Interview I recently had the pleasure to work once again with Dance Iquail before the new year. We were working on some new ideas for re-vamping the Dance Iquail website. I thought a little Q&A with company director and choreographer Iquail Shaheed might be interesting, as he chose to do something very different with his images, in particular with the dancers’ headshots.

Iquail, can you give us a little 101 on your company, what you are about and your “mission,” so to speak?

Working in the universal language of movement, Dance Iquail is committed to creating and presenting works that confront the destructive and divisive nature of racism, sexism, violence, drug and alcohol abuse, the needs of the poor, and the importance of family support and unity. These debilitating problems affect all people because they transcend limitations of ethnicity, gender, or social status. As a result it is ultimate our priority to reflect those beliefs through the works we produce, the programs we present, and through the diversity of our people, on and off-stage.
Since Dance Iquail’s inception, I’ve been dedicated to developing a brand that exceeds stereotypical labels, such as a “Black Dance Company,” originating from a cultural bias inflicted upon or reflected by a company. My commitment to deflect such distortions is evident in the company’s roster of artists, works, programs, staff, volunteers, and board members, who collectively represent a multitude of peoples and communities.

What is your inspiration for much of your work?

The inspiration for my work comes from deep, dark stories. I’m interested in telling the stories that connect to people on the most personal levels. I tend to gravitate to those works and artist who share that in common with me. I believe it is through our selfless sharing of those autobiographical situations that will heal our intergenerational problems, our problems of socio-cultural, political, and or spiritual indifference.

How do you choose the dancers and collaborators you work with? What are you looking for in an artist?

In most cases, I look for emerging dance artists who are invited to audition, or are selected based on their close relationships with the company, the dancers, and or my artistic staff.
I appreciate dancers who take risks, who are thinkers and experimenters. When I’m teaching, I like to see what a dancer is thinking. What kind of choice he/she has decided and what type of risk he/she is willing to take. That REALLY turns me on (LOL!). In the process, I can often see something in a dancer that he or she has that maybe is untapped. This too gets my creative juices flowing. It is the challenge of drawing it out of them without them being resistant. It is almost like knowing when the grapes are ready to be plucked. Too soon and it’s forever bitter.

Iquail, many dance companies these days are all about budget in their marketing and imaging needs. What made you decide to spend the time and resources on coming up with a very different look for your dancers in their headshots?
Well, like those many companies you’ve mentioned, I too am seeking to differentiate Dance Iquail’s brand in ways that will be distinctive and easily relatable to our work. My vision for our Headshots and new website stems from my desire to have a company of completely different personality that is as unique as my dancers. By doing so, I’m able to present them as superhuman or almost godlike because that is the way I hope my audience would view these artists.
Furthermore, it sets the stage for me to present my company to those who are of less fortunate situation as living examples of people who are triumphing over adversity – this of course ties right back into our mission. What was the most important aspect for you in the preparation of our shoot?
Really making sure I know the personality of my dancers well enough to truly capture their spirit when they are in front of the camera. Also making sure I have the right team of hair, makeup, costume people who can take my vision to levels that I didn’t even think were possible!

What have been your most interesting successes and failures up until this point in your career?
HUUMMMMM let’s see! LOL

Dance Iquail has been fortunate to have a host of individuals who TRULY believe in the vision and direction of the company. They have donated their time, talent, money, skills, and did I mention money (LOL), to ensure we have a sustained vitality. This has lead to many blessings including receiving FREE legal services, our 501(c)3, new websites, press interviews, international booking, choreographic recognitions, and so much more.

Not to be big headed, but this was all in the first year! Now as we’re approaching our 5th anniversary in 2013, we’ve started receiving grants and corporate support for the first time in our history. That feeling is awesome. This growth kind feels like those of a parent when he talks about the accomplishments of his child.

In terms of failures: I don’t see failures as Failures. Let me explain. Yes there have been many upsetting, frustrating, disappointing, disparaging, and discouraging moments, within my innumerable amount of sleepless nights. But at the end of it all, I needed to go through, and continue, to go through those experiences in order to appreciate the successes I was to receive. My grandmother’s generation called it “Paying your Dues,” but whatever you call it, I’ts true! Everything in life has a cost, but there is one saying I believe whole heartedly: ANYthing worth having is worth fighting for. And that’s just what I will continue to do, Fight.

When can we look forward to seeing your work performed in 2012?

Glad you asked. Our Home Season concerts will be March 16 & 17 at New York City’s Harlem School for the Arts, and May 18 &19 In Philadelphia’sPainted Bride Arts Center. Tickets start at just $15. You can’t beat that in this days and recession. All this information you can find on our new website: