Rashaun Mitchell

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Photograph: Anna Finke

Tell me when you started dancing and why. Did anyone push you into it?
No. I went to boarding school for high school, and it was really a fluke, it was kind of an accident. I had to take a sports requirement. My first year I was doing soccer and lacrosse and I was trying to be an athlete. I wasn't bad, but I didn't care. I used to walk by the dance studio because it was at the front of the building, and I would get caught looking through the window at the dancers.

Where was this?
Concord Academy [in Massachusetts]. Now they have Summer Stages Dance in the summer, but this was way before that. It was just a small studio. It's funny because there was one moment when they saw me looking in the window and they stopped the class and were like, "Come in, come in!" I ran. I didn't even know at that point that I was interested; I used to dance when I was in the streets and at parties, but I didn't know anyone who did any formal dancing. In my second year, I decided that I was going to take a dance class because it met twice a week for an hour and 15 minutes as opposed to sports everyday for two hours. I was thinking about my time. So that's really why I started dancing. I thought it was completely silly. I used to laugh the whole time. I didn't understand anything about wearing tights or a dance belt. I think I wore boxers. I wanted to be an actor, so I was taking theater and I was in plays. Then I went to this summer-theater program at Wesleyan, and it was terrible. I met these dancers and I saw a dance performance—I don't even remember what it was—but it just blew me away. It was a moment of, Oh! That's what it is, and that's what I want to do. So my junior year, I devoted myself to dance.

What kind of dance did you study there?
I was studying with Richard Colton and Amy Spencer, they were from Twyla Tharp and Joffrey, and Sara Rudner. I had really good training right away. We had ballet and modern and I was in a dance company. We would improvise and perform. Then I went to college.

Why did you choose Sarah Lawrence?
I knew that I wanted to be in New York, but I was a little bit not ready for the city and I didn't want to do a conservatory.

Why?
Well, my parents didn't want me to do that. They wanted me to have an education and I was fine with that. Sarah Lawrence had a good dance program and my teacher, Amy, had studied with Viola [Farber], so she said, "That's going to be a good place for you."

Where did you grow up?
I grew up in Atlanta. I was born in Connecticut.

Did your parents want to get you back East? Is that why you went to Concord?
They didn't really want me to leave [Atlanta], but I was determined. I wanted to do something else. I didn't know what it was at that point, but I just wanted to leave. I kind of did it all myself. It was kind of crazy.

But you wanted to be a performer, it seems. Like you wanted to go into acting originally?
I knew that I wanted to do something with my life. At 13 I didn't really know, but I had a sense that I wasn't thriving in Georgia, so I just went to the library and researched schools and suddenly I was being interviewed and filling out applications and before I knew it I was getting accepted and I was getting scholarships. So it happened really fast and my mom and dad were like, "Okay, whatever" and then when it finally happened they were like, "Oh, you're really leaving." It was intense.

It shows the determination of a dancer.
I know. I had it already. [Laughs] God.

How was Sarah Lawrence?
It was really foreign at first because the movement was Cunningham-based and I didn't understand it. It was very awkward and I was the only guy in the advanced class. I actually tried to transfer to Tisch. I auditioned and they said they liked me but they didn't have enough money, so I stayed at Sarah Lawrence. And then, it got better. I think I just grew up.

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