This is our 3rd BTC Creative profile! Over half way through the installment, oh my goshhhh!
Today's interview is with the tenderest boo on the block, Aye Eckerson!! So excited to have Aye on BTC and join the BTC creatives squad! Aye Eckerson is a non-binary femme dancer, movement artist and youth advocate based in Brooklyn! As an independent artist, Aye has a lot of agency over the type of work they do, collaborations/group shows and the creative spaces they're in. Identities politics play a huge role in their work, guiding how they present themselves and their movement to who they perform with/for. Aye has performed in BAX's 2016 Needing IT! workshop, worked with playwright Susanna Cook, BAX's Upstart Festival, at El Museo de Los Sures, at Columbia University and The Judson Church. Also Aye is a youth advocate at a LGBTQ centered community organization in NYC.
I met Aye during college! We were one of the few Black/Brown queers lol. I am so happy to know and be friends with Aye! They are so talented and funny and down to Earth and super affirming! Aye was one of the people who kind of showed me queer in ways I wasn't exposed to (vs heteronormative gay/lesbian binary which I was mainly exposed to.) Aye also played a KEY role in Jasmine and I early dating stage, so you know my love for them is real! lol We've had some great memories together. Did I mention how much of an amazing cook they are?! Still tasting that shrimp pasta and beet salad you made...
Ok enough of me drooling let's get to it! Read how Aye is LIVING BEYOND THE CLOUDS below!
Where are you from?
Simsbury, CT. It's a pretty small town in the Connecticut.
How do you identify?
I am a non-binary Femme (I use they/them pronouns). I am Black and brown. I am a dancer/mover/performer and a youth worker. I am a child who was adopted out of the foster care system. I am a part of a multiracial multi-ethnic family. All of these things inform my identity.
What are your passions and interests?
I am passionate about moving, performing, and working and being in the QTPOC community. My passion for dancing and creating performance work is rooted in my love of moving my body and sweating. My love of being in the QTGNC POC community comes from a place of self love and acceptance that took years to get to, so now I am delving into this space with open heart and spirit. Most recently I have been interested in creating a decolonized movement practice for myself and exploring what that would even look like. I also love to bake and ride my bike!
How did you find your passions and how did they blossom?
I took some dance classes when I was a kid but they never really stuck and I wasn’t really passionate about it (or frankly very good! haha). I spent most of my childhood and teen years playing sports. I didn’t dance again until middle school where dance class was a requirement. I would go to class and learn simple routines and then perform and something about it peeked my interest but I still didn’t pursue it outside of school. When I got to high school i joined the dance ensemble which was an elective that you could join and you would warm up and learn choreography and create choreography for other students. I loved it but I didn’t know how to move forward with that feeling. My dance teacher, Judy Tolomea, encouraged me to audition for a summer intensive called Earl Moseley’s Institute of the Arts. I ended up going the summer I was 16, with minimal technical classical training and fell in love with dance in a new way. That summer I decided I wanted to be a professional dancer. During my senior year of high school I quit the sports I was doing to take dance class every day. I went back to EMIA the next summer and then began my freshman year of college at Skidmore as a prospective dance major! I was training a lot until my Junior year, I had a myriad of injuries at the same time that resulted in me straining all the ligaments in my lower back. It was a blessing that during that same time I was exposed to the ideas and practices of performance art. I then sort of knew that movement based performance work was what I wanted to do from then on.
What is the mission with your work?
I think parts of the mission of my work change and go through phases but one thing that stays is the importance of healing. For example, I have performed and worked on one piece for over a year now and each time I perform, it is to heal a new part of myself and it means something different. I dream of healing myself and other Black and brown queer/gnc/femmes of all types through a decolonized movement practice. I dream of creating a practice that centers marginalized bodies and teaching and offering this to youth in the community. So that is my long term mission. To create movement spaces, practices, and performances that center Black and brown queerness, femmeness, and non-binary feels. I want to be able to heal myself and offer modalities of healing to others.
What has been a huge breakthrough in your creative/entrepreneurial journey?
A big breakthrough in my creative journey has been accepting my body for the shape and size and potential it has without having to change it. It seemed like after I did that, I started getting more opportunities to perform and dance and work creatively in a professional capacity. I don’t really measure my creative journey with the shows I’ve booked (or haven’t booked), how big my performance network is, or if I am being recognized. I like to focus on the ways I am growing as an artist, youth worker, and person in my community. Noticing those small moments of growth keep me feeling full and bright and allow me to keep a positive outlook when things don’t go the way I hope they would.
What has been the biggest struggle in your creative/entrepreneurial journey? What has it taught you?
When I moved to New York, I had a difficult time figuring out how to navigate pursuing dance/performance while also working a really demanding nannying job. I got wiped really quickly and eventually stopped taking dance class all together. This created a a really damaging self fulfilling prophecy of sorts. I would not go to class because I was nervous I wouldn’t do well and then get stressed and upset about not having been in class for a while. It was this loop that really drained me and made me extremely unhappy and sad all the time. I actually got my first paid dance job after not having taken class for 3-4 months. I am slowly getting back into taking class but it taught me that the expected rigor and commitment for dance professionals is extremely difficult and idealistic. Financially, dance class is expensive and when you pass the college age and enter your mid twenties, scholarships are scarce to impossible to find. Unless you have a job where you made enough money and have enough time to go everyday, it’s difficult. This struggled has helped fuel my desire to create this decolonized movement practice. Being able to offer free-low cost classes for folks who simply cannot afford or feel uncomfortable going to these traditional dance spaces.
How do you practice self love and rejuvenation when you're overwhelmed by your work?
I love to cook so when I feel overwhelmed by work or life I like to make something with lots of veggies and protein and also bake or pick up something sweet for myself. I am also a spiritual person, so I will light my alter and ask for guidance from the saints that I pray to and then cleanse my space. The smells of rose, palo santo, and sage are very calming to me and cleaning my space also helps create a calm environment when I am otherwise feeling stressed or anxious. I also love to sweat! So working out, going for bike ride, or even a walk around the neighborhood always help me relax. Also crying! I am a cancer/leo cusp so I feel like I am always crying about something! But it helps me. Sometimes I just need 15 minutes to cry and let go of whatever is making me upset and then I can make a plan to move forward. Also talking to my family on the phone really helps me when I am feeling stressed or need to just say whats bothering me to somebody. My family is one of my strongest centers that I can always come back to.
What investments have you made for yourself?
I have been investing in my health much more lately. This includes my mental, physical, and spiritual health. I have acknowledging my needs and abilities more readily, doing things that make my body (and mind) feel calm at the end of the day instead of jittery and full of energy, and taking time to be grateful and give thanks. Monetarily I have invested in a bike to get me around the city as well as some new vitamins to keep my body healthy and strong. I started making these investments after a doctors appointment that shed some light how on I have perhaps been damaging my body by ignoring injuries and not making space for physical wellness. It gives me peace of mind to know I am doing all I can to maintain a healthful life. I also know this is a privilege so I am grateful to have this chance.
What projects are you working on or have coming up?
Right now I am kind of on a break! I am really glad about it though. I have time to focus on my health for the first time so I am looking forward to just doing that! If you follow my instagram (shameless plug!) I always post when I have shows coming up! IG: aye.eck
What advice can you offer to our who are hesitant to dive head first in their dreams or struggling to balance it all?
Ask for advice, look at how your elders are doing it, seek out their guidance. We are never the first ones to be doing something and that brings me great comfort. I have been able to watch and learn from folks who are older and have been doing performance and community building wayyyyy longer and it allows me to find things out that perhaps I would never have found out on my own.
How do you live beyond the clouds?
I am a chronic day dreamer. I fantasize and create alternate and new realities and lives in my head all day! So in that sense I am always living beyond the clouds. In terms of how am I living beyond the norm, I like to think that the work I make and the work all the fellow artist make within my community builds a boundless, endless, and ever-uplifting energy that lifts lots of folks beyond the clouds. I never want to be beyond the clouds alone, I always wanna be able to bring folks with me.
How can we follow/support your journey?
Follow me on social media! IG: aye.eck
What is your favorite genre of movie?
I love a good physiological thriller. Also any random documentary. Actually to fall asleep, I watch nature documentaries! Haha, I think I have seen every nature documentary made!