Richelle Hirlehey, Assistant Director at Dance Extreme, caught up with former Dance Extreme graduate Devon Snell, now a professional Dance Artist. Mr. Snell began training at age 13 at Dance Extreme. Some say this is a late age to start, but Devon’s gift for moving proved his four years training at the studio fruitful. After high school, Mr. Snell moved on to train and perform at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre (STDT) and the Toronto Dance Theatre Company (TDT).
Richelle: Tell me about your training at the School of Toronto Dance Theatre? What dance forms, dance theory and experiences did you have?
Devon: The school pushed me technically in more ways than I knew possible. Training included ballet, contemporary technique, and Graham Modern dance technique. We also studied music, dance history, anatomy, production and career paths. Perhaps most importantly, I learned there is so much more that goes into being a dancer than what can be seen physically. I am still learning to put myself in the headspace as a performer and artist and not solely see myself as just a dancer.
I learned a lot about my body and the ability to push myself to places I couldn’t even conceive of before. The first year was a very defining moment in my life. It was the first time I felt that what I was doing was what I needed to do. I was introduced to many Toronto artists, and I went with other students to see performances of dance companies from around the world. This sparked my interests and showed me there is so much art being made around me. I made many friends and acquired many mentors. This has been one of the biggest rewards of my time in Toronto.
During my final year, I was asked to intern with Toronto Dance Theatre Company and be a part of their 50th anniversary year. It was amazing! The company went on tour to Columbia and across Canada. This was an opportunity few dancers experience until after they graduate. I grew in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if I was solely in the training program. I was doing what I had been training to do earlier than had ever expected.
I learned a lot from both the program and the company, and I realize this more as time goes by.
Richelle: What would you say has challenged you the most as a professional dancer?
Devon: I think my own goals have challenged me the most. Knowing who I am as a dancer and where I want to go with my growth and development. I try my hardest to never compare myself to others, as that can be frightening and detrimental to my personal growth.
I used to struggle with trying to keep my life as a dancer a secret from people whom I thought would judge me or simply not understand. The truth is I am an artist, wherever I am, whatever I do and whomever I am with. It’s how I live my life at the moment and hope to for a very long time.
I try my hardest to not look at anything as a weakness, but as something that needs to be developed or further understood. This attitude heightens my curiosity and fuels the work that goes into growing and developing new strengths. Lastly, I try to live in the present and experience everything that comes with performing live each night or even taking a class and rehearsing each day. Each [experience] is different and can benefit me in a different way. The most enjoyable moments for me are the ones that are shared with my other fellow dancers.
Richelle: What keeps you motivated as a dancer?
Devon: Time and others keep me motivated. In reference to time, the fact that I have so much time to explore and investigate this art form is very exciting. But it can be very overwhelming at the same time. No one is telling me that I should be at a certain place, doing a specific thing by a certain age. My journey and my development are relative to my life – and my life alone. As I grow, I also become vastly invested in other disciplines of art.
My motivation is also fueled by other talented artists. No artist is the same as another, and every artist brings something special to their medium. No matter the platform, there is a tremendous amount of knowledge that can be learned from simply being around other artists and collaborating with them. It’s very enriching and rewarding. And as the artists before me pass down their knowledge, I only hope that I can do the same for the next generation of artists.
Richelle: Looking back on your training as a child, what is one thing you’d like to share with younger athletes who are studio dancers?
Devon: Getting to know yourself is the biggest reward in life. Understanding yourself is quite complex and challenging. I think you should never be apologetic about who you are as a person and an artist.
I would say it’s never too early to exercise your voice and ideas. Also, enjoy every moment of it. You never know how long it will last. Don’t be afraid to have other passions and interests. The more skills you can bring to your own creativity the better. Whatever direction or path you may choose, your own fulfillment is vital.
Lastly, be thankful for the ability to be able to move your body and experience connections with yourself and others on such a deep level – deeper than most people do. The knowledge that dancers have about the human body is powerful and privileged.
A tremendous thank you to Devon Snell for taking the time to share his personal experiences about his life as a professional dancer! We wish you a lifetime of creating and performing, Devon!
Submitted by Dance Extreme and photos by Choi David, Peter Kelly and David Leyes