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Conversations with Kayley Thompson

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kayley Thompson.

Hi Kayley, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today?
My name is Kayley Thompson, and I started dancing when I was 5. I was trained in tap, jazz, contemporary, musical theater, ballet, acro, and hip hop classes until the age of 18 at Royal Dance Works. I wasn’t the best dancer there, and there were many dancers that were more talented than I was. However I loved dance very much, and I had the drive to pursue a career in dance in any way possible.

I was a member of Glendale Community College’s Verve Dance Company from 2009-2013, and of Grand Canyon University’s Ethington Dance Ensemble in 2011, and 2013-2015. Under the GCC dance program I won 1st, 2nd, and honorable mention awards for my solo choreography at Maricopa Community College’s Artist of Promise competition, as well as 1st and 3rd place for my group choreography and performance. My work has also been showcased at the Center Dance Ensemble’s American Voices concert several times. In the summer of 2013, I was one of 18 choreographers chosen to present choreography in the Scorpius Dance Theatre’s Kick-A show. I graduated with an AA in Fine Arts-Dance in 2013, and a BFA in Dance Education in 2015. At GCC and GCU, I met fellow dancers who would become friends, and later the founding members of my dance company ClassicalFusionDance in 2016.

I had always been interested in choreographing and teaching dance. ClassicalFusionDance’s motto is fusing the best of the past and present together through dance. My love of classic films, acting, and classic dance styles, all inspired my desire to start this dance company. I wasn’t aware of other companies at that time, that were inspired by the same things I was, so to me, it was a unique idea back then. I have produced 3 full dance concerts with the company; and we are now in our 4th season after being on a hiatus during the ongoing pandemic. We usually have around 6-9 company members, including myself. Our next show “Deux” will take place in June, 2021, if there are no pandemic delays.

Would you say it’s been a smooth road, and if not what are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced along the way?
There are definitely always obstacles and challenges. As the director and financier of a dance company, the road can be bumpy, especially in the beginning. You have to find and purchase costumes, have a consistent rehearsal location which can cost a daily or hourly rate per group or per person, and often pay to perform your work at different venues. As you get more costumes throughout the years, that isn’t as much of a budget issue.

As a dance teacher I don’t make a lot of money, but I do pay my dancers for every performance they do. I hope some day that I can pay for every rehearsal. My company members do understand that I do pay for their rehearsal time and costumes so that they don’t have to. Many dancers in companies don’t get paid, but some do. I don’t get paid ever, and anything we’ve made from our dance concerts and donations, has gone directly to the stipends for my dancers.

Over the past five years, I have had to replace quite a few dancers in the middle of a season, or make last minute changes to replace dancers in a show. A couple of company members were required to work at their day jobs, and couldn’t afford to lose their job, by taking the day of our concert off. Some company members have gotten pregnant, and have decided to focus on their pregnancy and children. Some had to move or some were even flaky. All of these things come with running an organization, whether it is non-profit or for profit.

Ongoing challenges happen every week as you teach or learn choreography for the upcoming shows. I always worry that my dance pieces won’t be clean, or make the statement I want them to, by the time of our performances. Some challenges catch you off-guard. At the end of 2018, my dance company was forced to find a new location to rehearse. The recreation center we had been rehearsing at for over two years, changed their policy for groups and we would no longer be allowed use the space. Fortunately, one of my dancers helped us find a location for the rest of the season.

Of course this past year with the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been a challenge for everyone in the arts. Many dance companies are just starting to perform again, or haven’t performed in almost two years. With the exception of one small performance in February and two piece performance in April, ClassicalFusionDance hasn’t performed on a big scale since June, 2019. For awhile the situation was getting bleak. I wasn’t earning any income at all, or even when I was working as a dance teacher, I wasn’t being paid for months. Plus there just wasn’t anywhere to perform last year, and zoom wasn’t providing my dancers with what they needed to learn choreography. All dance studios and companies were hurting.

However, things are looking brighter and starting to bounce back. I am planning a new show for my dance company for next year, called Deux. We’ve gotten new company members, and I am working with former company members to dance with us in this show as well, since our rehearsals are really just based on when I can get together with each duet. It’s a new approach for our company, since we’ve always just had rehearsal on 1-2 days a week all together. But duets only, gives us more flexibility to work around everyone’s busy schedules, as we are all having to work a bit more, due to the pandemic.

Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
I specialize in choreographing dance to my students at Limitless Dance in Phoenix and Dance Fusion AZ in Scottsdale, in addition to my work choreographing and directing ClassicalFusionDance. Some years, I have choreographed up to 35 dance pieces in one year! I had to often remember all those dances, and dancer’s individual parts in case they forgot them.

I also create short dance films or films solely with acting in them, as a storytelling device during ClassicalFusionDance’s shows. It can help tell the story when dancers are off stage changing or taking a break. I just love creating them generally, because I love movies and filmmaking.

I also consider myself a part-time actress. I’ve done short films, musicals, and have taken acting and film classes, so I always try to incorporate that into my choreography work.

In addition to teaching and choreographing dance and acting occasionally, I am also a DJ for online radio stations such as Qsky Radio, Sonic Radio Rocks, and Lucky7 HD/Mix 96.9 FM (which is both a local station in Mississippi and online as well). I also do interviews for another Youtube channel of mine, and have a film review show called The Total Film-Critic.

I think what sets me apart is that I’m willing to try anything in the arts, and go outside of my comfort zone. For so many years, I was simply a dancer, and at some point I just needed to expand and try everything. I was really inspired by my favorite celebrity Jerry Lewis, who basically did it all during his career. He was a filmmaker, comedian, dancer, actor, producer, teacher, writer, singer, editor, etc. So he really inspired me about 10 years ago to be everything I could be.

Networking and finding a mentor can have such a positive impact on one’s life and career. Any advice?
I would just say keep in contact with as many people in your field as you can; because you never know when you’ll need their help. I’ve contacted fellow dance peers from college or high school years later, to come join my company or be in a dance piece of mine elsewhere. That’s initially how my dance company started in the first year, when I wasn’t well known in the dance company community. Once you start performing and showcasing your work, then dancers will want to audition for you, but mostly your dance peers that you know and have worked with before, are usually going to be ones that want to join you in that first year. They’re usually the first ones to believe in what you’re trying to create. Of course you always want to keep in contact with former teachers who will be able to help you out with any questions or favors that you might need.

It’s always important to meet and know other company directors in your area, and build a good relationship with them as well. Doing shows together with other companies and directors is a great way to introduce your company to a wider audience, and inspire each other in the process.

It’s important to listen to your own ideas and be a strong director, but also listen to what your dancers ideas are as well. Great work and ideas come from collaboration at times.

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Image Credits
Carlos Arturo Velarde of Alluring Exposures Photography Kayley Thompson Nathan Pallace

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