Randy Ford’s earned our DanceCrush award for performance last year, and within minutes of meeting him you’ll know why. The 24-year-old practically radiates infectious energy and enthusiasm, that captivates both on and off the stage. I had the opportunity to chat with Ford about the diversity of roles he’s played recently, his background, and where he’s headed.
Kaitlin McCarthy: What are you looking for in a role or in a piece that gets you excited about performing?
Randy Ford: I always feel like I’m a transformative person, which kinda stems from how I grew up, we moved around a lot, switched a lot of schools, and so I was always making new friends, then moving, and shifting environments. My work reflects that. I don’t want to do one set thing. What draws me to work is sometimes how strange it is, because I love learning new things and I love a good process. Most of the things I did last year were from Imana Gunawan of AU collective, I love her process and her pieces are very different from each other.
KM: When I saw House of Dinah [a play about Ball Culture at On the Boards last year that used voguing], I was so impressed—that being such an extreme role in so many ways and also very theatrical. Had you done theater before that?
RF: Yeah, a little bit growing up. My mom wrote plays for church. I did a couple musicals here and there, but I kind of went away from drama when I was in high school. But then when I was doing dance at UW, I was always hanging out with the drama kids, and I was getting back into that world of theater. I was very nervous for that role [in House of Dinah]. It was just so big and so full of life, definitely one of the most challenging and that’s what also drew me to it.
KM: What do you think was the most challenging part of being in that role?
RF: A lot of it was me doubting myself a little bit, because, spoiler alert: Lady was a sex worker and me not having lived that life, not having that experience, I didn’t want to fetishize the role or make it glamorized. Like this is a real life here. People expect a lot of things from a vogue play, but I love that it was totally different, the audience was not expecting any of that.
KM: I have to tell you, a coworker of a friend of mine who’s an engineer, went to On the Boards for the first time and saw House of Dinah and it blew his mind. He loved it. Which always gives me hope—if there are tech workers out there who are seeing art and are open to it—that was not an entry-level show.
RF: And that’s what I do it for. People who you would think would never, and then they’re like, Oh, I enjoyed that.
KM: Did you learn voguing before that show happened, or was it part of the process for learning that role?
RF: A lot of it was part of the process. I vogue, but I’m not a voguer. Not yet. I will not teach it. I am still learning. A lot of it was working with Dani [Tirrell] because Dani is a voguer and vogue teacher, and so Dani would always be like “You’re too in yourself, you’re too contemporary ballet.” There was still a lot I had to learn. It’s not just you know oh I can do a duck walk… It’s actually an art form and so it was really beautiful just learning that art form, Dani brought me videos of voguers to study. I love what it’s done for my movement vocabulary—picturesque shapes, attitude, stride.
KM: And you’re working with Dani now for Black Bois now? Without spoilers, can you tell me anything about that process?
RF: It’s definitely going to be something, again, that’s rarely seen in Seattle. It’s centering the stigma in the Black community specifically around masculinity and really is tackling a lot of deep things that us as black male-bodied people in Seattle are experiencing. It’s going to be really beautiful. It’s going to be diving into intersectionality. It’s going to be a magical experience, it’s not going to be about “Oh, why are black men dying?” or “Oh we’re going to talk about the black struggle.” We’re just going to be us, and be very unapologetic about it.
KM: What was your training like before you went to college? What were your influences?
RF: I’ve always been a mover, just in the middle of the dance circle. Every family gathering there’s always kids dancing like, “Hey Randy, do the Michael Jackson” and I knew what to do. I would just go for it. I learned from my TV, growing up I watched a lot of music videos, I watched a lot of Usher and Aaliyah, and Ciara. Oh my god when Ciara came out I was in love. Me and my cousins, we would just learn their routines and do dances, performed at churches, a lot of it was self-taught. It wasn’t encouraged for me to be a dancer, but it was cute that I danced. I convinced my mom in high school to let me join our dance team at Todd Beamer High School.
I went to UW not knowing there was a dance program, I took a salsa class and it didn’t really click in my head like, Oh there’s a dance program until I met Cheryl [Delostrinos] and Fausto [Rivera] taking my salsa class. They would take ballet and modern too and then I wanted to be a dance major…It’s the only thing I love doing. Dancing and making art.
KM: Did you always know you wanted to be a dancer?
RF: It was always a dream. I always wanted to dance for Lady Gaga, Beyoncé, DUH, but I definitely didn’t think it was going to be a thing. Like when I went to college I was thinking, oh I need a real job so I majored in social work, as well as dance, because I still wanted to train, but then it clicked when I went to Ghana through a study abroad program. My whole project was centered on African dance and connecting it to hip hop in the U.S. I had this whole transformative experience of being in Ghana, being out of the country for the first time, being in an African country, it was just like WOAH, I want to be a dancer. When I got back I dropped out. Decided I just want to be a working artist, because also school is expensive.
KM: Do you have a ritual or a way that you prepare before you go on stage?
RF: I’m usually really quiet…I always like to drink tea—a bubbling hot cup of tea. Something about it calms me down, I don’t like to think too much. What I love about performing is I love the room for error that can occur. I work with it. I don’t try to mess things up, but I don’t over-think. I let it be what it’s gonna be.
KM: You’re teaching also?
RF: Right now I’m a teaching artist with the YMCA. I do their integrated arts program, which provides in-class learning that’s movement based.
KM: When teaching kids, what do you think is the biggest thing for them to learn or the biggest challenge for them to learn this form?
RF: The biggest thing is dismantling that image of what a dance is that they see and we’ve all seen growing up. Like “this is what a dancer looks like” and letting them know that my tall, six-foot-one, weird langly-gangly person is a professional dancer. That anyone can do it. It’s going to be hard because nothing is easy, but, giving them that access, and letting them know. Everyone thinks that a dancer is like a ballerina. And I’m like “No you can dance too!” Because everyone is like “No I can’t dance.” My theory is that everyone can dance. And I just have to get that little boom that’s inside of you. What brings me joy is finding that little tiny kid who doesn’t say anything unless you call on them and then putting them in the front because you saw them do the thing and they’re secretly really excited and they LOVE dancing. And you’re like, “Hey, we’re all gonna follow them.” Giving them that little “yeah, you’re doing it!” That’s literally the hardest part, but the most joyous part. And you can just see it, they’re all smiling. They call me Mr. Randy or Miss Randy; it’s really cute…When they’re little they’re just very joyous and youthful and then actually implementing anti-oppressive language and starting conversations early. They know it. Kids always surprise me.
KM: Anything else we should know about?
RF: There’s a project coming in my head—I feel like I’m going through another sort of transformation. And just like, ooh, I think it’s going to be a work that is just me and my voice. You know I do a lot of things for others. So something from yours truly will be coming very soon.
Catch Randy Ford in these upcoming performances:
Beware the Terror of Gaylord Mansion Oct 12-29 at ACT Theatre
Alicia Mullikin’s new work at Next Fest NW Dec 1-3 at Velocity Dance Center
Dani Tirrell’s Black Bois April 26-29 at On the Boards