March Alumnus Spotlight: Cherie Hill, Class of ’06

Cherie Hill (2006) will share more about her work in person at the TDPS Alumni Panel on April 1, but here’s an exciting preview:

TDPS Alumnus Cherie Hill (’06) describes herself as a dancer/choreographer/performer/scholar/teacher/artist.  The multifaceted description is fitting, a perfect way to encapsulate her varied, yet connected, interests. After earning a BA in Dance & Performance Studies from UC Berkeley and an MFA in Choreography and Performance at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Cherie is now back in Berkeley and juggling an abundance of projects that explore those many artistic sides and how they connect.

When asked about her current projects, Cherie first focuses on her work experimenting with contemporary dance, African aesthetics and improvisation. “Creative dance tends to be very conceptual and deals with ideas of space, time and energy,” she explains. “The project started several years ago because I wanted to explore how African dance can be translated into those same ideas. A lot of times African dance is a cultural form that is taught through steps and traditions; I was interested in analyzing it for its more universal dance concepts.” Cherie looked at different African dances and came up with several core concepts, including contracting and expanding, undulation, waves of energy and tempo. Now she’s using improvisation to explore and further refine those concepts.

Cherie grew up taking modern dance, jazz dance and other Western styles of dance. After she graduated from UC Berkeley, she started taking classes in Caribbean and African dance to get closer to her ancestry and heritage. “Then I kept getting asked to teach Caribbean and African dance,” Cherie recalls. “Even though I have that knowledge and have danced in companies that focus on those styles, it really isn’t MY roots, where I’ve grown up from. It’s not my most comfortable language.” What Cherie is trying to do now, as a self-identified modern/contemporary dancer, is find a way to share essences of African and Caribbean dance in a way that feels authentic to her and her background.

Over the past several years, Cherie has explored this topic through an academic lens, publishing her article “Creative Movement and the African Aesthetic” in InDance Magazine and presenting a sample unit at a national dance education conference. Now she’s ready to move it into an artistic and choreographic realm. Cherie recently held auditions at Luna Dance Institute (where she also teaches) for a new piece exploring African aesthetics that will premiere on April 4th at Temescal Arts Center in Oakland as part of a show titled “Perform: Education.”

Cherie hopes that working with a team of dancers and going through the choreographic process will help her build her dance vocabulary. “I think I have my own distinct movement style, or movement tendencies,” she shares, “but I don’t feel like I am at the point where I can definitively say ‘This is my dance vocabulary’ or ‘This is my personal dance language.’ However, I do feel like this process could help establish a strong base for that vocabulary that describes who I am as a choreographer.”

Other artistic projects that Cherie has on her plate include: teaching creative dance at Luna Dance Institute, teaching ‘family dance’ with families in Oakland that are going through a process of reunification, creating a YouTube dance film series called Dub Dance Project that interprets Dub music effects (ex: echo, reverb and time-lapsing) into dance, and assisting renowned hip-hop artist Rennie Harris with his book on the history of hip-hop.

Cherie met Rennie during her masters studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder. She later volunteered to help him with research and, last spring, traveled to New York City to interview such dance pioneers as Emilio Buddha Stretch, Raymond Specks, Don “Campbellock” Campbell and Popin’ Pete. Cherie finds the research process fascinating: “I am learning about hip-hop dance firsthand, from artists who were at the forefront of the movement. It’s wonderful to be part of history, really, while I continue to try to make my own work.”

Cherie associates her love of research with her time as a student at UC Berkeley. “Roots were planted for me at UC Berkeley,” she says. “I loved going to Berkeley. I think it’s one of the best schools in the world and, for me, all the research I did there has been extremely influential on the work I am doing now.”  As a McNair scholar and Hass scholar, Cherie had the opportunity to pursue an honors thesis about Jawola Zollar, the founder of Urban Bush Woman, and her work. “That process grounded me in theoretical perspective and allowed me to explore black female history in the west and identity,” Cherie says, themes that she continues to explore today.

Additionally, winning the Judith Lee Stronach Baccalaureate Prize allowed Cherie to travel to Jamaica after graduation where she studied Jamaican dance and her ancestry. She then created her first non-student work. “I had my first audition for dancers, I was able to pay them, I was able to put on my first show, all because of that award,” Cherie recalls. As an emerging artist, that show was extremely valuable because it helped Cherie establish herself an independent artist and choreographer in the community.

While research, awards and scholarships certainly influenced Cherie’s post-graduate trajectory, she also credits the strong mentorship she experienced within the Department of Theater, Dance and Performance Studies, and the university as a whole, with her continued drive. “My mentors instilled in me a lot of confidence,” Cherie says. “They encouraged me to continue my work and go further with it. I feel like their support is part of why I’m still going.”