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Spotlight: Leah J Russell

Our Spotlight series emerged out of the desire for audiences and other artists to connect with dancers who they may not know–because the artist is new to the area, or from a different generation or pocket of the dance scene. The Q&A format lets Seattle dance artists to introduce themselves in their own words, or share where they are in this moment in time.

Photo by Marcia Davis

Name and pronoun:

Leah J Russell, She/They

What’s your role in Seattle dance?

I’m a dancer, choreographer, emerging educator, and forever dedicated student. I’ve been freelance performing consistently since 2017, dancing with Khambatta Dance Company since 2019, and just started working with Dance Undercurrent. Taking class consistently is important to me both in terms of training and building a sense of community. I always feel so inspired by the other dancers in the room. Watching people grow, take risks, and individualize choreography with their own artistic choices never gets old. I occupy a variety of movement worlds from contemporary dance to bouldering, to fire spinning and ecstatic dance, and try to encourage as much crossover as possible wherever there’s curiosity. What I’m currently working towards is creating events that encourage movers of all different backgrounds and levels to come together, learn, grow, and share so that we can continue to expand our skills, joy, and community. Stay tuned!

What kind of work is your favorite to make/do?

I enjoy work that is athletic, emotional, and pushes the edges of my physical abilities. I’m really excited by work that’s just outside my comfort zone, something that I have to grow into a little bit so that I get that satisfaction of noticing measurable growth. Coming from a background in theater, it’s unsurprising that I really relish dramatic work that allows you to lose yourself. Dance is such a unique space where we have the opportunity to transform ourselves into characters, animals, the elements, mystical beings, or even abstract states of being. In my own work, I notice that I tend to start with creating a story arch, a specific journey that I want to take the audience on and use that as a framework. I often use the exploration of characters, animals or other-worldly entities (i.e. aliens, figures from myth/lore) to guide my improvisation practice when creating a piece.

Tell us about your next performance.

My next performance is in June for the Seattle International Dance Festival. I’ll be performing with Khambatta Dance Company on June 11 and 18, and I’ll be performing my own new solo work called Awakened on June 13. I’m particularly excited to share this piece. I don’t want to spoil too much but it’s a concept and physical journey that I’ve been developing for a few months and very much exemplifies the kind of dark, theatrical, athletic, and emotional dance that most intrigues me and I’m looking forward to sharing this story and creature I’ve been building.

Photo by Marcia Davis

What do you bring to the rehearsal room?

It’s always important to me to try to bring my best self to rehearsal, class, or any dance space I enter. My goal is always to be kind, open, generous, and curious. I firmly believe dance first and foremost is an expression of the joy of being and I want dance spaces that I occupy to be places where people feel supported, cared for, uplifted, and inspired. I try to be everyone’s #1 hype woman and celebrate growth, risks, and creative choices. I also try my best to bring my lowest lunges and most open hips as this is my signature trait.

What are some media that you love or that are influencing you right now?

Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns by Andrea Gibson – An amazing book of poetry by a queer author. Anytime I feel a little low on inspiration, I can just open up that book and get an emotional gut-punched of creative energy.
Everything Everywhere All At Once – If you haven’t seen this movie, you must. Stephanie Hsu’s physicality shift as Jobu Tupaki makes me giddy with delight.
The Last Of Us – I thought I couldn’t handle another post-apocalyptic show but this one is so well done. Amazing writing and acting.

Photo by Marcia Davis

Recommend three things!

I’ve been a loyal follower of these three classes for a while and I really can’t recommend them enough:

Wade Madsen’s Modern class Monday nights 7-8:30pm at Nod Theater (eXit SPACE)

Alicia Mullikin’s Contemporary class Tuesday nights 7:30-9pm at Nod Theater (eXit SPACE)

Undercurrent – Advanced Floorwork with Hilary Gruman Wednesday mornings 9:30-11:15am at Fremont Abbey

If people wanted to follow you and your work, what is the best way for them to do that?

You can follow me on Instagram @leahjmoves. Website is under construction and coming very soon!

Please come to  my new donation-based class, Creative Conditioning at Fremont Abbey Arts Center on Mondays 9-10:15am starting May 1st! Open to all levels, we’ll flow through fun and challenging sequences that will improve strength, flexibility and coordination.