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  • Esperanza Dance Project

Interview with Jessica Anguiano, Assistant Artistic Director

Gracie (GR) sat down and had a chat with Esperanza’s Assistant Artistic Director, Jessica Anguiano (JA), to talk about what it’s been like working with the company for 7+ years, memorable moments and events in the company, and to bond over a love for dogs.

GR: What is your roll in EDP, and how long have you been a part of EDP?

JA: Currently my role in EDP is the Assistant Artistic Director, which basically means I assist Director Beth Braun in the artistic aspect of the project. I help with rehearsals, when it comes to preparing for shows I typically facilitate to make sure the dancer’s spacing is right, and being the leader in that way so Beth can take on her other responsibilities. I help to be the bridge between Beth and the company members, and help in any type of way in terms of choreography assistance.

I’ve been a part of the company since 2013 so this is my 7th season!

GR: What motivates you to keep coming back to the Project?

JA: I think the number one reason I keep coming back is because of the environment we facilitate at EDP. We create a really welcoming environment, we make a lot of friendships here, we are all very compassionate, and we are all passionate about the same thing. I really like surrounding myself with that type of environment.

I am also very passionate about the work that we do and although it can get very heavy, just having that group, keeping that foundation, makes it worth it to come back every single time.

Another thing that keeps me coming back is the show that we do. I love being a part of our show and I love going into the community and doing what we do, I love advocating for survivors and empowering people and educating people and educating and empowering myself. I love that aspect. That’s a huge reason I come back, EDP is so powerful, and I honestly can’t imagine not being in the project.

GR: What does the Esperanza Dance Project mean to you?

JA: That’s a big question. To me, EDP means giving a voice to my younger self, and giving a voice to the people that I care about, who didn’t get to have that. That’s always how I think about it. I think about myself and think about all the people that I love and that this has effected.

GR: How has being part of EDP changed your perspective?

JA: When I first started the project, I was 16 years old, you know, wrapped up in my own 16 year old things, and the thing that compelled me to be a part of the project was that I have a friend from my childhood who was sexually abused, and I never really knew what that meant. I mean I knew what it meant, but I didn’t really know what that meant. I didn’t understand it, but I really wanted to understand it. With the project I’ve been able to see how big this is and see that it’s not just her, and through this project I’ve learned of other people in my life that this has happened to. I learned that this happened to me, and I didn’t even know that upon entering this project.

The perspective it has shown me is that this is everywhere and there’s no community you’ll go into that it hasn’t effected. And since it’s so big, it’s so important to speak out and be involved, because it effects everybody.

"Sexual Violence" is everywhere and there’s no community that you’ll go into that it hasn’t affected. And since it’s so big, it’s so important to speak out and be involved."

GR: I want to spend so much time reflecting on all these answers with you. Just yes. I agree with you.

JA: It’s so different, like the first year in the project, versus years and years later. I feel like my first year I was still just trying to grasp the whole thing. I feel like you need two seasons to be in the project to be like, “Ok. I kinda get what this is about.” It takes that bit of time to get why we’re doing this.

GR: If there was something you could share or express to survivors of sexual violence, what would it be?

JA: So the biggest thing that I want to share is that, if this has happened to you it’s not your fault. And it’s not your fault for feeling ashamed. Because that is something that society is putting on you. It’s normal to feel that way, but you also don’t have to feel that way.

Everyone’s journey is different and everyone’s story is different and it’s important not to compare yours to somebody else’s, or to minimize your experience because you view someone else’s as being worse. It’s important just to be kind to yourself.

"Everyone’s journey is different and everyone’s story is different and it’s important not to compare yours to somebody else’s, or to minimize your experience because you view someone else’s as being worse."

GR: What made you want to expand your role in the project beyond being a company member, and become the Assistant Artistic Director?

JA: So I talked to Beth about taking on this role once I was injured. My leg was broken, I could no longer dance, but I still really wanted to be a part of the project, and I knew that healing from the injury I had was another year or so away plus another surgery away. So I knew my dancing was halted, but I still wanted to be a part of the company, and I knew that we still needed to fill that role.

It was just something that I felt I couldn’t not be the involved in. I needed to be involved in some way and I couldn’t handle just not being a part of the project because I was injured. I needed to still make an influence and be a part of it. I wanted to help the company members who were new, because at that point I still had a few years of experience and I had a lot to teach people and I really wanted to be able to do that, even if I had to sit back and watch most of the time.

And I’m really glad that I did that because through that experience I had a whole year of having to basically watch and give feedback, and not really be a part of the dancing aspect. And that experience really humbled me because it made me realize that the EDP isn’t about dancing. Dancing is a big part of it, but it’s more about being a part of it for the cause. It’s not about being a part of it for being in all the “best dances”.

It’s about being there, being committed, being present, and showing up. Even if things get hard. Because things have gotten hard. And even when they get hard, I still show up.

“It’s about being there, being committed, being present, and showing up. Even if things get hard. Because things have gotten hard. And even when they get hard, I still show up.”

It was interesting especially because it was so hard not to dance! But I’m so grateful that I had that opportunity. and I got to watch. A lot. And we are beautiful, these are beautiful dances, and I got that additional appreciation for what we’re doing and why we are doing it, and it really solidified that or me.

GR: What has been the most impactful moment of your time with EDP?

JA: (Referring to experiencing losses in the project, we lost a company member to domestic violence, Jazmine Willock in 2018.)

Jazmine Willock - Although she is no longer here physically, she is forever in our hearts.

So I feel like Jazmine is this huge thing that happened to us, that is starting to feel kind of distant now, since we are a couple seasons from that point. We have a couple rounds of company members who never even met her and weren’t a part of the loss that we had as a family. And that makes me kind of sad. It makes me sad that as EDP keeps going there will be less and less people who knew her. But I think she is still an important part of EDP to talk about because she changed a big part of us. And she also is a HUGE example, that I keep saying over and over again, that this. happens. everywhere. Even in a place like EDP, it’s not like we are “immune” or “safe” from this. It has a way of creeping into our lives, even when we are advocating for survivors and trying to eradicate the stigma and the shame, it still exists.

Jazmine came in with this really amazing energy and her journey with us was so short, but she really made a big impact. In the universe’s plan I feel like things happen for a reason, but I still don’t understand why I was meant to meet her and bring her into the project just to have her leave so quickly. And I still don’t really know why. That thought sits with me.

What Beth and I have talked about is just keeping Jazmine as a part of the conversation. We were brainstorming when we were getting ready for our peer advocate training this year, as we knew we needed to talk about Jazmine. We want to make sure that new members know who she is, and we need to keep talking about her during Q and A’s (with the audience) because I think when we talk about her, we are talking about domestic violence. We can’t talk about sexual violence without talking about domestic violence and vice versa. We didn’t talk about it before her, and now it’s a topic that we really talk about now. And it’s really important because as we think about the age group we are impacting, high school students, college students and beyond, they can be experiencing these things. It's a very real thing we can all be experiencing and we need to educate high school and college students on this.

GR: Do you remember a particular performance specifically? What made it stand out?

JA: Yes. I always remember the first performance we had at Pima Community College a few years ago, we got to perform in a really amazing space on a stage in a really beautiful theatre. I think this was one of the first times we performed for a more mature audience. Because typically we are performing for high school aged students. So we put on our show and at the end of the performance we had so many adults speak out and say that they were survivors. It was amazing. It was women, men, and there was this man, I think in a wheel chair, who was blind, and he said “I can’t see you guys, but I can feel you guys.” And something about how powerful that was. I remember feeling like wow, we are really impacting people. This man can’t even see, and he can feel what we are doing. The man that spoke out was in his 60’s I would guess, he spoke out (about his sexual violence experience), and said he had never talked about it. And what it takes for a man at 60 years old to speak out for the first time, is amazing. We facilitated the environment for him to feel like he could finally say something. And that was the time I was really seeing the impact that EDP has on people. We really can make a huge impact.

You were there right, Grace?

GR: Yeah I was, and it threw me for a loop because it was nothing like any of the other performances that we had ever done, because it was a different audience, like you mentioned. It seemed kind of a random group people who came to that show, rather then direct family members or friends of the company coming out to support.

JA: Right, the audience were people who wanted to be there.

GR: And it was fun to be on that stage!

JA: Yeah it’s always fun to have the costumes and the big stage, that always makes our energy so big, because we are so in it and we love that, and it reads to the audience. The energy reads to the audience. I’m never going to forget that.

"The costumes and the big stage always makes our energy so big, and that energy reads to the audience."

GR: When you aren’t dancing, what else fills your time?

JA: As of right now most of my time is filled with work. I work at a non profit called Lutheran Social Services. I work as a case aid, which means I facilitate visits between parents and their children. These children are in the foster system. I feel like EDP ties into that in a really special way because sexual violence effects everything and everyone, and the foster system is no exception. I’m really glad I get to pursue my passions into my work as well.

For funsies I do yoga every now and then, I play guitar a little bit, I like to sing, I’m pretty family oriented person so I like to spend time at home with family and my dog, Tuna.

GR: For real! Side note, we love dogs.

GR: Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

JA: In 5 years I still see myself doing social work. Because I feel like that’s an important field I am dabbling into. In the next 5 years I don’t know if I’ll still be able to be a part of the project because I don’t know if I’ll still be in Tucson, which makes me sad, but I still see myself advocating for survivors and implementing everything that I’ve learned through the project and fighting and advocating for the cause. So I see myself doing that through social work.

GR: How do you find the energy to “do it all”?

JA: I make it a priority. In high school, I blocked out my time for EDP, I made sure my work schedule was around that, I made sure my home- work time was around that. In college I schedule my classes around it, and I made sure I always had the rehearsal times available. And honestly it’s always been a breath of fresh air to me, to have that time, it’s almost like EDP time is “me time”. It’s something that I love and I want to do it, so it’s something that I’m doing for myself, and it’s really important to give that to yourself. EDP has always allowed me do that, which is nice. In terms of work, luckily I’m working 9-6 so I’m able to scoot over to EDP after work and I’m really grateful for that. I make it a priority, even if I’m running a little bit late I still make it a priority, I communicate with Beth all the time. When you are committed you make it work, you find a way.

I want to tell that to all new members of the project. I have gone to EDP when I’ve had 3 exams the next day. I’ve done it when I have finals the next day. You do it. You study before.

"When you are committed you make it work, you find a way."

GR: Right. Something about going to EDP and being active in your body and your mind.. I have never gone to dance and not felt better after. Even when I felt good before, I only leave in a better mindset. It’s a practice in self care.

JA: You are so right there is something about getting up and moving.

It’s just GOING. It makes such a difference. You can’t see EDP as a chore, you have to see it as a thing that is for you. As self care, as something to just get you going.

GR: If you could share a favorite motto or quote or something you try to live your life by, what would it be?

JA: Actually, I’ve got two. The first one is: “Nothing changes if nothing changes.”

In your life, you can keep going through the motions and feel like a lot of bad things are happening to you and not understand why and feel sorry for yourself. But it’s also important to recognize that you have a lot of power in that and if you can make a change, other things can change around you as well. And the other one, I actually have this as a tattoo. “This too shall pass." I love that. It is so true, I mean you think that in bad times you think you will be stuck in them forever but time is always moving and things pass. You are never going to be where you are forever. New things happen, new opportunities come, feelings fade, you heal over time. This too shall pass.

GR: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

JA: I am just really grateful to be a part of EDP. I am really grateful to be in the role that I am in. I feel like it has helped my grow as a person, and I really value being in a position where I can mentor others and help others. And help this project succeed in anyway that I can.

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