on the dance floor. A world of chivalry and dancing with people apart from the club culture actually exists.
As life ebbs and flows, so does dance. So while taking a break from swing dancing, I started to go out by myself to local spots in Richmond where I knew there would be good music to dance to. That’s how I met The Brand. A group of guys cyphering, sharing energy and dancing with no limits, no judgments, but still incredibly talented?! I jumped into the cypher, oblivious to what a cypher even was at the time (in swing we call it a jam circle), and the rest is history. After solely dancing with them for a while, I got to know them, and now they’re more than my friends. They’re my family. Sure, they taught me about hip hop, funk, and house dancing and culture, but they taught me that I do fit in somewhere- with them, but most importantly within my own unique self.
Since graduating with a BFA in dance, I have found that it can be difficult to attend dance classes regularly. Luckily, I know that I’ll always have social dance, and that I can find it anywhere in the world. I have danced with hip hop scenes in Panama, danced salsa and bachata in Germany, met the Queen of Swing, Norma Miller, in Italy, and studied traditional massage in Thailand, just to name a few.
To some people, the way I live is too much in the moment. But I see it as a gift. I have this thing where I want to do everything ever, which makes it hard to choose sometimes. So I started letting go and seeing where my intuition takes me a few months, or days, at a time. While I’d like to settle down at some point, choosing between my passion or a family is not an either/or for me. I know that no matter what I do, dance will always be a part of me, affecting the way I think, feel, and experience. Everyone has a groove somewhere within them. Our stories are in the way we carry our vessels, the way we interact with others, with the soul of the world. That’s all I’m really here to do anyways.