Dancer Health

Desmond Richardson: On versatility and longevity

Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of Richardson.

Desmond Richardson has so far had a career that most of us could only dream of. An acclaimed classical and modern artist, he has performed with some of the world’s leading companies, from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and American Ballet Theatre, to the Swedish Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet. He’s starred in musicals on Broadway, worked in film and TV, and performed with commercial pop stars such as Michael Jackson and Madonna. A dancer, choreographer, singer and actor, he’s won numerous awards, and in 1994 co-founded Complexions Contemporary Ballet with Dwight Rhoden.

Dance Informa had the opportunity to speak with Richardson on how he does it all. 

You seem to master every dance style you touch. Is there a style you haven’t done or would like to explore more?

Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of Richardson.

Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of Richardson.

“Well, to tell the truth, I’d still like to get my tap dancing stronger, having recently been back on Broadway in the musical After Midnight choreographed by Tony winner Warren Carlyle. Having to tap a bit inspired me to investigate that aspect of my dance journey. Sharing the stage and ‘shredding’ before our show backstage with some of tap’s rising stars – Jared Grimes, Phillip Attmore, Christopher Broughton, Daniel J. Watts, Justin Prescott and CK Edwards – has reignited my interest for sure.”

For dancers training today, would you say it’s more important to be versatile, or to focus on becoming excellent at one thing?

“I would suggest to dancers today to train properly. Period. Sure, versatility is key, but if your work is not detailed, focused and finite in whatever style you’re dancing, then it doesn’t touch people. As dancers, it’s super important, at least in my opinion, that an audience is moved, that we share our gift of dance on a supreme level with passion, realness and honesty.”

Your career so far has been so full and varied. What do you think has contributed to your longevity?

“I believe what has contributed to my longevity is my curiosity. Although I’m no longer 20, the energy and passion for my art is as ever abundant. In my 40s there is knowing a confidence that is present that allows me to go even deeper to express the choreography I’m blessed to share with an audience.”

Have you had any injuries that have taken you out of dance for relatively long periods? If so, how have you kept in shape during those times?

“Unfortunately, I have incurred a few injuries that have taken me out for months. When they occurred, I’m glad I’ve been in the headspace to recognise that 1) I need to regroup and rest; and 2) when the injury is healing I must seek out medical attention — a physical therapy — to guide me back to health and give me the necessary tools, as it’s important to stay active. Zena Rommett Floor barre is a must-have and my go-to.”

Do you have a quote or affirmation which keeps you going when times are tough?

“There’s nothing to prove and everything to share! Master choreographer Ulysses Dove would say that to us all the time, and he always reminded us to have patience in the movement so that you can dance clearly and succinctly without extra force.”

Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of Richardson.

Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of Richardson.

How important has self-belief been to you on your journey so far?

“Self-belief is paramount. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will? Dancers tend to develop a thick skin in dealing with many industry situations, and that is derivative from your self-confidence and understanding what you bring to the table.”

What qualities or skills do dancers need to be able to become successful artistic directors or company founders?

“Passion, compassion, patience and and an overwhelming supply of energy. Reminder: your energy is infectious and palpable to your creative environment; if your attitude is foul, trust the people receiving it will surely transfer and permeate each individual subconsciously and your work environment.”

In terms of dance styles, what would you say is your one true love?

“Hip hop. It’s my foundation.”

If you could give any advice to yourself as a young dance student, what would you say?

“Give yourself a break, reward yourself, celebrate each day that you have made progress, and stop being so judgemental of yourself.

When I started dance at the High School of the Performing Arts in NYC, I felt I was late in my training and wanted to commit to excellence, but I was so down on myself. I was constantly comparing myself to other more advanced students. Then, after I broke my right foot in my freshman year, the next year I came back more determined and focused to achieve my dance dreams. So the moral of this story is: be in your moment, but stay open to receive the good things that are coming your way, stay the course, and you will reach your highest goals.”

By Rain Francis of Dance Informa.

Photo (top): Desmond Richardson. Photo courtesy of Richardson.

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