2021 Ambassador Thorey Mountain
Sarita Persaud: (00:01)
Hi, my name is Sarita Persaud. I do marketing and membership here at Dance Wire. Today is February 24th, 2022. And I am here with ambassador Thorey Mountain to talk about her life and career as a dance artist, as part of our artist stories series. Welcome.
Thorey Mountain: (00:21)
Thank you, Sarita.
Sarita Persaud: (00:23)
Thorey, what are your current titles?
Thorey Mountain: (00:28)
Well, I’m a dance instructor, I’m a choreographer, and I’m also a faculty member at Pacific University. I’ve been teaching a dance history course there online, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Sarita Persaud: (00:46)
That’s great. So was that course online as a result of the pandemic or…?
Thorey Mountain: (00:52)
It was a mixture of reasons, and I felt very pleased that we could do it online, and very frightened. I had a lot of help from people, but it worked really well and I enjoyed the students a lot.
Sarita Persaud: (01:08)
That’s fantastic. So please, and you did this a little bit, but please give a brief overview of how you got started in dance.
Thorey Mountain: (01:20)
Well, like many small children, I had been to ballet classes a little bit when I was small. And then when I was ten, I was taken to the cinema to see On The Town. And it was like a light bulb. I knew that I wanted to dance like Vera-Ellen. So, I went to a different dance studio where they did tap, in those days it wasn’t called jazz, it was musical comedy, I think. My teacher suggested that I take ballet classes as well. So she was a Royal Academy of Dance trained teacher. So we did exams and everything, but from the minute I started taking ballet classes at that point, and I think I was 11, I was totally smitten. I mean, everything, everything in my life was about, I wanted to become a classical ballet dancer.
Thorey Mountain: (02:14)
I knew from that moment, that’s what I wanted to do. And I worked hard and had more and more lessons. And that became my whole being really, and I went to arts educational school in London when I was sixteen, and trained there for three years. But I started working professionally when I was eighteen. I had some jobs when I was at school. And then when I left at nineteen, I started, I continued and I never looked back really after that. At that time arts educational school was right in the middle of London in Hyde Park Corner. It was an amazing place to go to school because so many companies of course came through London, and as a student, we could get inexpensive tickets and so we went to see ballet companies.
Thorey Mountain: (03:13)
Probably the second time Martha Graham Company came to the UK. So, all these extraordinary companies that we would go and see, and also folk dance companies like the Moiseyev Dance Company, the Ukrainian Dance Company, Georgia State Dance. So we saw dance, dance everywhere. And we also got the opportunity of working with London’s Festival Ballet, which has become English National Ballet. And so we would also get the opportunity of working with them. I was a lady in waiting in Swan Lake for six weeks. About eight shows a week. I think actually, when I wasn’t on stage myself, I watched every single performance. I mean, I was in the wings just mesmerized.
Sarita Persaud: (04:04)
Wow. So deeply immersed in dance from such a young age. Amazing. Yes.
Thorey Mountain: (04:10)
Sarita Persaud: (04:10)
Incredible. And you were born in London, is that correct?
Thorey Mountain: (04:14)
I was born in England. Yes. My dad was English, but my mom was Icelandic. And so we have a family still in Iceland, and I go to see my cousins. I get there, if possible, well, it was possible up until recently, I’ve been going every year. And also I go back to the UK. I’ve had sort of two lives. In Portland, I moved here after I had my first daughter, she was born in 1977, and we moved here in 1978. My husband’s American, and so we brought our children up here (our two daughters, we have two daughters) and I worked a lot as well. I mean, I was working in studios, in community dance, in lots. I taught lots of jazz classes, lots of tap, taught, taught, taught and also choreographed a lot for the musical theater company. So, was also very busy, but loving bringing up my family and everything. And then we moved back to the UK in 1996, and we were back for eighteen years I think. And came back here, or I came back here again. We came back here again in, oh, let’s see. 2014. And my daughters are down in San Francisco in the Bay Area. So it’s wonderful to all be on the same time zone.
Sarita Persaud: (05:44)
Do they dance too?
Thorey Mountain: (05:48)
They did do. They did. Yes. And, and their daughters, my little granddaughters are dancing as well. My grandson, not yet, but soon.
Sarita Persaud: (05:58)
I love it. What does dance mean to you, or has meant to you in your life?
Thorey Mountain: (06:08)
Really, I’ve probably answered that, that from the time I started I became a bun head as they say. Do they say that here?
Sarita Persaud: (06:17)
Thorey Mountain: (06:19)
It’s really, apart from my family, it just has been the focus of my life really. And I feel so fortunate to have had that. And there is a wonderful family of dance. So I’m still in touch with friends who we all dance together or we train together or whatever.
Sarita Persaud: (06:43)
It’s such a deep bond.
Thorey Mountain: (06:45)
It is. And it’s just wonderful to have that.
Sarita Persaud: (06:50)
That’s amazing. What would you say (this is kind of going off script), but what would you say really drew you to dance? Was it the movement itself? Was it the expression? Pageantry, maybe?
Thorey Mountain: (07:09)
Not pageantry, no. The movement itself. And expression. I think it was that wonderful thing where you feel the just immersing yourself in dance, and expressing yourself, and losing yourself when you are on stage, that you are in a world like no other where it’s wonderful.
Sarita Persaud: (07:35)
That’s exactly what I was thinking. It’s another world.
Thorey Mountain: (07:37)
It’s your soul, if you like.
Sarita Persaud: (07:41)
Love that, beautiful.
Thorey Mountain: (07:41)
I also love theater. I love straight, straight grammar as well. So that was very important to me, the acting side of everything. Not just about technique, but expression and artistry and all those things.
Sarita Persaud: (07:56)
Full package. Absolutely.
Thorey Mountain: (07:57)
But I’ve been fortunate enough to have worked with so many people who give that, passed it on to us. It’s just, I feel so happy and fortunate.
Sarita Persaud: (08:11)
So, what challenges have you faced as a dance artist?
Thorey Mountain: (08:20)
Funnily enough, I think that the challenges I face as a dance artist are now. I think it is a very interesting process to be, what you say, maturing or growing older, whatever you’d like to say, because you still want to be able to dance and express and do all the things you did before. But your body is, you know, things become limited. And so it’s just making that change trying to look at things in another way. So I love it when I go to class, for example, Be Moved(™). I’m far enough away from the mirror that I can’t really see myself, so I can just love the music and love dancing and forget that I’m actually not nineteen or twenty years old. But I would say that is a very interesting challenge for dance artists as they get older to sort of, you know, where is our role? We want to pass on all the amazing things that we’ve learned, but sometimes there doesn’t seem to be the space for it somehow. I can’t quite explain that. So I would say now is a challenge. Advancing life and the love of dance.
Sarita Persaud: (10:01)
Yeah, absolutely. Can you speak to what people, resources and opportunities have helped you on your dance journey the most?
Thorey Mountain: (10:13)
There are so many, but I decided that I would think particularly about where my life changed. I was working with the Sadler’s Wells Opera movement group at the Coliseum in London, I was a member of that company. And I suddenly heard that Matt Mattox, the fabulous, fabulous jazz dancer, teacher, and choreographer was moving to London, and we had known about him. I’d even danced some of his classwork from someone else. I actually, dare I say this, I didn’t actually like jazz dance at that time. We heard that he was moving to London from the United States, and we knew all about him and his link with the great Jack Cole, which Jack Cole is sometimes described as the father of theatrical jazz dance. So, there he was at London’s Dance Center. So I was able with my schedule, I could start doing classes with him.
Thorey Mountain: (11:26)
And it was, again, it was a sort of light bulb smitten moment that I realized that what he was doing and the dance that he did was perfect for me. So I kind of found my other niche. And so we did lots and lots of classes with him. I started attending workshops on Sundays with him and danced with his company, which was called Jazz Art. And we went up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and danced there. And then we were at the Roundhouse in London and everything he gave. He was the most beautiful dancer, there was a sort of sensuality and extraordinary musicality in his jazz dance. And actually my jazz classes are still, I base them on his exercises. So, I’m still teaching those exercises that I learned from him trying to keep this extraordinary fluidity.
Thorey Mountain: (12:31)
And I think sensuality is the only word. I don’t know if that’s the right word. Yes, being in class, watching Matt. He was like a beautiful big panther or something that so beautifully. And we learned so much from him, it was after I had worked with Matt for a while I successfully auditioned for Broadway shows when they came to London, to the west end of London. So, having worked with him, I was able to then, I was in Applause with Lauren Bacall and then was in Pippin, which was for Bob Fosse. I auditioned for Bob Fosse and got into Pippin. And then I was in a A Chorus Line and for Michael Bennett. And so it opened up a whole other part of my life.
Thorey Mountain: (13:28)
So, I’ve had sort of many…
Sarita Persaud: (13:31)
Yes, from bun head to Broadway star!
Thorey Mountain: (13:33)
Then other opportunities, actually, when I was saying I was in Portland first, but when I moved back, it was in Portland, teaching, teaching, lovely, having lovely family, really enjoying. You know, everything that came with that was so gorgeous. We moved back to the UK and had actually moved back to Scotland. Then I was offered a job in London, at London Studio Centre, where I taught Matt Mattox’s isolation work. I was commuting from London to Edinburgh to London. And I also was head of jazz at The Dance School of Scotland in Glasgow. And then lastly, I was the head of jazz at Elmhurst Ballet School, which is associated with Birmingham Royal Ballet. During that time, as well as teaching, I was offered the chance to do degrees because of course in those, when I was studying, there were no dance degrees in England as far as I know.
Thorey Mountain: (14:37)
So I did, let me see. I did a BA through London Studio Centre. They offered me the chance of doing that. And then I did an MFA through Birmingham University with the company. And then I developed this whole passion for teaching dance history and everything. And when I came back here in 2014, or just after that, I’d met Jen Camp at Pacific University and was given the chance to teach some academic classes there, which I’ve found fascinating.
Sarita Persaud: (15:18)
So, it sounds like teaching is kind of where you’re at in your career right now.
Thorey Mountain: (15:25)
Oh, yes. It’s been teaching for a long time. I forgot to say I did obviously, I stopped performing really, when we moved here the first time and I had small children. I taught and I would run out and choreograph, but it didn’t work for me to try and keep performing with small children, which was fine. I mean, it was a good time to change.
Sarita Persaud: (15:53)
Beautiful. Teaching now, currently, how do you feel that you want to move forward in your career? What goals do you have?
Thorey Mountain: (16:07)
I would like to be able to pass on what I’ve learned to young students and older students. I teach adults as well, but I really enjoy working for the JAG Company teaching and choreographing for them. It’s important for me to be able to pass on everything.
Sarita Persaud: (16:33)
That’s got to be so fulfilling when you see younger dancers really experiencing what you experience.
Thorey Mountain: (16:39)
Yes, it is. It is. And sometimes you don’t have the same amount of time, you know, I would love time to really work and really help these students, but I don’t always have that. I like doing my adult, I love teaching adults. Because it’s such fun, and I’ve made good friends doing all this. I also want to be able to keep moving, not performing or anything like that, but moving. I want to be able to keep moving and, and feeding my, keep being able to move well physically and feeding my soul through dance.
Sarita Persaud: (17:19)
That’s an incredible goal. I love that. How would you describe the current dance scene in Portland?
Thorey Mountain: (17:32)
I think there are so many good studios. Good opportunities for people to dance. I think obviously things have been difficult with the pandemic, and I’m sure that has hit studios really hard. Although, I think it’s amazing what people have done teaching on Zoom. I don’t think that’s an easy thing to do and extraordinary that people have been able to do that. I think there are very good programs too in schools, etcetera, not probably enough. I think there needs to be, but I do come across some really talented and engaging students. I think that’s fun. When I lived here before White Bird was not in existence, actually neither was the BodyVox company. I think that White Bird is amazing. I’m so excited that they’re going to be bringing, we’re having in-person performances again, because I think again for young people from all over who are interested in dance or might become interested in dance, although we can see this wonderful stuff on YouTube and this, which is exciting, to actually go to performances in person is so very different.
Thorey Mountain: (18:58)
And I’m so glad that they’re going to be doing that again. And I love it when I took one group and we all had the opportunity of going to see a performance. It’s so exciting to get feedback from them and to see things through their eyes, you know, when they see a company for the first time and you think, oh yeah, that’s so fun.
I think that Dance Wire is doing a lot for Portland. I think the networking is absolutely essential because I think otherwise you just have all these little groups all over the place. And I think what Dance Wire is doing is really trying to bring that and make a cohesive group.
Thorey Mountain: (19:52)
I think that can only grow and develop and really help anchor the whole scene here. And I think there are so many opportunities for people to do different kinds of dance, which I think is because it isn’t all about ballet or modern or jazz. It is about all the different dances from different cultures that people just love doing. I mean, I loved watching the performance in the summer, and people just really enjoying all these different forms of dance. And I think that is so important, people reaching out into the community.
Sarita Persaud: (20:35)
Well, yes, you started with tap and then moved to ballet and then to jazz. And so, that really changed your life. So, absolutely.
Thorey Mountain: (20:43)
Exactly. And I would say I just love dance. I did actually teach a world dance and culture class at Pacific. And again, I learned so much about it. That was such an exciting journey to learn about different cultures, to dance in different cultures that I didn’t really know about. So I think that’s really good.
Sarita Persaud: (21:10)
So any thoughts on an idealistic picture of the dancing in Portland?
Thorey Mountain: (21:19)
I think more of the same. I mean, I don’t really…it’s very hard to sort of have an idealistic picture, but I think just reaching out, making sure that students who want to go on to become professional dancers have really solid training. And very often I know I’ve been in situations not just here, not in Portland, I mean, abroad where people come to audition for vocational schools and they put on their, you know, we have notes that say, oh, I’ve been dancing since I was two. And you look at the technique and you just think, oh my gosh. So that really, and there are, you know, that people will train that’s for, thinking of professional ballet, modern, jazz, whatever shows, but also just to keep this thing of making dance accessible to everybody.
Thorey Mountain: (22:24)
And I think that is improving a lot. That in the schools, in different programs that everybody can dance. Wherever you are from, whatever your background, economic, etcetera, that we can really bring such joy to people. I know there’s dance for people with Parkinson’s, there’s dance for us oldies, you know. This is great because I think for us all, it’s not just to do with physical, it’s to do with keeping sharp. Tap is great for the memory, right?
Sarita Persaud: (23:17)
Absolutely. Thorey, it’s been a privilege getting to learn more about you and spend some time together, and I really appreciate you taking time to be interviewed for our Artist Stories.
Thorey Mountain: (23:33)
Well, thank you. I’ve enjoyed it and I hope I didn’t just ramble on too much.
Sarita Persaud: (23:38)
Oh my goodness. It was perfect. Everything.
Thorey Mountain: (23:42)