Be Original and Bypass burnout with choreographer Maya Taylor

by | Humans

Maya Taylor is an MTV VMA nominated choreographer and movement director. In her interview, we talked about the power of dance, the beauty of being original, and useful tips to bypass burnout.

photo credit: Marissa Mooney

In the Beginning…

“I started spending summers in New York and decided that I wanted to go to college in New York and dance professionally there. That’s what I did when I turned 18.”

“I started going from Omaha to New York when I was 15. During the summers in high school I went to the Ailey school. That’s where I did my training. They had a long summer intensive. The first summer I had a chaperone with me. You dance all day basically but being in New York and you’re 15, you need someone there with you.” 

“The summers after that my parents realized that I was going to be responsible with going to class. So I got to stay in the dorms and make friends with the other dancers. I definitely got into trouble but I also never missed a class.” 

“When I started applying to colleges, I found that Fordham University has a dance program with the Ailey School. I wanted to go to that school just because the training was amazing and you come out an amazing powerful dancer.” 

“When I got close to graduating, I started looking at dance companies I wanted to be in. I met this choreographer [Alyssa Lonte] and she has this small, contemporary dance company. That was the style that I loved. She traveled all over Europe for performances. I auditioned for that. I had a teacher who gave me a heads up about a dancer leaving and so I put my foot in the door as much as possible. When I graduated, I got in. I danced with them for three years and traveled all over Europe. After that I gravitated toward more commercial projects, like for TV and film.”

Early Influences

“My mom was definitely my biggest influence because she was my dance teacher and she was a dancer herself and choreographer. That’s the whole reason that I started doing it. I quit around puberty because I thought I wanted to do something else, be a normal kid and not be in the dance studio all day. That lasted for less than a year. I tried to play tennis and some other sports. But I was like, ‘No. Dance is for me.’

“Now, my parents were the type who believe if you start something you have to finish it. So I had to finish my year of dance when I was maybe 10 or 11. I had to finish the semester and it was the same thing for tennis. They didn’t want me to just quit things.” 

Bypassing Burnout

“I guess with what I do as a choreographer and movement director I’m not necessarily working all the time. I could have a bunch of different jobs over the course of three weeks and then I could have two weeks off. So, it kind of works out that I get a reset.”

“When I am working a lot and traveling, I think doing simple things like going for a walk, talking to a friend, stretching, or reading a book…even going for a cocktail, are good ways to center myself. I typically do something that doesn’t have anything to do with dance. That’s how I reset because dancing has been my life since I was a kid and I’m so in love with it and so thankful for it. It hasn’t always been easy but I am now in a place where I am doing these dream jobs and projects. I have to make sure that I am taking care of myself so that when something arrives, I’m ready for it. I do a lot of that with exercise and eating well. It’s really important to have a healthy body and mind as a dancer.”

“But I love what I do so much I don’t really get burnt out.”

Receiving a VMA Nomination

“The VMA nomination was completely unexpected. The video came out in 2019 and I was teaching at a summer camp in Colorado. I got an email from Solange’s team saying, ‘We just want to let you know Almeda is nominated for best choreography.’ I was so surprised because it was just a beautiful movement video. There’s not this choreography you’ll see in other things. With her vision and what I was able to help with, it’s just stunning to watch.” 

“I was so honored to be included with Solange in the nomination. I owe a lot of what’s happened in the last few years to the fact that she took a chance on me back in 2016.” 

“It made me want to work harder.” 

Dream Jobs

“I have worked a lot with Solange Knowles. The first job that I had as a choreographer/ movement director for a music video was for her. That was back in 2016. Over the past few years I’ve continued to work with her. I learn so much every time I get to work with her. In 2018, she was making her visual album for “When I Get Home”. She brought me on to help bring some of her movement ideas to life. We collaborated on things and she would let me take sections of the videos to choreograph.” 

“My style that I do and love is contemporary but the styles that I choreograph vary from job to job. I have to be able to choreograph everything. I have choreographed contemporary modern work, hip hop, ballet, jazz, salsa, tango, social dancing, waltz. Movement direction is also similar to a style. Like, someone could be a street dancer and you have to help guide them through what the video director has to see. I have to be able to recognize all these different styles and help people perform the best they can. I really had to expand my knowledge because when I started as a young dancer, I was only doing ballet, jazz and modern. When I started taking more dance classes, my world opened up.”

Favorite Projects

“There is not one thing that I could say that I don’t love being a part of. Being on a set whether its a tv show, movie set, a commercial or campaign, whatever – I’m so excited to be there.  I would say the MAC makeup commercial that I choreographed in 2020 is my favorite. That’s really hard to say, I feel torn in saying that but it was my first, super creative commercial. The director Gordon Von Steiner was so cool. I’d followed him online for a long time and I’m a huge fan of MAC products, so that was a job where I cried when I got the email. They really let me add my own movement completely.”

Ideal Circumstances

“I don’t always get to pick the surroundings I create in. Sometimes  jobs will pay for studio rentals, sometimes they don’t. Most of the time I choreograph in my living room in New Orleans, which is a great space. In a studio would be my ideal place to create. I’m very much a planner but things are always changing. I try to do as much as I can to make sure all my bases are covered. I have all my notes and notebooks for every single part of a project. Getting myself super organized before I even start creating is really key for me. I make sure my energy is good before I start something. If I have any personal distractions, if I’m tired or whatever, I get out of that state in the same way that I reset between jobs.” 

“I believe my physical environment helps. If I’m working from home and I get distracted, I’ll go to the studio and it’s just the mirror, three other walls and a speaker. But I also have to make sure I’m super focused and open to change. I’ve choreographed on planes before… in a car ride, on my way to jobs, just because things can happen last minute. That’s been a practice in itself, not holding on to an idea of something too tightly. If it’s something for myself I can be a bit rigid however if I’m on a big job– I can’t do that.” 

Practical Self-Care Advice

“I have two:

#1. I think making sure your energy is in a good place when you walk into a room is really important. My mom always used to say, ‘Leave your shit at the door.’ so that when you come into a space you aren’t carrying this baggage with you while you’re trying to work. Like with what I do, I’m exerting a lot of energy to other people…I’m coaching them and making sure they are getting the best performance so if I ever came into a space with negative or weird energy that could come across and affect someone else’s day. This goes for professional or personal, whatever you need to do. If you need alone time before you start a job, take it. If you need a nice dinner out with friends, go. Whatever works for you.

#2. Be original. Sometimes when you start off with something, you see what other people have and you want what they have. If you try to be like everyone else, you’re going to get overlooked. You have to take the time to develop yourself. For myself, whether I’m talking about personal growth or a dance thing, I like to make sure I’ve done some work before I’ve just gone out into the world. “

“I wish I had known it sooner, like when I was younger growing up in Nebraska. You try to fit in but you were never meant to.”

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