Lonnie Davis was introduced to the world of dance by the renowned director/choreographer, Baba Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble-NC. After being granted a scholarship to the American Dance Festival (ADF) at Duke University, Lonnie was immersed into his professional dance training. His summer months were spent training at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Center, and ADF. Soon after, he joined Dayton Contemporary Dance Company II-OH. There he studied with notable teachers and choreographers including: James Truitte, Donald McKayle, Jeraldyne Blunden, and Kevin Ward — just to name a few. He was invited to join Gus Giordano Jazz Dance Chicago and sharpened his jazz technique by dancing the works of leading jazz masters. Lonnie has also had the privilege to perform with Wylliams/Henry Contemporary Dance Co- Kansas City. There he danced lead roles in classic works such as Lester Horton’s “Beloved”, Sean Curran’s “Symbolic Logic”, and Leni Wylliams’ “Trying Times”. He has also had the pleasure of touring on Broadway and in Vegas revues all over the world for the Royal Caribbean International. Lonnie has taught and choreographed all over the US.
Dance Canvas: Tell us about your beginning experiences with dance.
Lonnie: I had always danced around town with my hip hop/street dance group as a kid. We would have dance “battles” with local groups and perform at talent shows and showcases. My first experience with “formal dance training” came as I was a senior in high school. Chuck Davis and the African American Dance Ensemble was in my hometown conducting a 2wk residency. He said, “you have a natural talent and need to be dancing…someone needs to just tell you what you’re to do”. I was completely in awe of his dynamic personality, infectious energy, spirit and warmth. He made a few phone calls and within weeks I was on scholarship at the American Dance Festival training with Baba Chuck, Talley Beatty, Bernard Johnson, Ron Brown, Betty Jones Abdel Salaam and Dyane Harvey…just to name a few. It was an incredible experience that instantly changed my life.
Lonnie: During my time at ADF, I met many notable and influential dancers/choreographers/directors. One very special connection was made with Jeraldyne Blunden founder/artistic director of Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. I was invited to join the training company DCDC2. This all happened within a summer! There I began training with James Truitte, Kevin Ward, Dawn Wood, Terence Green and countless others. It was an incredible time for the company with renowned choreographers coming in consistently setting works and teaching master classes. That in itself was an amazing experience. Jeraldyne would also, send some of us to the Ailey school to train during the summer months. Soon after I auditioned and was offered a contract with Gus Giordano Dance Chicago. Chicago is a great city and there was all types of dance happening everywhere. I was engrossed in classical jazz and contemporary works from Margo Sappington, Billy Siegenfeld, Randy Duncan, Sam Watson and, of course Gus himself. I was also able to dabble in commercial work while in Chicago and choreographed my first opera (Carmen Dayton-94).From there I went on to perform with Wylliams-Henry Contemporary Dance Co. in Kansas City, MO. This experience was very unique and special to me. It’s what we call a pick up company meaning; we usually worked 8-10wk seasons learning and working with many different choreographers. With rep from Sean Curran, Kevin Iega Jeff, Milton Meyers, Rod Rogers, Leni Wylliams, etc. The dancers training had to be reflective of the repertoire in order to sustain the integrity of the work. A bonus was being able to learn and share the stage with accomplished dancers from Alvin Ailey, DCDC, Philadanco, Jennifer Mueller, Dallas Black, KC Ballet, Complexion, Deeply Rooted..everywhere. These are companies and artist I truly admired! I recall a “dream season” for one year. I heard “The Beloved” a Horton classic duet was in the season. I was chosen to dance the work with a former Ailey/Jamison Project dancer (Deanna Hiett) whom I absolutely adore! I remember vividly being 19yo watching legendary artists, Mr. Truitte and Carmen de Lavallade re-stage the work while in DCDC during our 25th Silver Anniversary. To have that opportunity was truly an honor and a full circle moment for me and one I’ll never forget. I then went on to perform all over the world for several cruise lines and broadway revues. I would alternate from the commercial/cruise work to pick up seasons with WHCDC. It was great balance for me to be able to get down to the “nitty gritty” modern/contemporary works then traveling to Europe, Alaska, Caribbean, and beyond. I think that made for a pretty awesome performance career!
Lonnie: As a choreographer I’m inspired most by my dancers and their ability to adapt. I am very intrigued at how a dancer might interpret my movement style and then making it their own. To be successful at this you need to trust yourself and your training. I find joy in helping them discover that. Technique isn’t the only factor though you have to have to be open to the collaboration between choreographer/dancer/musician etc. It’s a beautiful thing to watch it evolve. A fearless dancer is also, a gem to find. That usually comes with experience. I am also, inspired by all types of music. In my head I’m a singer/musician. I will often, gravitate towards percussive complex rhythms and world music. Once I hear a piece of music or think of a particular dancer movement instantly pops into my head. I keep my iPad or a notebook one my nightstand to jot down any thought or idea I may visualize. I could be in the doctors office or airport and hear music and start choreographing in my head. I then experiment with a movement phrase on my students and the creative process is ignited.
Lonnie: Some choreographers I’m inspired by are Nacho Duato, Jiri Kylian, Ulysses Dove, Pina Bausch, Wayne McGregor and Donald Byrd are just a few. Their ability to engage the dancers and have them fully committed to their vision is amazing. Pina particularly-her work and dancers seems like the “perfect marriage”. The movement is organic and just beautiful to watch. I sometimes imagine myself dancing her works.
Lonnie: Teaching is a something I truly am passionate about. I had some intense and no nonsense teachers in my career. I like to think they’ve all inspired and shaped me as a dance educator. Sometimes I laugh out loud listening to myself teach. It really hits me when watching a video of a class or rehearsal. I say to myself; “wow, that sounds like..…or.. he/she would’ve said the same thing.” The younger dancers coming up are very talented and eager to learn. I feel though they want everything RIGHT NOW..and that’s not how it works. There is a process and natural progression to that you must follow. I try to encourage my students to enjoy the ride and be open to the experience of truly learning the art. I’ve been fortunate to have taught all over the US and abroad. I’m grateful and thankful for the training I’ve received (even though it didn’t begin until I was 18) and I love being able to share it with the next generation.