Khala Brannigan is a native of Santa Fe, New Mexico and alumna of the LINES Ballet Training Program. She founded Brannigan Dance Works in 2013 and has shared work at the West Wave Dance Festival, Summer Performance Festival, San Francisco Dance Film Festival, and SF International Arts Festival. Khala currently dances with Robert Moses’ Kin and teaches for the LINES Ballet outreach program. Dancers’ Group asked Khala about her current projects and perspectives.
How did dance enter your life?
I started dancing at the age of seven in a little studio – Moving People Dance Theatre, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I begged my mother to take me to at least one ballet class for weeks. When she agreed, we purchased a pink tutu, pink tights, pink ballet shoes, and a pink leotard. We had no idea what was “proper” attire for a seven-year old’s first dance class. When I walked through the studio doors, my first ballet teacher, Layla Amis, couldn’t stop smiling at the sight of my ridiculous outfit.
It was then that I found home in my heart, a place I could rely on to always be there for me. I fell in love with dance immediately.
How would you describe your current work?
I aim to create contemporary dance that draws from our bodies’ innate knowledge and accumulated experiences to foster a deeper understanding of ourselves as vessels of history and ferocity. I believe in the power of dance as resilience, cultivating phrases of movement that access feelings of joy, humility, grounding, and spirit. Through creative process, I hope for the artists and audience members to experience a language that truly speaks to humanity – beyond gender, skin color, social status, or income. Since I started choreographing, a common theme I keep coming back to is the importance of empowerment – and this desire for empowerment is much deeper than fame or fortune.
Tell us about your upcoming project.
My newest work, Bones, reflects nature itself, accessing the innate wisdom and feminine intuition that lives within our bodies. As a series of solos and duets, this new work aims to identify the inner battles that prevent us from experiencing our wild selves. For me, bones are a symbol of death and rebirth – a research of the soul. Though we may not share the same personal histories in society, bones could symbolize the truth of equality – once we dig deeper, we find that we all share the same matter. Bones will premiere at the Joe Goode Annex September 7 and 8 alongside artists David Harvey, and Courtney Mazeika.
If no one knew anything about your dance practice, what would you want them to know?
My creative practice never stops, even though I spend at least 20 hours a week in the dance studio. When I go home or I am working a job that has nothing to do with dance, I am still thinking about the ways in which it impacts my practice. The more experiences I have, the stronger my art becomes.
What has been the most rewarding part of your dance life?
The moments when I offer [dance] to others with my full heart and don’t expect anything in return. When I offer a class to kids who know nothing about dance, or perform on stage with nothing to lose, or witness a piece that I choreographed finally come to life, I realize that the impact is so much greater than myself and that is the most rewarding; being in the unknown, just giving, and going for it without expectations.
What’s a future goal or dream?
I dream of living wages and more opportunities for artists in America – that we can see art as a necessity instead of an option. My biggest dreams involve the greater whole of humanity, because in the end, we need community in order to survive.
What inspires you?
Oh man. Books, people, stories, music, an impactful experience, and even sometimes just a small interaction with a stranger. I am also inspired by the human capacity to overcome challenges that once seemed impossible, and the strength we gain through that process.
Do you have a favorite dance move?
I wouldn’t say I do, there’s way too many to choose from!
A favorite song or type of music to dance to?
It definitely depends on my mood, but hip hop, or anything with a beat really gets me going.
What advice do you still hold on to today?
Robert Moses once told me, “Be the leader that you are.” I am forever grateful for the opportunities he has offered me to practice that. Also, my dance teacher growing up, Ronn Stewart always said “keep going.” I still hold on to those words today, because it is so easy to feel defeated. The only choice we have sometimes is to just keep going.
What haven’t we asked that you want to share?
What do you know now that you wish you knew six years ago? I have learned that a career as a dancer/choreographer/teacher looks different on every individual, and art, in its true form, is not graded in a hierarchical system. Not only that, but things change, and they will continue to change. Sometimes you have no control over it. So many doors are open for opportunities, and often we look in all the wrong places. The answers we search for are already within ourselves, we just have to remember to listen.
This article appeared in the September 2018 edition of In Dance.