Aphyna Zoe

2019 Ambassador Aphyna Zoe

Laura Onizuka: (00:02)

Hi, this is Laura Onizuka, I am Ambassador Chair with Dance Wire in Portland, Oregon. I am here with Aphyna Zoe, it is February 10th, 2019, and we’re going to talk about her life and career in dance as part of our Artist Stories series with our Dance Wire ambassadors. So welcome, Aphyna.

Aphyna Zoe: (00:21)

Thank you.

Laura Onizuka: (00:22)

So, just to get started, can you give me an overview of all of your current titles?

Aphyna Zoe: (00:26)

Sure. I am a company member with A-WOL Dance Collective. I am a dance instructor at A-WOL and with Van DeVeer Productions, choreographer and creative.

Laura Onizuka: (00:43)

Awesome. Can you tell me when you started dancing, and give us a brief overview of your dance history?

Aphyna Zoe: (00:50)

I got into dance when I was about 12, 13, and I started with hip hop and then just found all the other styles from there and fell in love with everything. As a very shy child, it became a really important source for self expression, so I think I really connected to that. I continued my dance training with ballet and jazz, contemporary, through college I didn’t study dance, but I stayed performing with a performance team for four years. Then I thought I was going to take a break for the Peace Corps. I went to the Middle East and I ended up in the capital Aman, and I discovered their small, but thriving dance scene. It was a really magical experience. I got to learn from some really incredible artists who would travel from all over the world to come to the capitol in Jordan to share dance with the locals. And then from there, I think that experience really reinspired my dance. So I continued my training in Portland eventually, and now here I am.

Laura Onizuka: (02:12)

Cool. When you say you were a shy child, did that shyness disappear when you were dancing?

Aphyna Zoe: (02:21)

Yes, when I was dancing, when I was dancing, definitely. I think I was able to express my feelings in a way and being on stage felt very liberating, and feeling witnessed is just a very profound experience when you’re so shy, and it’s hard to tap into that.

Laura Onizuka: (02:46)

What would you say dance means to you or has meant to you in your life?

Aphyna Zoe: (02:54)

For me, dance is pure expression. It’s the exploration of stories, it’s experiencing, tapping into new energies and archetypes, trying on new things. For me dance is freedom and self discovery.

Laura Onizuka: (03:20)

Have there been any challenges that you faced in your pursuit of dance?

Aphyna Zoe: (03:25)


Laura Onizuka: (03:26)

You want to tell me about some?

Aphyna Zoe: (03:28)

Yeah. I think the biggest challenge I faced was my own insecurities, my own self-limiting beliefs, my body image issues growing up. I definitely struggled with constant comparison. When you’re comparing yourself, you’re always going to find someone who’s doing something so much more graceful or with better technique, or you can name anything, you’ll find it when you’re comparing yourself. That was a really big problem for me because instead of seeing something that’s really amazing and inspiring in another artist, you actually turn it around and tear yourself down, and that’s really harmful to be an artist. Getting out of that place is what transformed my experience with dance and my ability to actually pursue it.

Laura Onizuka: (04:31)

How do you feel that you were able to get out of that habit?

Aphyna Zoe: (04:35)

Well, eventually I actually quit dancing for a couple of years. I was still teaching, but gave up on the idea of performing again and doing it for myself. And I ended up sinking into such a deep depression that eventually I realized that I had to dance, that there was something in me that just had to come out. In that time I got really clear on the fact that there was something that really wanted to come through me, and that could only come through me, and I couldn’t judge it and I couldn’t hold it to any kind of standard or compare it to what is coming through other people. And so, realizing that for one, I was doing that and that I couldn’t do that anymore, that there was something unique in me that needed to come out and just to love that and create space for it was really empowering.

Laura Onizuka: (05:31)

What do you, this goes along those lines, but, what resources or people or experiences have helped you the most maybe in that or as a dancer in general?

Aphyna Zoe: (05:47)

I feel it was a bit hard to find resources in Portland, mostly I think this was before Dance Wire, and I would look up classes and only see a couple of schools, even though there’s so much in Portland, but it was hard to figure out what was available. For me, once I found a class, even if it was just one class that I really liked, sticking with it was really helpful because then you start to get to know people, and you feel more comfortable talking with the teachers or other classmates. And then through that, you find out all of these other things about the dance scene. That’s how I found out about the A-WOL Dance Collective was really through other dancers and connecting with them.

Laura Onizuka: (06:36)

Cool. Can you tell me about your role in A-WOL?

Aphyna Zoe: (06:43)

I just started working with them almost two years ago. I did their adult training program for aerial arts and fell so in love with aerial arts and how empowering it is and freeing it is, and it’s the most challenging and rewarding thing at the same time. I immediately fell really in love with it and wanted to just continue working on that. And they took me on as an apprentice after the training program. They’re training me to teach there as well, and they feel like it’s just been such an incredible community. Everyone there is super encouraging and just such positive energy there. Everyone’s there working really hard and cheering each other on, and there’s this constant progression and a lot of creativity. So I get to work there as a teacher, and also I’m there as an artist and developing myself as an aerialist.

Laura Onizuka: (08:00)


Aphyna Zoe: (08:00)

I’m there all the time. I just love it. It’s my happy place.

Laura Onizuka: (08:03)

That’s cool. What stage do you feel like you are at, in your career?

Aphyna Zoe: (08:12)

I feel like I’m just getting started, which is also really magical because I just turned 30, and I just really started trying to pursue dance a year and a half ago, two years ago getting over all my self-doubt and insecurity. And it’s really exciting because I always had it in my head that I was too old, you know, at 22, I’m like, oh, I’m too old, at 24, I’m too old at 26 I’m too old to try and go for this, and then at 28, I just, why not try at least, you know?

Laura Onizuka: (08:43)

Isn’t that interesting how you’re older, but you have developed more wisdom to realize that doesn’t matter.

Aphyna Zoe: (08:49)

It doesn’t matter at all, and it’s so cool. Especially working with A-WOL, there’s so many moms, badass mamas there, still performing, and incredible artists. It’s really cool because I guess that isn’t the image that I saw in my head as what a professional dancer performer looks like growing up, which is a false image. So it’s really cool to see people at all different ages and skill levels doing what they love.

Laura Onizuka: (09:25)

As professionals.

Aphyna Zoe: (09:27)

As professionals. Exactly.

Laura Onizuka: (09:30)

How do you feel like you want to move forward if you’re kind of at the beginning now, or what goals do you have?

Aphyna Zoe: (09:38)

I have so many visions and right now I’m really happy where I’m at, and I’m continually learning so much. I definitely plan to keep pursuing aerial arts. But I’m also really excited to develop my own art with, I really want to create a large work of art that carries a very strong message for the healing of the Earth and for the connection of people, and I want to weave feminist magic into it. I really want to create art where every single movement is imbued with intention and meaning. In that way, having something really powerful that I can share through my body and my movement.

Laura Onizuka: (10:33)

Would you say it will be in aerial?

Aphyna Zoe: (10:36)

I don’t know if that will be, I don’t think it will be, I’m not exactly sure yet. I see it forming, and I think eventually I want to do an artist residency to really go deep into that work and explore that. I love teaching. I want to continue on that path, and the more that I learn as a dancer and the more classes that I’m taking, the better teacher I am. So I think they’re completely paired together. Eventually I would love to start my own project, or studio, probably in another city where there isn’t as much dance or aerial arts, or who knows, I’ll stay here. I love Portland, so I’m not sure yet, but eventually I would love to direct my own pieces or my own shows.

Laura Onizuka: (11:37)

You said you really enjoy teaching, what does teaching give to you?

Aphyna Zoe: (11:44)

I actually remember the first time I explored improv, improvisational dance and I was in my early twenties and it was extremely difficult for me. It was painfully difficult, I was so annoyed, I just wanted the teachers to tell me what to do. I didn’t want to have to feel and explore or look funny or. I had such a powerful experience by being pushed and challenged to find that place of discomfort and to explore it. I think that really opened up dance to me in a completely different way. I’ve tried to bring those practices back into my classes. 

It’s been really rewarding to watch students feel challenged, but then push through it and discover something. And then I see something come through them that’s totally theirs, and so unique. That’s the most rewarding thing for me in dance, because learning how to improv really is a way of learning how to find yourself in a way, or be comfortable. I love being able to introduce that to my students. I love working with youth and adults, and I just love when I see people enjoy what they’re doing, and enjoy dance, and enjoy the experience. Then creating something together, student and teacher, that’s really rewarding. Creating a piece that they’re going to show to their family or perform somewhere, and have it come together is a very rewarding, creative experience.

Laura Onizuka: (13:45)

So with the improv aspect, is that a class you’re teaching that’s improv, or do you work that into?

Aphyna Zoe: (13:54)

I incorporate it into every class that I teach. Sometimes I go deeper with certain groups. But it’s something I incorporate in every class.

Laura Onizuka: (14:09)

That’s cool. We’re going to shift over, how do you balance your arts management and administration with the actual art itself?

Aphyna Zoe: (14:22)

Time management is definitely a challenge. Especially, probably for most artists or dance teachers, the hours can be all over the place. Sometimes they’re stacked, sometimes they’re not. So you’re running from one place to the next.

Laura Onizuka: (14:43)

I notice you have quite the calendar agenda.

Aphyna Zoe: (14:47)

I do. Yeah. 

Laura Onizuka:

I think that’s a piece of art in itself. 

Aphyna Zoe: 

I know, I love it. That’s what keeps me sane is my passion planner and being able to see my full schedule in front of me for the week, and it’s all color coded and I use white-out.

Laura Onizuka: (15:03)

I wish that we had a, maybe we can get a picture of this. You can take a picture. You guys have gotta see this though.

Aphyna Zoe: (15:11)

But yeah, the Passion Planner changed my life. It’s so vital to me understanding how my week is unfolding. And I would say also meal prep is really important. Because most of the time I don’t really have the time to cook, but eating healthy is also so important to being fueled enough to do what I’m doing. The meal prep and that goes into my planner of when I can do that, and what meals. I’ve definitely had to learn some serious organizational skills to stay on top of everything I’m doing and to have been able to take on as much as I am taking on right now.

Laura Onizuka: (15:56)

Where do you feel like you learned? Is it just through trial and error?

Aphyna Zoe: (15:59)

Definitely. Also making my planner part of my routine, and trying to make it fun, you know, by color coding or listening to a podcast while I do it or something.

Laura Onizuka: (16:15)

Do you have a set day of the week?

Aphyna Zoe: (16:19)

Obviously I check my planner every day, but every Sunday it’s my, what is it? I call it my weekly accountability meeting, which came from the 12 week year. It’s a scheduling program or philosophy on how to plan out ahead of time. Every Sunday I have to sit down and have plenty of time with it, and go through finances. I kind of grade my week as well.

Laura Onizuka: (16:48)

So some reflection. 

Aphyna Zoe: (16:50)

I do reflection. To see how much I was able to accomplish, or how I was doing and just checking in with myself, if my goals were too lofty, if I need to scale things down. It’s definitely high maintenance scheduling.

Laura Onizuka: (17:08)

But it sounds like it’s worth it.

Aphyna Zoe: (17:09)

It’s helpful. It’s so worth it. Yeah. It’s so worth it.

Laura Onizuka: (17:12)

Taking the time in advance to plan things out and then the time to reflect. It sounds like it ends up giving you, making the time that you dedicate to things more valuable.

Aphyna Zoe: (17:26)

It gives me more clarity too. How long things take me, and how much time do I need to set aside to choreograph for classes. I’m getting better at understanding what I’m required to set aside for what I’m doing too, yeah, it’s great.

Laura Onizuka: (17:45)

Cool. Would you say that you have an artist statement, or is there a longer term vision you hope to accomplish through your work? You spoke a little bit about your vision.

Aphyna Zoe: (18:03)

Other than what I’ve already said, I feel like it’s so important to play a positive role in the dance community, to encourage everyone who wants to explore dance for the first time, or come back to it, or go to deeper into it, to be an ally to all the artists in Portland, and cheerleader.

Laura Onizuka: (18:41)

I know we talked earlier in the conversation about how you felt, even in your twenties that, oh, it’s too late. So, what would you say to somebody who might be feeling the same way either in terms of wanting to pursue dance professionally, or even just take a dance class? Because I know a lot of people are intimidated just to get in the dance studio. What would you say on that note?

Aphyna Zoe: (19:10)

The hardest part is showing up, I think, and so, just to commit. I found a dance class that was really profound for me and it challenged me so much. Sarah Parker’s class at BodyVox, and I felt so behind in it the whole time, just the worst one in the class. But I also recognized what a special class it was, and how much it pushed me. I decided to label it my non-negotiable, this is my non-negotiable, I’m going to show up. 

Even if I feel insecure or tired or whatever, because on the other end of things, it’s going to give me back so much. I think commitment, following through, is so important because things don’t happen overnight. It takes consistency to see progress or change and to feel more comfortable. Also learning how to be comfortable with being uncomfortable in a dance class or in the pursuit of your career that’s an important lesson that I learned.

Laura Onizuka: (20:24)

It doesn’t really ever go away, discomfort.

Aphyna Zoe: (20:29)

I get comfortable with it, and stay committed if it’s really what you want. I think for me at least, since I had such a long string of starting and stopping, that when I finally just stuck with it, I really saw profound improvement in my own dance and my confidence, in my connection to my body, everything just started to expand over time, not overnight.

Laura Onizuka: (21:12)

It’s with commitment.

Aphyna Zoe: (21:13)

With commitment. Looking back, I’m so grateful to myself for finally showing up and sticking with it, even when it was really hard, and even now, sometimes it’s really hard, but at least I’ve had enough experience where I’m aware that if I stick with it, it’s going to pay me back immensely.

Laura Onizuka: (21:35)

Let’s talk about the dance scene in Portland. How would you describe the current dance scene in Portland? What do you think is great about it? What’s lacking?

Aphyna Zoe: (21:52)

I have had a really positive experience, so I think it’s really wonderful. I’ve found some really great teachers and classes. But also, there’s so much I haven’t explored yet. I think that happens a lot. People find their little hub, and then they just stay there, which is great if it’s giving you what you need. But I’m excited to explore and branch out a little more and meet other dancers and meet the other little dance scenes, because it does seem like everything’s a little bit disjointed. I don’t really hear about other people’s shows very often, unless it’s a dancer I know or I’m already working with, and they’re working with someone else I’ll hear about their show. But oftentimes there’s a lot going on that I didn’t even know about. I think Dance Wire is really great because it’s trying to create that bridge, so I think that’s really positive and definitely think Portland needs it.

Laura Onizuka: (22:55)

Is there anything that we haven’t talked about that you might want to, or that I haven’t asked you about that you might want to share about your life as dancer?

Aphyna Zoe: (23:10)

You asked some great questions, and it’s been really fun to reflect on my spiraling journey. I feel really encouraged by the Portland dance scene. I think there’s a lot to offer. If anyone wants to be a part of it, or to branch out into a new area, I think that it’s there.

Laura Onizuka: (23:40)

Awesome. Well, thank you so much.