Jennifer Camp

2023 Ambassador Jennifer Camp

Emily Running (00:01):

Hello, my name is Emily Running. I’m the Founder and Director of Dance Wire, and I’m here with Jennifer Camp to talk about her life and career in dance. So welcome Jennifer.

Jennifer Camp (00:12):

Hi there.

Emily Running (00:13):

First of all, let’s start off by, tell me your current titles.

Jennifer Camp (00:19):

I am the Director of Dance at Pacific University. I am an Associate Professor of Dance, the title of my position. I also am a Choreographer, Dancer, I consider myself a Dance Artist, a Movement Educator and a Somatic Practitioner. 

Emily Running (00:39):

Awesome. I love that when I ask this question, there’s so many different varieties of ways that we even term ourselves. So I just talked to somebody who said, “I don’t call myself a dance artist, but I feel like I’m a creative.” So anyways, it’s kind of funny how we, “okay, what is the term?” There is no universal term for what we do. So tell me kind of an overview of your pivotal moments getting started in dance and with your trajectory so far. 

Jennifer Camp (01:15):

Well, I feel like when I was a young person, I was meant to move even before I knew what dance classes were. My mom was an artist.

Emily Running (01:30):

What kind of artist? 

Jennifer Camp (01:32):

She painted, she drew, but she exposed us to a lot of arts, but also we had a lot of music in our house and my sister and I, and we were a very creative family in that respect. And so my sister and I made dances up. We’d recruit people, anyone that came to the house, we’d rally them. We didn’t have any training, but we were just very creative that way. And it just was something I knew, or maybe at that point I didn’t know, but it was so inherited in my body that I just listened to myself intuitively. 

Emily Running (02:08):

Yeah. Awesome. And then when did you start legitimate training? Or classes, training makes, it sounds so intense, but classes. 

Jennifer Camp (02:24):

Yeah, we didn’t have a lot of money and my father and my mother had decided to put my sister in dance and that’s all they could afford. And so I had the opportunity to sit and watch. And all I knew is I was like, “why aren’t I in there?” And it was a struggle to give me those lessons as well. And that was in, I started a little later than probably most students. I think I was about eight, maybe nine, when I finally was able to start taking classes. 

Emily Running (03:05):

Yeah. What class did you start with? 

Jennifer Camp (03:08):

It was kind of a variety of classes. I had ballet, we had gymnastics. It wasn’t a classical training in one area. I’m trying to think, gosh, I’m pulling from the past. But it was a variety of things that you would get to do. I don’t think they called it contemporary back then.

Emily Running (03:36):

Yeah, I don’t think so either. 

Jennifer Camp (03:37):

So like jazz and modern. 

Emily Running (03:41):

Remind me where you grew up?

Jennifer Camp (03:42):

New Jersey. 

Emily Running (03:43):

New Jersey, okay. So yeah, you’ve already been talking about it some, but what does dance mean to you in your life? It’s always been there. 

Jennifer Camp (03:57):

Yeah, it really is. It means a great deal to me. I think there’s different points where it’s always been there for me, whether I was performing, training, even those times where you had those breaks from physically being in the space and being so inundated with it. It’s always been a part of me. I find in every moment, even as I was driving here today in this, watching a car being moved, I see movement in everything. I’m inspired by the world around me. And so I find that dance is just part of me in a way that I’m living and breathing, and everything around me is responding in the same way. And I find that something really special that I carry with me. 

Emily Running (04:50):

That is amazing. That gives me chills. There’s something so, I don’t even know. I don’t have words for it. That’s the point. We’re dancers. We don’t have words for these things. Right. Nice. So what challenges have you faced as a dancer? 

Jennifer Camp (05:12):

Yeah. I’d say probably the most impactful challenge for me was getting involved in a formal way with dance, because we didn’t have money. My parents divorced when I was very young. My mom worked two jobs to raise four children. I am still even to this day, a very, very determined person, and I was very quiet, but dance was just so much, so benefiting for me. And so, my mom really couldn’t afford it, and my parents, sometimes, my dad, he had to pay for the lessons when we were young and he really couldn’t afford it. And my teacher at the time, Thelma, Mrs. Weeks, I called her, who I still keep in touch with today, would let me take classes for months and months and months without having my tuition paid, and it was hard. I definitely, I waited until I was old enough, I would go apply for jobs and they were like, “you’re not old enough.” And I waited, I think the day of my birthday. They said, “come back when you’re this age.” I came back, got the job, and I worked when I was real young and paid for my classes. And when I couldn’t pay, my mom would help me as much as she could. So it was challenging for me to be in the field as a career and trying to start it because of that, and I don’t even look at it as a challenge. I look at it that, I’m so grateful that I just made this, had these kind of opportunities to make it happen for myself. 

Emily Running (07:06):

That is amazing. And I bet that your dance training helped with that. All of the discipline and the dedication and the determination. 

Jennifer Camp (07:17):

Yeah, I think so. 

Emily Running (07:19):

Or maybe that is why you were destined to be a dancer because you have that already. Which way does it go? 

Jennifer Camp (07:26):

Yeah, I think both. I think it complimented each other because of the way we train. It just fit right into that mindset of how we work in order to grow as dancers and we have to be so disciplined. 

Emily Running (07:47):

So what people, resources or opportunities have helped you the most? 

Jennifer Camp (07:55):

I’m going back truly to my childhood because at this point in my career, I’m in a very reflective place. And I would say the two teacher, I had two teachers, my teacher, Mrs. Weeks, who I couldn’t ask, you know, so grateful to her because she gave me the training, she helped me even when we couldn’t afford it, she would always allow me to be in the space taking class. And then my other teacher that was, I started taking it in multiple schools because I was like, “I need to be doing this,” you know when I was able to do that. And so my other teacher, Ann Stein-Heemskerk, did the same thing. She would say, “you’re on a scholarship, you’re dancing with the company now.” And so, those were really impactful moments in my life, and I’m so grateful to those teachers to have instilled this beautiful art form in me, and they showed me how to just work hard and pursue what you want. 

Emily Running (09:10):

And I’m sure it was a gift for them to have a student like you who really cares for and who is so dedicated to what they’re offering. I’m sure it was a gift for them to be able to offer that and see where it goes, it transcends money sometimes. It transcends that exchange, that transactional exchange of paying for something. I mean, I think that we don’t go into being dancers or opening a studio because we want to make money from it. We go in because we want to share this thing that we’re passionate about with other people, and I’m sure for them to have somebody who is so clearly passionate and dedicated and willing to accept that and move forward was also a gift. But it sounds like you’re still in contact with them, so you probably have had the chance to, I don’t know, see it from a long-term perspective too.

Jennifer Camp (10:20):

Yeah, I always try to tell them how grateful I am to them. Yeah, well, I try to do that. I try to be that way in general, just because you, just not every day is guaranteed. 

Emily Running (10:31):

Yeah. I wanted to go back and ask you, so you know, you said you’re kind of a quiet person, and I always find it interesting with sometimes how performing and being quiet go hand in hand sometimes. How does being quiet and your work in performance work together, and/or teaching? Because teaching is a very standup and be public. 

Jennifer Camp (10:59):

It is going against my natural way I want to be, when I’m not in the dance space, teaching or performing. I found something incredible when I started performing and I found that I could find a way to tap into areas that weren’t necessarily me, but take on whatever it was, the role or the qualities or whatever the meaning was behind the movement, and almost remove myself from it and be completely committed to it. And I think that was one of my strengths as a performer when I was truly in the heart of performing in my career. And I believe as a teacher, probably if you asked any students, “what is Jen’s big thing in teaching?” I teach technique and everything, but I’m like, I’m always trying to get them to express themselves in the technique class and find those moments. I am telling them, “listen to the music. Listen, work with our pianists, listen to what they’re playing. Find yourself in that and find those little moments that make you dance. We’re in class, we’re learning steps, and we’re learning things and we’re exploring it. It can be so much more, and that’s why we’re here.” 

Emily Running (12:30):

Yeah. Yeah. I love that. What stage are you at in your career or life trajectory of dance? Try rephrasing the question because yeah, the career part, whatever. We’ve established that you’re a lifelong dancer. It’s been part of you for as long as you existed, so it will be all the way through. So yeah, what stage are you at in your journey with dance? And you can contextualize that by talking about the past or how the various stages that you’ve gone through. 

Jennifer Camp (13:17):

That’s a big question because I am, as I mentioned, I’m very reflective at this point in my life, and I’m thinking about my future, what does that look like? I do find myself yearning to dive into more of going back to some of my roots and exploring further the creative process and making dance in new spaces, new places. And I think the challenges I face are in thinking of where I’m at in my career and where I want to go, balancing my roles and also bringing in that creative space for myself and my students and for the art. So I think a lot about that. So even on my vacations at the beach, I start building little stones on the beach and start making hand dances around the stones.

Emily Running (14:22):

That sounds like such a dancer thing to do. 

Jennifer Camp (14:25):

I was thinking about how I’m going to build that into something even bigger. I was creating this and I’m like, “when will I have time to make this dance that I’m envisioning?”

Emily Running (14:41):

Well maybe it needs to be a film so that you, or maybe you need to just start filming each of these tiny moments to see where that goes. I don’t know. I’m exploring more film lately too, and it gives just a different opportunity for, I don’t know, presentation and recording thoughts and ideas. 

Jennifer Camp (15:05):

Absolutely. I was recording it.  

Emily Running (15:08):

Good. I want to see that.

Jennifer Camp (15:10):

But I didn’t have a tripod, so it was very bad recordings, but I think for me is bringing back more freedom for creativity. I’m in a place where I do have deadlines to produce, deadlines to produce shows, deadlines to create works. So you have to think about those things where sometimes it’s nice to have that space to let something breathe and be with you and see where it goes. And that’s I think, where I am in this place right now. 

Emily Running (15:40):

Yeah. How do you balance that? So, you have a day job in dance, and as you’re describing, that’s a very different, yeah, there’s a timeline and there’s a set amount of students that you’re working or the people in front of you are like who you’re working with. So I don’t know, I guess I’m imagining this in my own mind, but maybe describe kind of your current, how you work with dance and yeah, start with that before I add more to the question. Five questions in a row.

Jennifer Camp (16:22):

Yeah, so I’ll kind of just give you a typical year or season. We have a set schedule, we always have two shows, we also go to conferences, and then I’m teaching academic dance courses. Within that we have a company, and so we start off the term right away, dancers audition for casting, and we have to, we are preparing for a show. So I’m always thinking about what the work is that I’m going to create, and also thinking about what the faculty and the students are going to create and building a show in addition to making my own work in the show. So I think that’s kind of the typical day, so it allows for freedom to be creative, but it’s also within a range where you have to have an end point and “this is what’s going,” and whether you love it or you don’t, it’s going and there’s that freedom to go back and develop work more. But that’s kind of how the trajectory of working in that schedule of set shows every year, we always have our fall show, our spring show, sometimes we have a winter informal, spring informal, and we go and we attend conferences where we present as well. So it is very rigid in the sense of what has to get done. 

Emily Running (17:55):

So what you’re needing a little bit more of is that space that is not tied to the schedule, that might be a more personal project or practice?

Jennifer Camp (18:06):

The whole summer dancing on the beach, right? Collecting stones, building stone dances.

Emily Running (18:17):

Perfect. Yeah. Do you feel like the administrative and creative balance is there in the university setting? Are you able to be both the administrator and the creative and balance those? 

Jennifer Camp (18:36):

That’s a good question. 

Emily Running (18:39):

I just feel like, so my day job is in dance too, obviously, but it’s not, I get to the end of the day and I’ve done a bunch of who knows what, maybe I’ve been grant writing or maybe I’ve been dealing with a Stripe issue, or maybe I’ve been working on a program or doing one-to-one sessions with people, and at the end of the day, transitioning into creative energy is really difficult. And so I think I’m curious, I’m just curious myself how other people balance it or if they have tools to go from the administrative space to the creative space and go back and forth, but that is kind of built into your work in a different way where you’re creating as part of your daily work activity. 

Jennifer Camp (19:36):

You’re right though I mean because in addition to being in the University setting, I have lots of meetings within that, which really throws that creative brain off because then I have to go in the space and then switch on and be moving when I’ve been sitting and I’m not a good sitter. I don’t sit well, I’m a restless person. 

Emily Running (19:56):

Me neither. I have a standing desk so that I can pace around. 

Jennifer Camp (20:00):

So, that is challenging. I have to be very protective of my time in certain points in the day where maybe I’m meeting knowing that I’m having rehearsals or the day before and be very protective of that time so that I allow myself to be in that space, and that’s not a perfect picture. Sometimes when things get really busy, you know, to navigate the administrative with the teaching, with the creative, it does sometimes get a little messy, but then I just regroup and go back to protecting that time and then find that space again. So that’s what I strive to do is being very protective of that time for me to go in, because personally, it’s not fair for the students, to not come in and have that presence of what, even if we’re working creatively, to not be present with them with what’s going on. So I really strive to have that, to give myself to that time. 

Emily Running (21:11):

Yeah. I want to ask you some extra questions here. If you had one, because I know you are an educator and it’s in a University setting, but if you had one piece of advice to give to early high school to college age students that are interested in dance, what is one or two things that you just think is really important for aspiring dancers to know? 

Jennifer Camp (21:48):

Do you mean if they’re thinking of going to college or? 

Emily Running (21:51):

If they’re thinking of, yeah, maybe if they’re thinking of going to college or if they’re in college and stepping out into the world of trying to figure out how to be a dancer in the real world. 

Jennifer Camp (22:03):

I think my advice is when you’re in college, ask your teachers for all the opportunities that you want to make for yourself, all the things that you want to learn about, that you’re passionate about. Go to a program that embodies that or empowers you to have those opportunities and be willing when you graduate to say yes to a lot of things in a way that’s not going to exhaust you, but yes to teaching opportunities, things that maybe are new to you that you can learn about and learn about those things and grow with that. I think that’s really important. And take advantage of all that you can with your teachers, whether it’s in college or in a conservatory, or pre-professional program. Ask them questions, pick their brains about stuff and just absorb it all so that you have lots of tools when you graduate or go on to pull from, not only as a performer, but as a teacher, a researcher, a movement educator. Just find all those roles, because that’s what’s going to help you have that wonderful opportunity to be in this incredible art form. 

Emily Running (23:29):

And Pacific University, really, that is kind of the essence of what the program offers too, right? Talk a little bit more about Pacific University.

Jennifer Camp (23:48):

Yeah, Pacific is a Liberal Arts program. It’s a small University. We know you, we will know you well. 

Emily Running (23:56):

You’re not lost in the crowd. 

Jennifer Camp (23:59):

And I personally, if you come there for dance, we really want you to integrate dance with other areas of study. And that’s how the university really encourages our students to learn. And it truly should be like that. And when we look at dance, it crosses every boundary, and when we peel all those layers, we can find that, and we really ask students to take the opportunities. A lot of what I said earlier is just finding those opportunities to learn about how you can make art and science, or art and anything else be a part of your life. 

Emily Running (24:49):

Yeah, yeah. I know. I love that. And we’ve talked about this many, many years ago, and I did a feature on Pacific and that element, and I just think that that is so cool because I think there isn’t one way to be a dancer. There isn’t one way to have dance remain in your life as you move forward. You can find these other ways and you can invent your own kind of combination of, “I love being outdoors and I love dance, and I want this to be part of my career, I love event planning.” So then you smash those together in a unique way and it can become a career that nobody else knew to tell you to go look for. So it isn’t a corporate ladder that you climb. It isn’t an obvious next step in a progression, but it’s something that you can really, yeah, you can keep dancing your life all the time and make it a meaningful part of your life, not just, “I take class after,” not just, but you can have it be more integrated than taking class after work. 

Jennifer Camp (25:59):

Yeah, absolutely. 

Emily Running (26:00):

And having them be totally separate things. So I’ve always loved that.

Jennifer Camp (26:02):

You said that so eloquent. Thank you for filling my words.

Emily Running (26:09):

Yeah, perfect. So, describe the current dance scene in Portland. What is fabulous, what needs work? What are the highlights of Portland dance for you? 

Jennifer Camp (26:22):

I moved here in 2003, and when I moved here, it was really just a very small community of dance. There was lots of dance going on and things, but not very many companies, not very many places to take a class. It’s been really interesting to watch this evolution over this time. I guess almost, what is that, 20 years now, to see all the new things that are coming out. I think I feel so excited. I feel excited for my students. I feel like, for example, you send us things about the Citywide Auditions or we’re getting so much information that’s making it a place for young artists to truly have an opportunity and be out in Portland and not feeling like, okay, well this is, you know, 20 years ago it wasn’t quite like that. So seeing this evolution and growth is tremendous. I feel so fortunate that we get exposed to so many performances internationally and locally. I think that you’re doing it, but I feel like I would love to have more connections with the local artist performance. And I get all this exposure for all the international or national things, but I don’t always get what’s going on in the diversity of it. And I think that’s the one thing that I would love to see grow even more. 

Emily Running (27:59):

Yeah. Yeah. We’re working on it. We’ve got lots of grants out asking for marketing money and for getting to our next level of progression that lets us have the resources necessary to have not only the strategy but implementation and really get that broader reach, which as a small nonprofit we have not been able to do yet. But we will get there. We will get there. So, paint an idealistic picture of Portland dance in 10 years. You could talk about the features or you could just, I don’t know, dream out loud a little bit about what would just the most thriving dance scene be? 

Jennifer Camp (28:52):

I would love to see, and this is probably a little selfish, 

Emily Running (28:56):

Hey, go for it. It probably isn’t at the end of the day. I don’t know what it is yet, but, 

Jennifer Camp (29:03):

I would love to see, I already see it happening a little bit, but I would love a little bit more integration and inclusion on the west side. I know recently and even reaching it farther, because right now it is nestled on across the river kind of thing, and to the east and, what’s it? I’m so bad, but to the other side, right? So I would love to see a little bit more of these connections and how can all the artists that are doing things have ways to connect more on the west and even branching out. I know where I teach, it does seem like it’s really far away, but it really isn’t. And I would love to have more, see these connections across Portland a little bit sprawled out. 

Emily Running (30:02):

Like opportunities in every neighborhood. 

Jennifer Camp (30:05):

Yeah, absolutely. Just having more opportunities and bringing a little bit more so it’s just spread out so everyone can get the exposure and the experiences from it. 

Emily Running (30:22):

It does feel a little bit like where that’s going, and just from conversations that I’ve sat in on with the city, with various kind of people that are influential within the arts, I think I hear again and again, let’s focus out in the communities and this kind of centralized, everybody come to P5 to watch shows or everybody come to the center to do a thing is less and less ideal, and it’s more how can we invest in a theater in Milwaukee? Or Patricia Reser Center for the Arts just went up recently and that has been game changing. I’ve seen so many companies perform out there and not in town. 

Jennifer Camp (31:06):

Oh, it’s been so nice. 

Emily Running (31:08):

And I hear just when people talk about the Reser Center, when they talk about that, they just speak so highly of how their experience was with parking and going to dinner and how beautiful the theater was, and I hear so many people just really loving that. So I think it is interesting. I do feel like that might be the direction we’re going in.

Jennifer Camp (31:38):

Yeah, I know there’s lots of independent schools and things, but maybe even a dance center where artists can use that dance center where people can use rehearsal space and things like that. A lot of the opportunities for rehearsal space are on this side. That’s my dream. Which is great, but if you’re having to teach in Forest Grove or wherever or have to get on 26 or whatever. So I think just seeing, like you said, more opportunities for the community, more opportunities to bring dance in and bring awareness to it a little bit broader. That would be my dream. 

Emily Running (32:22):

Build out the vision for these dance spaces. So let’s say that there’s these dance spaces all over Portland, and what do they do? Do they have just a full roster of classes plus a studio reserved for rehearsals, plus, I don’t know, like what is the ultimate dream version? What does this space do? How does it operate? Where does it fit in the community? 

Jennifer Camp (32:52):

I love all of that. Can we do it? 

Emily Running (32:57):

Yes. That’s what we’re working on. 

Jennifer Camp (32:59):

I really would like it to be all of that and be very inclusive, and not just traditional western forms, but really inclusive and maybe even an outdoor space. 

Emily Running (33:12):

Yeah, go big a photography studio.

Jennifer Camp (33:14):

Like Anna Halprin’s space in California. Maybe that’s a little too big, right?  

Emily Running (33:20):

Nothing’s too big when you’re dreaming. 

Jennifer Camp (33:22):

So an outdoor space, an indoor space, maybe even an outdoor theater in The Round. I’m really going for it now. 

Emily Running (33:31):

Yes. That’s what we’re here for. 

Jennifer Camp (33:34):

Everyone can come together. We can have our own festival, and then we have all the, just bringing people together and just bringing joy and celebrating with dance and just, I think that’s what we always have to remind ourselves is really truly that this can really bring a bright and light in our life when we need it, and even when we don’t need it, it allows us to have that. 

Emily Running (34:04):

I am going to stop us right there, because that is the inspirational note that I need to leave with today. So we stop it there. Thank you so much for chatting and for dreaming with me. 

Jennifer Camp (34:20):

Thank you.