Erica Michelle Sobol, an L.A. native who works as a choreographer and teacher in her hometown, has caught the dance community’s eye. She’s a fearless choreographer whose work combines contemporary and modern vocabulary with pedestrian movement. Erica also uses animalistic movement with a touch of fluidity and vulnerability. And all of her work is punctuated by her sparkling energy.
Despite a late start—Erica took her first beginner dance class at 19 and her first ballet class at 21—she has proven that with passion and a desire to grow and learn, you can take a dream and turn it into reality. Now 28 years old, Erica’s career is in full swing. She teaches at the Edge Performing Arts Center in L.A., has worked as a master instructor at dance studios all over the world, including Broadway Dance Center in Tokyo and Pineapple in London, and started her own company, collidEdance, which blends theater and dance. Erica talked with DS about her company.
Dance Spirit: When did you know you wanted to dance for your career?
Erica Sobol: I’ve been “moving” and “making dances” my whole life. But in college (Barnard College at Columbia University in NYC) I connected with a lovely group of dancers through a student-run dance organization called Orchesis. They brought me to Broadway Dance Center and took me under their wings. As soon as I knew choreographing was a possibility, I wanted to do it for a living. Then, my dad saw a piece of mine that I had contributed to the 2002 Orchesis fall show and he said, “Hey, I think you might really be good enough to do this choreography thing professionally.” I’m a professional choreographer and it’s all my dad’s fault.
DS: Why did you want to start a company? And how did you put the dream into action?
ES: As soon as I knew I would spend my life making dances, I knew I wanted a family of dancers to share them with. When I lived in New York, another choreographer and I put together the first version of collidEdance. We had an incredible debut show…and then we all went our separate ways. I moved back to Los Angeles and found myself surrounded by a group of strong, beautiful movers who really pulled the best out of me and of each other. So I decided to put a new family together. Now collidEdance has a revolving door. Folks move away, book jobs or go back to school, and new friends come into our lives from all over the world. This year, there will be almost 30 dancers involved in our annual show—the most ever!
DS: How would you describe your company’s style?
ES: Unique, strange, dynamic. human, interpretive, funny, sexy, alive.
DS: What’s your choreography process like? Do you plan beforehand? Is the music a driving factor?
ES: I almost always go into the studio with an assistant. These days, I work with the most beautiful man, Morgan Burke, an insanely inspiring mover and really sharp creative mind. Music is the driving factor. Usually a new song will remind me of an experience I’ve always wanted to make work about, or an old song will suddenly line up with a current life-issue. For a rehearsal, I always arrive with lots of ideas, but very few specific movements. Morgan sticks to my side as I build the work on the dancers, playing around with shapes and formations and trying lifts that I’ve imagined. I always allow for bits of improvisation by the dancers and then we pick and choose what works and what doesn’t. The process is collaborative, but I’m definitely in charge.
DS: What are some of the challenges and rewards you’ve faced running a company?
ES: Our biggest challenge is scheduling! It’s difficult to get any group of folks into one room at the same time. The greatest reward is getting feedback on our work. There is nothing better than knowing that my dancers are truly satisfied with their work and that they believe in mine. It’s wonderful to have emails pour in, to have classes get bigger and to hear awesome through-the-grapevine compliments after a successful show.
DS: In a room full of dancers, who pulls your focus?
ES: I am a stickler for musicality and dancers who can slip inside the music are usually my favorite to watch. I also love dancers who are unafraid, who really dance from their guts and with their hearts, who push their limits in every movement and every moment. Sometimes those dancers are not the most technically magnificent dancers in the room. Great spirit, great energy, a positive attitude and focus—these are things I love, which are apparent in a dancer’s presence and learning style.
DS: What’s some advice you’d give a dancer with the desire to start a company?
ES: Go for it! Most importantly, surround yourself with trustworthy, dependable, kind, generous, loving, hardworking individuals who believe in you and your work.
Mark your calendars: collidEdance will be at The Music Box @ Fonda in Hollywood, CA, August 19!
Photo courtesy Erica Sobol