2023 Ambassador Antuanet Powell
Jessie Nowak (00:01):
Hi, my name is Jesse Nowak. I am the Operations Director at Dance Wire. Today is September the 12th, 2023, and I’m here with Antuanet Powell to talk about their life and career as a dance artist, as part of our artist stories series. So welcome.
Antuanet Powell (00:18):
Jessie Nowak (00:19):
So what are your current titles?
Antuanet Powell (00:22):
Oh, my titles – performer. I’m an artist. I’m also the manager for a dance studio. Sometimes I choreograph as well and do team performances like that. And I also am the founder of a Peruvian folkloric dance team.
Jessie Nowak (00:41):
Awesome. Can you give us a brief overview of how you got started in dance?
Antuanet Powell (00:46):
Yeah, so for me, I think a lot of kids always are forced to take dance classes or some activity when they’re little, but for me, it kind of stuck. When I first took ballet and tap dancing, I was like, oh no, this is it for me. I want to keep doing that. And thankfully my parents always took us to performance art shows and stuff like that. And so early on I knew I wanted to do dance, and then throughout school I was part of all the dance teams and performance teams and stuff like that and the theater team. And then when I was a teenager, I knew dance was going to be it. So when I went to college, I went to an art college in Peru and I was debating between fine arts and dance and kind of did a little bit of both before we moved to the States. And then I took a break when we came to the States because it was a strange country and everything, and I didn’t know how to continue that. And so I took a big break. But then once I moved back to Portland, I was lucky to find the dance community again and the dance studio that I work for now and pick back up from there. And it’s been really good.
Jessie Nowak (02:00):
Awesome. And you said you’ve been in Portland for eight years now?
Antuanet Powell (02:03):
Yes. Since 2015 now. Yeah.
Jessie Nowak (02:06):
Okay, awesome. So what does dance mean to you or has meant to you in your life?
Antuanet Powell (02:12):
Yeah. Dance is everything to me. I think, like I said, I started little and so dance has always been a part of my life. And now that I’m 42 years old, I’ve noticed that it’s just so important to my body as well as my mind and my community, my social skills. I found that dance has brought me so much stability, mental, physical, emotional, the mobility that we need as humans as we’re aging, the community that dance gives us, going out and socializing. And then just the mind too, is just having to take classes and practice and make choreos and gives this creativity to my brain that it’s just, I can’t compare it to anything else where your body and your mind are working together and keeping you healthy and keeping you active. It’s just like, oh, this is everything. To me, it’s very, very helpful and gives me a lot of joy. Yeah.
Jessie Nowak (03:14):
I love that. The mind and body working together. You know, one of our core values at Dance Wire is that there’s wisdom in the body, and I feel that in my own body, the connection between… if I’m stressed, I get pain in my body and my body feels good when I’m in a good mental space. And if I had to pick one answer that we get the most consistently to that question, it’s community.
Antuanet Powell (03:40):
Which you don’t think about it at first, especially when you’re young. You’re like, at least for me when I pursue it as a career, as a hobby or whatever, you’re like, I just want to dance. I like music, I like moving my body. But then you start taking classes and then you start going to social events and you’re like, oh, you find community, you find friends, you find people that have this love for dance that you never even thought that could also bring you. It is really nice. Yeah.
Jessie Nowak (04:07):
Yeah. Dancers are unique people.
Antuanet Powell (04:09):
Yes, it’s a specific vibe. People, I think a lot of people are afraid of being perceived in the world, and so they don’t move with confidence and they don’t literally move around. And so dancers have this specific gene or something, we don’t mind. We like it. We’ll be moving if there’s a good song that even we’ve never heard before, well, at least vibrate or something. It’s a specific personality trait for sure.
Jessie Nowak (04:38):
Yeah. Well, and a way of being in the world.
Antuanet Powell (04:41):
Yes, yes. Sometimes I feel like I can tell someone’s a dancer by the way they walk. Something about them is their posture or their pace is in a specific rhythm. I’m like, I think they’re a dancer. I could tell. Yeah.
Jessie Nowak (04:55):
Awesome. So what challenges have you faced as a dance artist?
Antuanet Powell (05:01):
Well, as a dance artist who wants to be a professional artist, there’s a lot of challenges for sure. There’s the financial part. I think that that happens for every artist in every genre. Trying to have a consistent career as an artist, it’s so hard for me. For me, this is my pro and my con that I’m a multi-disciplined artist. I paint, I cook, I dance, I perform, I do a lot of things and all my friends are artists. So I see it throughout all different genres, that the mainstream in general doesn’t support artists. That’s just a given. It is not a career that’s been supported for so long that it’s hard to find the steady income as an artist. I think the pandemic was a little bit of hope when everything shut down and people realized the little things that they took for granted, and art was one of them.
Entertainment and art and dance and movement and all these things. They were like, oh yeah, I didn’t realize that we needed artists. And that was one time I was like, yeah, yeah, exactly. We’ve been doing this and we do this for free and we do this for out of love and passion, and now we can’t do it because things are shut down or there’s concern to socialize, there’s concern to go out of the house. And people realize when they started doing little videos of people singing out of their balconies and dancing from their house and stuff, they realized that art is super, super important, but still it’s not supported financially. It’s not supported in other ways too. Sometimes it doesn’t have to be financial support, but support period. Support, share. Your friend has a show, post about it, tell your friends about it. It’s so niche still that it’s only artists supporting other artists, often I feel.
Especially in Portland, I see that it’s very artist heavy, which is great that we have so many events and so many schools and so many things, but a lot of times – and I attend also shows and stuff – a lot of times I feel there are more artists than audience and supporters and stuff like that. And it’s a little bit bizarre how even this many years later, even after the pandemic and all that, we still don’t get the support as a respectable career. And that’s the biggest challenge I feel, is the support from the mainstream, to see it as something that is like, yeah, this is their job. Oftentimes you say, oh, I dance, I perform, or I cook, or I paint. And they think you’re talking about a hobby. And they’re like, oh, but what are you doing? I’m like, that’s what I do. And people don’t click, people still don’t see it as like, oh, you’re a professional artist. And even if you’re struggling with like, yeah, that’s a thing people do. And to me, I feel like the biggest challenge in general, but for me especially too, yeah,
Jessie Nowak (08:13):
I think that silver lining from the pandemic is so interesting that there were some really beautiful things that happened in the pandemic art-wise, and I’ve been thinking about that a lot. But I hadn’t thought about the vacuum that was created and oh my gosh, there’s nothing for us to go out and do. We’re going to watch dance on the TV screen, which just isn’t the same, not the same. So yeah, I appreciate that perspective. I think that’s really interesting
Antuanet Powell (08:42):
When there’s a different art, but movies and TVs stop and people didn’t realize until the pandemic a few months in, they were like, oh, they’re not making more. Cause that’s what people were doing. They were in their homes. They were watching TV and playing music and stuff like that. But that’s when they realized, art is happening around us, but we just didn’t realize. And now people are not being able to do it. And it sucks. People don’t like when there’s no art, but they don’t realize until it’s gone. I know, it’s sad!
Jessie Nowak (09:14):
So I’m going to pick your brain a little bit. Apart from financially supporting the arts, obviously that’s the very obvious thing, financial support. What other ways do you see that the mainstream could support the arts better?
Antuanet Powell (09:26):
Yeah, I mean I think sharing, especially in an era of social media, social media is so accessible. It’s at the palm of our hands and people don’t share enough projects from their friends and family already, I think in general. But usually art is the last one that they share and promote. You know what I mean? Sometimes you can attend and that’s fine, but you can tell, Hey, my friend is performing. My friend has this art exhibit. My friend is making this craft, purses, something. I dunno. And they don’t share enough. And to me, social media, especially for my age, a lot of people my age don’t really utilize social media I feel the way I do, but younger people do it and I feel like there’s something there that could be utilized so much more professionally where I learn about even the dance studio that I find out about, the shows that I find out about or everything that is art related, I find it through social media, but I find it on my own.
I have to dig and do searches and ask around versus. What’s already being shared and promoted, it’s never art related. It is finances and it is this new business and this new restaurant that a corporation opened, but it’s like, what about the one chef that needs the support locally? It’s always something. And that’s just how life is that the mainstream and the corporations always win, but supporting in general, even if it’s not financial support, but just the support that can get the financial support, it’s also very, very helpful. Maybe you can go to this show, you can afford it or you don’t have the time, but maybe your other friend can, or maybe someone who has a business that might be interested in then hiring this person later on might be interested in seeing what this is about. And so that network of continuing the sharing of information, that’s also very valuable.
Jessie Nowak (11:28):
Sure. Definitely. Okay. What people resources and opportunities have helped you the most?
Antuanet Powell (11:36):
Oh, I’m going to go back on social media. I feel, social media the most. I think the sharing, the learning about new things has been so helpful. Google does only so much nowadays. You can Google whatever events are happening, whatever art things are happening, dance studios, dance shows, dancers locally, but you’d only get so much on an internet search versus social media. And so I think that’s been very helpful for me to learn more myself, take more classes, new workshops, who’s in town. A lot of artists that I take dances from, I’m sorry, dance classes from are from out of town, right? So I only find out through social media. So that’s helpful. Shows and stuff like that through social media, that’s been supportive because I’m supporting others, but that’s where I meet other people that then support me in return or that I connect to, collaborate with later on. So that’s been to me the most helpful. And obviously my dance studio, I think it’s been such a big part of my life. I started as a student seven years ago or something. So that’s kind of what kicked my whole career now. And I’m also the manager now, and so is my daytime job. But they’re also just as people so supportive and helpful and nice to the community. They do so much for the community that I think I wouldn’t be where I am now without that.
Jessie Nowak (13:12):
Yeah, that’s awesome. So this is a three part question. Okay, so what stage do you feel like you are at in your career? How do you want to move forward? What goals do you have?
Antuanet Powell (13:24):
Yeah, that’s a good one. So right now – and we were talking about this a little bit before – there’s… I feel like a little bit of, I dunno, a rediscovery era, I mean, to begin with because of the pandemic. The pandemic I think made a lot of changes for everybody. So right now I’m trying to rediscover what’s possible, what’s not possible. To piggyback on the second part of the question is that I have a lot of goals. All the three parts of the question I feel like are related. So my goal is to have a big, big performance of traditional folkloric Latin American dances. That is my main big goal with multiple cultures. I would love it to be Latin American, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be Indian, it could be other, but all folkloric dances. That’s my dream dream goal that it’s not going to happen this year, next year.
Maybe it’s a five year goal. So to go back… to get to that point, I am trying to do smaller events and trying to promote smaller Latin American and Peruvian dance teams who do… folkloric dance teams. And so more immediately, my area right now to make that happen is discovering, rediscovering what’s available for those kinds of events. Right now I’m learning that there’s a lot of businesses that close down because of the pandemic. There’s a lot of people who are still not going out because of the pandemic and concerns like that. There are businesses that try to survive the pandemic and they did, but now they’re still a little bit behind. So they’re deciding to start to close down now even three, four years later. Same with the dance teams, same with the venues, same with everybody involved in events. That’s still resetting.
It’s like a reset era right now. So all my previous goals before the pandemic, it was just to have the dance team that was the goal and to have a performance every year with the dance team. Right now, I’m resetting those goals because of the community and the pandemic and the concerns and what’s available and what’s not available. So I’m in a reset era right now to answer the first question and then the goal is to start pursuing within maybe two years, pursuing and connecting and collaborating with as many folkloric and traditional dance teams locally or maybe throughout the Pacific Northwest. That’s my goal for the next couple of years and try to help them, to support them. My team is a nonprofit, even though I haven’t been able to utilize it more. So I think I have a little bit of an advantage there to support other teams that want to do stuff like that that haven’t had the support. So I want to be able to, in the next couple years, focus on that. That’s my focus for the next two years, folkloric dance teams, locally, Latin American or world dances. And then the big, big dream goal later on will be to have a big, big performance at a nice venue, a nice theater or something like that where it can be maybe a couple hours show around the world dances. That’s my dream.
Jessie Nowak (16:57):
Yeah, that would be amazing.
Antuanet Powel (16:58):
Jessie Nowak (16:59):
I’m there for that show.
Antuanet Powell (17:00):
Yeah, I haven’t seen anything like that in Portland. In the previous places I’ve lived, yes, there’s a lot of that, but not in Portland. I haven’t seen anything like that. I’ve seen smaller events at markets or small venues or other art events, and they have a little segment of something folkloric from one country. I’ve never seen a big, big, big one with several dances from one country and then another country and then another. That’s my dream.
Jessie Nowak (17:26):
Yeah, that would so cool. I love that. And I’m going backwards a little bit, but that delayed fallout that we’re seeing from the pandemic is just…
Antuanet Powell (17:34):
Jessie Nowak (17:36):
Now I think the arts are really, really feeling it. Where maybe there was some government funding or whatever it was that helped arts organizations and artists groups get through the pandemic truly has dried up now. And I think your moment of reset is a reflection of what’s happening. Just even to the city and all of the things feel like they’re resetting. That resonates a lot.
Antuanet Powell (18:04):
Yes. But I didn’t realize until pretty recently – this week maybe – cause I was driven! My project started right before the pandemic, so the pandemic hit and I was like, okay, well it is what it is. And so once things started to get better, I was like, I still have the drive to pursue it. I wanted to pursue it, I want to do this, I want to do that. And then I saw this couldn’t happen. I was like, okay, lemme do then try this other thing, lemme try this other thing. And I’ve been trying with a lot of drive, almost forcing things to get the momentum going. And now I’m like, you know what? No, I don’t think that’s what’s happening – it’s not a momentum right now. I think it’s a time to reset, restructure, see what’s available, because what I want to do could be X, Y, Z, but if what’s available is A, B, and C, then it’s not going to happen no matter how much I force it. So I was forcing, I think and now I’m like, no, no, no, let’s reset. Let’s see what’s available. Let’s restructure and see what’s actually possible short term. Even if the end goal is still the same, short term I think I need to reset a few things.
Jessie Nowak (19:09):
Yeah, yeah, for sure, for sure. So how hard is it balancing administrative work with your own artistic pursuits and training?
Antuanet Powell (19:19):
Oh, that’s funny. It’s funny for me because do the administrative work at my dance studio – it’s not my dance studio I should say. But I work for them. So it’s funny because – and I don’t know if this is my ADHD or what – when I do I admin work for others, it’s no problem. I’m ready. I have the time slotted in my day, I have it all scheduled and I get paid for it, so it’s like no problem, I could do it. And they love my work, that’s why I’m doing it. And that’s not a problem. But when it comes to my own projects, it’s a drag.
I never want to do it. You get more excited about doing a new choreo even though you don’t have to. But I’m like, oh, you hear a new song, it’s like, oh, I want to do a choreo to this new song for no reason. You don’t have a project, right? But it’s just your creative brain is like, oh, lemme do that. Instead of checking emails and scheduling this and meetings and stuff like that. It’s less creative. And I think as dancers and artists in general, we like the creative part more, which we gravitate towards that, which is fair and it makes sense. But unfortunately, going back to the support and the finances and all that, unfortunately admin work is so important. And so yeah, it’s a drag. I dunno how else to say it. Even though I’m able to do it, I see it, I do it every day for a dance studio and I am capable of doing it. It’s just not the same, especially when you don’t get paid for it. You know what I’m saying? Yes, that gets you gigs and that gets you this and that. But when you break it down, let’s say per hour, if you broke down how many hours of admin work you did for this one project, it’s just zero probably an hour.
It’s not fulfilling necessarily. So it is a hard balance. It’s a hard balance. You got to take it more as an investment here, as an investment. I’m investing, I’m putting this in for my website, for my email, for my social media, for networking. But then you take out later in gigs and networking and the fulfillment. That is hard. We do it because we love, it fulfills our soul more than anything than our pocket or whatever. So it’s hard work. It’s not hard work, it’s just it’s a drag. Yes, it’s easy work that you don’t look forward to, but you have to do it. You have to do it. And this is also why I wanted to do a nonprofit and I wanted to do more “professionally” or more officially is because the goal is once we get it going to where it’s financially stable, I could hire people that could do the admin work.
And that’s the goal in general. And I didn’t talk about much that, but the goal is to be able to pay everybody involved. When we do the performance that I’ve done before – with folkloric teams and stuff – we get paid just a very little fee that doesn’t cover really anything. Our costumes alone are so, so expensive because made by hand, sometimes they’re blessed by specific shaman in the community. We’re not even getting them from here. We got to go to our home countries to get ’em. So this takes hundreds and hundreds, if not thousands of dollars to get just costumes. Then you add rehearsal time, then you add paying the studio, booking fees, then you add all the admin work, then you add all these things. We don’t even remotely get paid for any of that. So the goal is to have a nonprofit that at least pays that.
We don’t want to necessarily make money where it’s like, oh, we’re millionaires from this. It will never happen to begin with, but we want to pay back, at least, everything’s coming out of pocket. And any person that I know that’s folkloric dances at least, and this may be true for other dances as well, Latin dances as well actually – I’m involved in that as well – we paid all out of pocket. The costumes for Latin dances are not cheap either, right?. And we are all paying out of pocket to dance locally at a Mexican restaurant and stuff like that because we love dancing. We don’t make any money, we go out trying to just dance and do something that we love. So that’s the goal, to have something that we can get grants and support and funding is to at least pay that. And so with admin work, that will be included as well. If we can have someone who gets paid for that, I feel like that’s motivation enough to get it going. And also writing grants and also then working more and having more stable, consistent presence online and in social media and in the community and organizing events. You need a lot of admin work. Yes.
Jessie Nowak (24:22):
So you need a you!
Antuanet Powell (24:22):
I need to clone myself, which my bosses say all the time, how do we clone you? I’m like, I’ve been trying all my life. I need a me that does the admin work and a me that does the choreo and a me that does the traveling and gets the costumes. It’s crazy. I know.
Jessie Nowak (24:43):
So, how would you describe the current dance scene in Portland? What’s fabulous and what needs work?
Antuanet Powell (24:48):
Oh, that’s a good question. I don’t know if I can speak for all of Portland, but my niche, right? I feel – and that also ties to what needs work – that Portland is very heavy on artists, which is lovely and fabulous. And there’s so many events happening, especially in summertime. There’s so much art happening, which is great, and all of those questions tied together. But I do notice a lot, not only when I perform, but when I attend also as a patron, there isn’t enough audience. Sometimes there’s more artists than audience. I see it at [inaudible]. I see it at shows, I see it. And a lot of things that I go to, it’s like a lot of artists at all levels too – there’s really pro people out there that need support – and there’s newcomers that want to get into it too, but not enough support.
And so it is fabulous. If you’re an artist and you’re doing it, cause you love doing it. Yes, Portland can be great, and I think it will continue to be great for the next 10 years and forever probably. But what needs work is the support. There isn’t enough support. There’s a lot of… and the more niche, the less support you get, which is I think just what it is, right? But there’s a lot of, for example, black, indigenous and artists of color who have shows and have classes and have very niche genres of dance and art that is not mainstream, for example. And so people don’t support it. They don’t go to the classes, they don’t go to the shows and stuff like that. But that’s in general. It doesn’t have to be specific to those groups, but I see it cause that’s where I try to support the most.
And we struggle even more than other shows. I go to other shows… even mainstream shows, there are nights where they have less of an audience, they don’t pack house every night. So yeah, I see that. And I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t know how we can fix a town with so many artists to get the support. I don’t know what the answer is, but I do see that it’s more heavy on the artists themselves than the patrons. And I see it now, and I think it will continue for some reason. I don’t know how to fix that, but there’s got to be something where it’s like maybe people from out of town come to Portland. I don’t know. I mean if New York City, for example, not to compare it, but a lot of people come from out of New York City into go to Broadway shows.
They make the trip to support that. Something like that. I don’t know what could be like that where people come to Portland to where the artists are, to support them. That will be ideal. That will be something that needs to be worked on somehow. I don’t know how. But yes, my dream will be that everything’s packed house every night, no matter what the artist is, no matter what the genre is, dance or whatever or not. If Portland had packed houses, every show would be a dream. I think that’s what Portland dreams of too. But we are not really actually there. It’s very, I see it with the dance studio for example, where we get new students all the time, which is great, but for performances to actually… people, as soon as they take a few classes, they get very, very excited. And they are artists themselves in other backgrounds.
And so they want to pursue it professionally almost immediately. They took a few classes of something and now they want to teach, and then they want to perform and they want to put on a show and stuff like that, which is fine. And I think it’s great as an artist myself to get that excitement about a new genre, a new art or something. But that creates an overflow of artists doing the same thing instead of supporting what’s already there and happening. There’s a lot of older artists here in Portland who stop doing art. Like, you know what? I don’t get the support. And then this new person came and started doing what I’m already doing. I have been doing it for years. And because maybe they’re better social media or just because they’re new and people want something new, they start supporting them. And so I don’t know how to solve that either, but I think that’s something that also needs to be worked on. It’s like how can we support the original and the older artists that have been doing it for longer and are not getting support instead of starting new things that are not necessary in that moment when there’s people with more expertise already doing it and needing the support. That would be something I would also would like to see to be worked on. Yeah.
Jessie Nowak (29:35):
I’m almost imagining an apprenticeship program where if you have that older artist who’s really just, they’re an expert in their craft and somebody’s like, Ooh, I want to do that. Is there an apprenticeship opportunity there where it’s mutually beneficial?
Antuanet Powell (29:48):
Yes, exactly. Right. That’s what I’m saying. It’s not that I don’t want new artists to come. I think that we need them to continue for decades and decades. But it’s something about the lack of support. If already the people who have 10 years more of expertise than you are not getting support, then what makes you think that yours is going to be, it’s going to take off. And they don’t. And then they get flustered and we all get flustered cause none of us is getting the support. So something like an apprenticeship… if there was some kind of hub of who are the artists? What’s the genre, what’s the art? What is it they’re doing, what they would like to do? And so people could go there like, oh, okay, so this is what there is, let me support them, let me, or collaborate. Collaborations are so good, but there isn’t enough I feel of that. Especially multi-generational collaboration of different expertises, social media, and then the expertise on the dance and stuff like that. And then taking off as Portland is the place to go for artists to support all the artists and they put on art shows and consistently do this and consistently do that. There’s no consistency, I feel. Cause there’s not enough. I don’t know why that is, and maybe that’s just my niche, but I don’t see enough of collaboration, consistently collaboration.
Jessie Nowak (31:14):
So you kind of already answered the next question, but I’ll ask it anyways if you want to add anything to it. So paint a really idealistic picture of the dance scene in Portland in 10 years.
Antuanet Powell (31:25):
Yeah, I think, oh, if I could like, oh, realistic.
Jessie Nowak (31:29):
No, idealistic. Yes. Pie in the sky. Oh
Antuanet Powell (31:32):
Yeah. That would be my dream is what I say. If people came to Portland for our shows every weekend from anywhere in Oregon, Washington, you name it, that would be a dream. Ideally, I think because Portland will keep attracting artists. It’s just the reputation that it has. And there’s all sorts of arts. We’re talking about the dance, but the food here, it’s amazing. That was one of the main reasons I came to Portland and it keeps taking off and we are getting more and more buzz about our food and our restaurants and stuff. So that’s when art… fine arts in Portland also – it’s a little bit now, but not enough. But there’s a lot of great fine artists here. Dance, same thing. There’s a little bit more than other towns around, but could take off even more. I think they’re not taking off because it’s not being supported.
So ideally, yeah, ideally people came to Portland on the weekends to support art shows of all genres. Oh, that would be amazing. Yes. Yes. Sometimes I go to Seattle for example, and it’s a bigger city and it has been more mainstream supportive for the arts. Sure. But if I make a three hour trip several times a year, maybe every other month I go, I hope that people did that for Portland too. This is an art show that you cannot find anywhere else. No, we got to make that drive and go. That will be ideal.
Jessie Nowak (33:05):
Alright, well thank you so much for your time today, Antuanet, and for being open and engaging and having this super fun conversation today.
Antuanet Powell (33:12):
Thank you for having me. Yeah.