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Dance and art in the age of COVID with Jamal Sterrett Phoenix

Date published: 31 Aug 2020

Posted by: Joe Pick

Floating dancer Jamal Sterrett Phoenix

The COVID-19 pandemic has had a big impact on artist Jamal Sterrett Phoenix’s practice.  This blog is the second in our #WINDOWONTHEWORLD series which offers a platform to artists who have taken a non-traditional route into the arts.

Hello, my name’s Jamal sterrett Phoenix and I’m a visual artist from St Ann’s, Nottingham. I use Bruk Up dancing as a way to access, and respond to, deeper states of awareness within outdoor environments. Primarily, my work take place outside – this is where I feel most inspired. I draw on photography, film and spirituality. Growing up, these things have shaped how I perceived the world.

I’m self-taught in the dance styles of Flex, Bruk Up and Ballet. I’ve been dancing on the streets of Nottingham for seven years. Dancing outside gives me access to a constant flow of information – going in and out. People talking, different energies, traffic and weather all blend with the music I’m listening to. The streets are paint, my body a canvas. I open myself up to react to anything passing by or around me. At any moment I express what needs to be said through my body.

Jamal Sterrett Phoenix dance appears to float
“Life at the moment kind of feels like this. A familiar reality yet so far changed from our usual reality.” © Jamal Sterrett Phoenix
Trainers, yoga mat and plant
“Most of my life has consisted of worn-down trainers and yoga mats training in a room lit green with four walls. These objects are my peace. My personal sanctuary for all worries to melt away.” © Jamal Sterrett Phoenix

COVID-19 has affected our lives and has affected my artistic practice. It has given me greater appreciation for the fragility of life. Feeling vulnerable has evoked a greater compassion for humanity in me. I’ve been able to shed individualistic needs and think on a wider scale. As artists, particularly ones focused on the body, our practice can become our greatest obsession. COVID allowed me time to step out of my own way; to remember what really matters.

The pandemic allowed me to completely give up wanting to be a dancer… wanting to be anything… I just needed to be. I became content with not pursuing a goal. Instead, I just enjoyed being with my family, working and taking long walks in the park. Sherwood has been my go-to area for nature walks as my interest in birds has increased. When COVID arrived, I bought some bird feeders to invite nature into my garden. We now have 3 wood pigeons, 2 black birds and a wren that visit. This freed up my energy and has given birth to new feelings.  I’m currently trying to understand and cultivate these feelings and to work out how they relate to my practice.

Dancer stretching
“Stretching improves my mood and helps take tension out of the body absorbed from the environment through stress.” © Jamal Sterrett Phoenix

Years ago, my dancing came from a place of inner turmoil and pain, mixed up with my Aspergers. Over the years dance served as my therapy. Once I felt healed, I became lost, not knowing what or where to go with my practice. I’ve been presented with many opportunities, from all walks of life, but had no desire to fully commit to them. I’ve concluded that I have to take the direction in which my desire is strongest. There isn’t a market for what I do yet, but I fully believe a path is forming in every moment. I need to keep expressing what I feel to the world. Sharing my gift is all I wish to do. 

The feelings I had for dance have changed but my technical ability remains the same. I have these new feelings, as I’ve changed as a person inside. My dancing is always a reflection of my life and current mental state. Now it’s about finding that place of love again. Remembering the reason I started is to forget why I started. There was never a logical reason, it was just pure love… being.

Dancer stretching
“Daily contortion stretching opens up more room in the body to explore.” © Jamal Sterrett Phoenix
Contemporary dance at music gig
2020 Performance at Sigita Slina – The inner world of images, The Carousel, Nottingham England

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Instagram Takeover

Jamal will be taking over the City Arts Instagram account from 31th August to 4th September 2020.

Follow us @CityArtsNotts.