On the Ground

Jump-Start: Q & A with Shakeil Rollock

By Emma Kerson
Shakeil Rollock found his way into dance when a friend convinced him to audition for his high school’s hip hop team instead of wasting forty-five minutes waiting for the bus to arrive. Rollock trained mostly in urban styles before finding contemporary, modern and ballet. He graduated from the School of Toronto Dance Theatre and is a current company with Newton Moraes Dance Theatre and KasheDance. Interested in the endless possibilities of the human body, Rollock also co-founded the dance collective Impromptu Movements. “Movement is an automatic extension of life (we are always in motion) and dance is a performance-based method of movement. To me, in its simplest form, dance is the enactment of life!”
What motivates you?
I am motivated by the idea that there is always more when it comes to dance. I know I’m nowhere near finding all the possibilities that my body can encompass. It’s the constant exploration of these possibilities that intrigues me. Whether it is finding new ways of moving, new approaches to choreography, various methods to produce movement or even changing ways to facilitate a process I am always curious to explore a different approach with dance.  Also, I am motivated by the artists I surround myself with. Seeing and experiencing artists who are passionate about their craft and who are keen to share their art gets me going. I am always eager when placed in a room with dancers who are quick to start and more than willing to invest their being whole-heartedly in the work.
How do you feel you have grown as an artist since graduating?
I feel I have grown immensely over the past year, not so much in my technical standing, but in my mentality in regards to dance. Having experienced larger and small scale processes, and being blessed with the opportunity to perform multiple times on various stages, I have been lucky enough to see what I like, but also what hasn’t worked out too well for me. This knowledge has allowed me to better situate myself in a process and make choices to help define and refine my journey as an artist. I ask more questions about the work I am doing and how I can add. Also when seeing dance, or other performance art, I am able to acknowledge my own biases, yet still try to see with an open mind.
What has been the biggest challenge for you since graduating?
My biggest challenge has been to not go into a process with preconceived notions. I am coming to understand that not everyone has the same approach or values when it comes to dance. Being an open slate (not a blank slate) is essential for learning something about yourself, the people you’re with and the process itself. In school, I was largely exposed to one way of working and I thought that was the ‘right’ way. When I moved that singular vision to new and different environments, the transition from school to ‘the big bad world’ was tough. Once I let go of that idea, and actively decided to just go in to learn and simply make art, things got a lot easier for me.
You’ve worked professionally with an eclectic range of choreographers spanning a multitude of genres.  How important is diversity in dance to you, and what is the commonality between all of the dance styles you’re performing?
I feel that diversity in dance is something that should always be evident. The more you expose yourself to, the better informed you will be and the more mature your insight and approach to art becomes. To have variety in dance (in terms of styles, aesthetics, bodies, technical capabilities, etc.) allows the art form to progress. If we all end up making the same kind of art, it may get boring. If we own our uniqueness and learn to allow it to shape our journey without forcing it or ‘trying to be different’, I believe some really amazing art and artists will be the result.
What has been the best piece of advice or learning experience you’ve had as an emerging artist?
As a change to well-known saying, a dancer in school once told me ‘What’s the harm in asking, they never say no.’ I have applied this to my approach to a lot of things in life and it is true. A lot of the dance community understands that being a new artist is tough and if you simply reach out (in an appropriate fashion) to those who motivate and inspire you, in one way or another, I believe, they will reciprocate in some way. I have sought out the advice of countless professionals in the industry, regardless of their standing in the community, and only one has actually rejected my attempts (but they still didn’t formally say no). 
Where do you see your artist path leading next?
Honestly, I have no idea what’s next. I see myself performing, creating and producing art in one way or another but I always remain open. So far, I have been fortunate enough to have worked continuously for a full year and more. I asked a colleague about her future in dance upon leaving a large company, and she said something that shocked me at the time: ‘No, I’m not worried. I know I’ll be fine.’  I have taken on her mentality and it has not only eased the stress of transitioning, but also opened me up to opportunities I never thought I would get. 


Shakeil Rollock / Photo by Phillip Sutherland

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