This is Donald Isom. He is a dancer and the owner of I Am D.A.N.C.E.
How did you get started dancing?
“…I have videos of me as a little kid dancing. My father and his brothers used to do street dancing battles… My grandfather was interested in ballroom dancing and Lindy Hop… Even my mom was studying ballet. I didn’t know that until I got older and was [looking into] my family history. I came to find out that, genetically, I have it in me.”
Have you gone to school for dance?
“I did go to school for just a little bit… I studied at a small community college in Cleveland Ohio. I had a teacher [there]... who made me understand how [ballet and modern dance] connects to my dancing. ...About being a dancer and taking care of your body and health.
Donald auditioned for ‘So You Think You Can Dance’ and traveled the country studying different types of dance.
“[During that audition] I met so many incredible teachers… [They weren’t] what you saw in Hollywood, [they were the] people behind the scenes [in Hollywood] that built the dancer that you saw on TV…
“It wasn’t always the physical part of dancing [that I learned from people.] It was the mental, the thought process you had to have to actually stay in the dance world. A lot of people come and go. I think that’s any type [of artist]. There’s a lot of people that come in, they’re strong, and in a blink of an eye you’re like, “where’d they go?” I had to learn what it took to stay in the dance world long term, not just as a dancer but an entrepreneur.“
So you’ve studied ballet, modern, hip-hop….
“Yes. Every year [at a Traditional Dance Camp where I teach,] I have the opportunity to witness and learn [from the] West African GOREE Drum and Dance Company.
I also have a mentor here in Columbus Ohio who teaches me about the culture of dance. The roots of where everything comes from. That’s what makes me a strong individual dancer.
So you’re taking all the pieces that inspire you and incorporating them into your own thing.
“Exactly. I’m making it MY dance. I think everybody should do that, you’re building your own character and not looking like somebody on So You Think You Can Dance…That’s what my grandfather told me at 14, that as an artist you want them to see you. You don’t want them to see Donatello, you want them to see YOU. Then people respect where you came from and what you've done to get there.”
How did you start I. Am D.A.N.C.E.?
“It started about 5 years ago. A friend and I were talking about some of the things we had dealt with in the industry with dancing and art… I knew I wanted to build something that was not just for dancing, but for the arts overall, performance and visual art. Together we built I. Am D.A.N.C.E... "I Am Determined And Never Concealing Energy.”… We provide community programs and events throughout the midwest. We have two chapters, Columbus, Ohio, which is our home base, and Cleveland, Ohio.“
How do you integrate all these disciplines you are describing?
“…My dad told me, “Get to the basics.” And the simple thing is that every artist wants a platform… [We build] different events for performance and visual. For example we have a day called Eye Experience. It was founded by Nick Kelly, president of our Cleveland chapter. Eye Experience [was developed] to display other arts: poetry, dance and photography. The event has become a great success in Cleveland and we hope to [continue to] take it to new levels and [provide] opportunities for others."
“…As an artist, you can’t conceal yourself. Art is weird or people say we [artists] are weird. But we’re the ones that are creating everything that people do now. From photography, from dancing, to writers, we create everything that inspires people to want to do!”