An Interview with Regina Montgomery: Dancing Beyond Boundaries
One of the exciting aspects about being part of a dance company that has forward thinking leadership is the opportunity for artists to expand beyond their expectations.
For Regina Montgomery, Demi-Soloist with Tulsa Ballet, the most recent experience she’s had with trying something new is while working on Jennifer Weber’s piece While You Were Gone which will premiere in the company’s final program of the season.
And although not uncommon for classically trained ballet dancers to move into the modern, jazz, and ballroom dance realms, hip hop remains a territory not so much explored.
I had a chance to chat with Regina about this special first in her career. Her excitement radiates through her words; I was already very much looking forward to watching this piece, and her enthusiasm just takes it to the next level.
‣ What was your reaction when you heard that Tulsa Ballet would be commissioning a hip hop piece for its final program of this already unusual season?
I was really excited and nervous at the same time! I love watching hip hop and I am always in awe watching hip hop dancers because they are exceptional movers and artists.
It is also very rare for a ballet company to commission a hip hop piece, I assume because ballet and hip hop seem to be at opposite sides of the dance spectrum.
‣ And what was your reaction when the cast list appeared and you saw your name on it?!
I was so happy to be cast in the piece and to have a more featured part in the pas de quatre.
The first couple of days we were workshopping with Jennifer Weber learning some choreography combos, improvisation, and learning basic hip hop moves. This workshopping process is pretty typical when choreographers and stagers come to Tulsa Ballet in their first few days, so I am definitely accustomed to that.
Since I have worked with the company for almost eight seasons I am very used to learning new movements and trying to pick up different styles very quickly and I think this helped me get one of the featured parts in Jennifer’s piece. I also always try to place myself in the studio where I can be seen easily by the choreographer even if I am doing something totally out of my element! I always try my best to be seen!
‣ Do you have any formal hip hop training?
I have never taken a hip hop class in my life! I have always wanted to and I am from Los Angeles, so I have plenty of opportunity to take classes at home, but fear of embarrassment always stopped me… I am sooooo glad I was forced to overcome that fear this year.
‣ It is not unusual that Tulsa Ballet performs works that extend beyond the classical ballet framework, but I imagine that this is a completely new experience. What have been some challenges you’ve faced be them physical, emotional, or mental?
I have had so many experiences at Tulsa Ballet where I have been pushed to dance styles/movements that were very out of my element and comfort zone. Those experiences have prepared me to deal with the pressures of learning different styles and working with different choreographers in a fast-paced environment.
Dancing hip hop and working with Jennifer was a completely new experience for me and I have never been so sore in my life! Hip hop requires us to be way more grounded and it definitely requires usage of different muscles that I am not used to using. We learned a good amount of floor work which was very difficult for me and required a lot of coordination and upper body strength.
There were also a number of hand gestures and footwork that we all had some trouble picking up because it was so complex!
Hip hop also has such a broad vocabulary of movements and Jennifer did an amazing job figuring out what worked on us and what didn’t. I was so nervous at first to create this piece and dance hip hop, but Jennifer created the best environment for us to experiment and dance outside of our comfort zones and she is definitely the most encouraging and uplifting choreographer I have ever worked with. I felt so comfortable to try the steps and movements even if I looked terrible doing them, but she just created a wonderful learning atmosphere in the studio where everyone felt comfortable because this was a huge “first” for all of us.
‣ What have you learned about yourself during this process?
I have learned that I am not as bad of a hip hop dancer than I thought… haha!
I love experiences like this where I am pushed to step out of my comfort zone and learn a completely new style of dance to become a more diverse and well-rounded dancer. Although it was scary at first, I am so glad that we all just went for it and didn’t hold back and we created an amazing new piece that meshes two completely opposite dance styles and we had the best time doing it!
Jennifer is such an amazing choreographer and person; every day I looked forward to coming to rehearsals because it was so much fun and I cannot wait to get on stage to perform the piece!
Featured Image for this interview with Regina Montgomery courtesy of Tulsa Ballet
Cherilyn's lifelong passion for ballet has opened the door to the next chapter of her journey. Her strong foundation includes training at the School of American Ballet, being a featured dancer with Hartford Ballet and Carolina Ballet, and being co-director/owner of City Ballet Raleigh. She was granted the Affiliate Teacher Award after successfully completing the ABT National Training Curriculum®. A professional career in the industry along with extensive global travel provide her with a unique set of experiences to draw upon as a journalist and audience member. Cherilyn is excited to be sharing her insight about ballet around the world.