GET TO KNOW: Camerin Watson

I feel weird that I am friends with nearly every choreographer or company I have profiled so far on this blog. But what can I say? The dance community of Charlotte is small and my friend pool is large. So I had a lovely and leisurely time talking with Camerin Watson, who I have known for many years as a colleague, co-producer, fellow dance maker, and friend. We met for chai Sunday afternoon and talked about dance and dreams (past and future).

Watson graduated with a BFA from UNC Greensboro in 2007, after which she briefly lived in Washington DC, working at the dance hub Dance Place. Out of love and logistics, she followed her boyfriend (now husband), Sean, to Charlotte in 2009 and, like most dancers in a new city, found challenges connecting to the arts community. She was working a lot and couldn’t find classes that fit with her schedule and movement aesthetic, but ended up taking class with Martha Connerton at Spirit Square (hey, me too!) and was part of her Kinetic Collective. Watson showed the early stages of her solo about racial tensions, wake (v): to become roused from a tranquil or inactive state at Fieldworks, an informal platform for dancers to show work and receive feedback. She continued making and presenting work at the Asheville and Greensboro Fringe Festivals, and in Atlanta. Watson also took classes with Justin Tornow at Open Door Studios and eventually took over her classes when Tornow relocated. Like many dancers, she originally had no desire to teach, but dreamt of dancing professionally with an established company (me too, girl). But fortunately, and out of necessity, she discovered her love of choreography and dance pedagogy while living in DC and carried it down South. 

Watson formed The Wake Project, a springboard for larger works examining issues of racism and reconciliation. She created a piece about working together and reaching across the aisle, which first performed in a tennis court at Midwood Park and later during the 2012 Democratic National Convention. The soundscore for a piece called Stir consists of interviews with people about when they became aware of race.

The Wake Project later transitioned into TAPROOT, a multidisciplinary collaboration, which Watson co-founded with Brianna Smith and Alexander Windner Lieberman. The ensemble’s most widely performed piece, Ophelos, is an evening-length work fuzing text from Shakespeare’s Hamlet with movement and live music. The show is raw, intriguing, and slightly unsettling (what TAPROOT does best), but even more impressive is that the whole thing is one long structured improv. Utilizing improvisation and spoken word are hallmarks of Watson’s work, along with weaving social or political themes through movement and dialogue, overtly or subliminally. A recent TAPROOT work, Dinnerbell, performed last year at Petra’s in the inaugural BOOM Festival. It’s a funny-not-funny mashup of storytelling, physical theater, live music, and Sunday dinner about Southern stereotypes. I got to sit at one of my favorite bars, laugh a lot, and eat a biscuit – a good show in my book.

Did I mention that Watson was six months pregnant (with her second child) during last year’s BOOM (for which she is the project manager)? Like many female dancers (not me!) family has thrown a beautiful, but challenging curveball into her artistic endeavors. As a wife and mother of two boys, Caelan (2 years) and Ean (6 months), she has learned how to smartly rearrange her creative outlets. She has stepped back from TAPROOT, and is focusing on being a damn good dance educator and festival organizer. While she’s sad about not presenting a full show in BOOM 2017, she’s excited about being an integral part of Charlotte’s own fringe festival. Watson always wanted to create a space for “guerrilla style art and weird things happening,” and now it’s happening for the second year in a row. Again, not a role she thought she would take on, but that’s the cool thing about Charlotte. “You find something you want to make happen, and the potential is there,” – something not so easy in larger, more competitive cities.

She’s not done performing, far from it. In fact, she performed her signature solo, wake, nine times last year. After the Charleston church shooting in 2015, she felt it was time to  bring the piece back to life in the context of current events. Watson kept the original self-written text, revised the movement, and set out on a mission to show the work once in honor each victim of the shooting. She performed at the Beatties Ford Road Library, at the Loose Leaves Showcase, with the ASC’s Culture Blocks project, in my front yard for Yard Art Day, and five other venues. After she danced at the Beatties Ford Road Library, a woman wearing a hijab approached Watson, teary faced, unable to speak, and overcome with emotion. Watson remembers, “If no one else heard (my piece), that would have made it worth it.” 

Watson is a white woman with red hair and freckles who makes work largely about racism. When I asked her what that’s like, she recalled her mother, who “was always very aware of white privilege” and instilled in Watson a desire to not live in a divided community. She chose not to take all AP classes (which were all white) in her high school (which was mostly black); she joined the cheerleading squad (which was black) instead of the dance team (which was white); at UNCG she was part of a multicultural sorority. All of these choices “helped me see how my experiences were affected by the color of my skin.” She also speculates that being married to a black man and having children who are not white gives her a unique perspective. She doesn’t claim to know what it feels like to be a black mother, but “my fear for my brown children is significant and similar to that of women of color.”

wake is inspired by Watson’s story, about being a white woman in a racially divided world – a potentially touchy subject. But if you’ve ever seen Watson dance, you know she is a risk taker. She doesn’t have the answer to social divisiveness, but knows that starting a conversation is part of it. She’s willing to be wrong, and corrected, and possibly offensive, if it means people will have an uncomfortable or charged dialogue. Her fear of being silent is greater than the consequences of not addressing the issues at all. Watson asserts,“If no risks are taken, we can’t ever really talk about it.”

Watson talks about it (race, sexism, domestic violence, etc.) the best way she knows how – through dance. She claims that she didn’t choose to be a dancer, but it was what she could do, and has somehow turned it into a way to make a living AND a statement. Watson now has a dream of performing wake in all fifty U.S. states, perhaps in the next ten years, or over a lifetime. Having two young boys and dance teacher’s salary make that a lofty goal, but she’s hopeful. She’d also like to see more unity within the arts community of Charlotte, creating more platforms for critical feedback and collaborative work. She’s an advocate for just MORE dance, as “Any dance supports all dance.” Watson is, thankfully, an active and integral part of Charlotte’s dance community as it continues to grow, as she hopes, with less divisiveness and more communal support. Me too, girl… me too.

photo: Dick Costa

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