Andrew Nemr is the Artistic Director of tap dance company, Cats Paying Dues. He has worked with the biggest names in the business, including Gregory Hines and Savion Glover. Considered one of the top performers and educators in tap, Nemr was a 2012 TED Fellow and speaks today [09/24/14] at TEDxCERN.
BS: Andrew, how do you describe your career?
AN: When asked what I do, I simply say tap dance, but in truth there is a lot underneath.
My career has really developed organically over many years. I’ve always known I wanted to be a tap dancer, but I also wanted my work to be unique and meaningful to the broadest possible audience. Those intentions have conspired to create a varied portfolio of projects, from a jazz quartet, solo shows, educational programming dealing with Anti-Bullying and Narrative Arts, a tap dance company, and a public speaking career.
BS: Tell me about your TED experience.
AN: Since giving my first talk at TED Global, I’ve since performed/talked at numerous TEDx events and TED Active. Being around the highly thoughtful, over achieving, and engaged demographic that is the TED community has been at once inspiring, enlightening, and challenging. Inspiring to see how many others are attentively caring for the plight of humanity. Enlightening to learn of the breadth of work that is being done around the world in so many different fields. Challenging to my own preconceptions of what is possible, and specifically where my work may be able to contribute to the larger picture.
BS: Do you believe everyone is creative or do artists have a special gift?
AN: I believe creativity is a disposition, and as such is accessible in varying degrees to everyone. Some are predisposed while others need more practice, but all are continually in a process of developing the awareness necessary to make “creative” choices.
BS: I like your perspective on creative disposition. How have you seen “non-creative” people develop the awareness to make creative choices?
AN: It’s a lot of fun to introduce the ideas of asking questions without the concept of their being a “right one” to a “non-creative.” In the last Tap Into Freedom workshop, we played a game called “what if,” in which a tap dance step was given, and then I would ask a series of questions. “What if we added this movement?” “What if we took away that movement?” With each question we would execute the new step. In a short amount of time, the participants were asking their own questions, their eyes lighting up at the possibilities, and also deciding whether or not they liked the outcomes. Creativity plus curation! It was really exciting and reinforced the idea that once we allow experimentation, namely the freedom to ask questions and test outcomes, we develop a space that fosters creativity.
BS: Question from one of the fans, Martha G: “What would you do at home with no books, tv, radio or people for 72 hours?”
AN: 72 hours is a long time to be alone, but not a long time if you’re trying to find something to make. The process of searching for something has a way of changing my perception of time, and so I would try to find something to search for – a new step, new melody, new story. The other is to be still, mentally, physically, emotionally, and experience a sense of quiet. I don’t know if I could do that for 72 hours, but I would definitely take advantage of the opportunity to let my mind, heart, and body rest from the day-to-day rigors of life.
BS: Tell us about a great collaboration and how it pushed you forward.
AN: I work a lot with a phenomenal hammered dulcimer player, Max ZT
. Max spent numerous months in Senegal and India, and introduced me to those musical traditions, both of which are very rich. There is also something very special about the resonance of the hammer dulcimer. I always feel transported to space of freedom and love when I hear it. It’s like someone giving you a big hug, and you wanting to hug them back even more. The nature of our work is highly improvisational, so the ideas of presence, understanding of context, and endurance are all important. Our work has pushed me to a greater understanding of music, to heighten my physical endurance, and helped me more accurately find the place in which my heart is open but I am still making conscious choices (not just emotional reactions).
BS: How do you keep your creative spirit alive?
AN: I keep asking questions. I always enjoy a good conversation, particularly with someone who has a very different perspective/experience than my own. I also have been blessed with an easily bored disposition, and I don’t like being bored, so I need and search for new ideas to keep me engaged.