Professional dancer Rebecca Jefferson has spent her life dancing and touring in major cities all across the globe with some of the most prestigious dance companies in the world. She’s lived in New York City and currently resides in Germany, but the 42-year-old dancer says she will always recognize Buffalo as her true home.
Jefferson grew up in Buffalo near Allentown and has fond memories of attending her first dance classes with her three siblings. As she grew older, dance became more of a passion than recreation, and she successfully made it her career. Inspired by dancers like Gelsey Kirkland, who she refers to as “a true fairy,” Jefferson became serious about dance in college. After leaving SUNY Purchase in the late 1990s, she moved to Germany to pursue dance full time. She continues to push herself, physically and mentally, as a dancer with each new experience and cherishes every minute of it. This week we talked to Jefferson about learning to dance in Buffalo and taking her skills worldwide.
What is your first memory of dancing?
I think I was about four dancing in our living room on Christmas Eve around the tree. I have a picture of myself in my pajamas, fuzzy slippers and curlers in my hair!
What was it like growing up in Buffalo?
I grew up near Allentown and attended the Cathedral School and Sacred Heart Academy High School. I have amazing memories of our house. It was five floors and it had so many secret hiding. My parents had a master bedroom with a wall size mirror. I would dress up in costumes, play Chopin’s “Moonlight Sonata” on my tape recorder over and over, and perform “The Dying Swan.” The music was so sad and beautiful to me. I could do nothing but die dramatically at the end.
When and why did you move to Germany to pursue a dance career there?
In 1998, when I was still on tour with “Phantom” I got a call from Amanda Miller who I worked with when she made a piece in BH. Her company, Pretty Ugly, was taking over a theater in Southern Germany and she asked me to come to Europe and dance with them. I always wished to travel the world so this was really a dream come true. At first I was quite homesick. My dad had died just months before so I was missing my family. I thought I would stay just one year, but life, love and a child happened. I danced for Amanda for over 10 years and still work on and off with her. She taught me all energy, fear, nervousness, doubt was OK. Just to be honest, keep moving and take risks. The biggest difference with my experience in New York and Europe was that in Europe the perspective of dance styles was way more open than in New York, which had at the time mostly only classical ballet companies or post modern, but not so much in between and both were very separated. I was somehow both and neither and was able to combine all my influences and grow further in Europe. Another difference is most of the dance companies in Germany are state funded, so there is a company in almost every city, but that is slowly changing due to less funding.
Tell me about some of your favorite instructors.
One of my most important teachers as a young dancer was Patricia Farkas Sprague. She was a member of the BBT and had such an enthusiasm, passion and pure love for dance. I trained mainly with her for many years. For me she broke the stereotype of what dancers “should” look and be like in terms of height, weight and flexibility. I thought I couldn’t dance ballet because I was too dark and didn’t fit in. I learned from her, dance was simply about love and hard work. Another important teacher was Christine Wright in New York. I learned form her not to be afraid of ballet and to really dance. She worked with the body, from the inside out, which enabled me to become freer in my movement.
What are you currently working on?
I am currently working with a dancer colleague, Ruben Reniers. We met in my last dance company, Pretty Ugly. I occasionally work with his dance, art collective called Rubarb Dance and Art. In the past we have made pieces for small theaters in Berlin and Cologne and are currently writing applications to bring our pieces to other venues. I am also dancing in an opera and doing dancing in some theater pieces. I recently became a Pilates instructor as well, so I am studying a lot.
Finally, tell us why you love to dance.
I am not a big talker, so dance is my language. It really feels like my home, where I am most close to myself. It’s my anchor.